The military coup in Egypt in July 2013 was predicated on three deceptively simple arguments: Mohamed Morsi’s year in office was a disaster; the people demanded his removal; the military would do better. As a former minister in the Morsi government I will not claim that we made no mistakes. We worked hard, and I believe our plans for unshackling Egypt from its autocratic past were sound, but we failed on many fronts. Morsi believed he could appeal to Egyptians’ patriotism to put the country’s interests ahead of their own. This didn’t work with vested interest groups, particularly the army, security apparatus, old regime judiciary and corrupt businessmen, all of who saw that their privileges would be eroded in a new, democratic Egypt.
However, eight months after his overthrow it is evident that all three premises on which the coup was predicated were false. Many Egyptians have been demonstrating peacefully for the restoration of legitimate rule. Government employees have been in open revolt for weeks over the government’s failure to fulfil its promise for 6 million workers to have the minimum wage. Textile workers have been on strike, and in Cairo, public transport came to a complete halt recently when 38,000 bus drivers went on strike. In its disregard for the livelihood of ordinary Egyptians, Sisi’s regime arbitrarily halted the import of "toktoks" – the vehicle popular with low-income Egyptians. Thousands of toktok drivers protested.
Undeterred, the government is now proceeding with the fire sale of Egypt’s once largest retail company, Omar Effendi, and thousands of its workers have been protesting, too. The public healthcare system has been virtually crippled by a doctors’ strike; they have now been joined by pharmacists, nurses and dentists. The regime’s response was to announce a "spectacular" discovery by one of their generals of a "cure" for HIV/Aids, hepatitis C and cancer – a bizarre attempt to gain popularity and distract attention from their own failures.
Energy is one area where the Sisi regime should have done well, given massive support from some Gulf countries. Yet, queues for diesel have been growing as the country grapples with a deficit in energy resources estimated at 30% of the country’s energy needs. Once an exporter of gas, Egypt is now seeking to import gas from Israel.
Many foreign companies have left the country since the coup. Inflation and unemployment rates are at the highest for decades. Tourism levels have dropped precipitously. The budget deficit is expected to reach 15% of GDP. In a blatant attempt to curry favour with Mubarak-era oligarchs, the government signed into law an "investment edict" that precludes any oversight over privatisation of public assets or transactions between the government and investors. The firesale of the country’s assets has been protected by law.
If only the country was maintaining some sense of social cohesion while it was being hurtled towards economic disaster, perhaps the Sisi regime could have claimed some victory. Instead, the country is hurtling towards economic disaster under the most repressive regime in the history of modern Egypt. Murder, torture, arbitrary detentions, and the confiscation of assets have all become routine. More than 23,000 are now illegally detained including hundreds of children and women; more than 4,000 have been killed while peacefully protesting. Many of those who supported the military coup are now themselves imprisoned, tortured and silenced. The latest change in the dummy government means there is now no one left that has any link to the 25 January revolution.
Life support comes from the regional autocratic dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both were frightened that a successful democratic Egypt with democratic Islamist parties would inspire demands among their own peoples. They are using every dirty trick to support the counter revolution. The latest decree by the Saudi regime labelling the Muslim Brotherhood a banned terrorist organisation stems from their frustration with the military’s failure to halt the rise of revolutionary forces. The same decree is full of unprecedented draconian measures to criminalise and punish any sort of dissent within Saudi Arabia – a clear sign of weakness and fear that the revolution will spread to their soil.
Meanwhile the world turns a blind eye. The EU and the US both took a clear stand against the now defunct Ukrainian government over the deaths of 80 protesters. Visa bans were implemented, assets frozen. But when it comes to Egypt, Catherine Ashton spends her holiday in Luxor, a few weeks after dozens of peaceful protesters were killed.
After the revolution, Morsi believed a reformist, gradualist approach was best. It is now clear that there is a clique in Egypt that would rather drive the country to catastrophe than allow democracy to flourish.
We paid a heavy price for our mistake. We have learned that only a revolutionary approach – one that unites revolutionary forces from across the political spectrum – will succeed in rebuilding our country. We are now more determined than ever to win Egypt back from those who would turn our country into a wasteland, and finally realise the dreams of the 25 January revolution: social justice, dignity and freedom for all Egyptians.