The sudden eruption of anger on the streets of Cairo on Friday 15 of April in protest against President Sisi’s controversial decision to hand over two Islands in the Red Sea under Egyptian control to Saudi Arabia is a powerful reminder that under the veneer of stability the regime likes to parade is considerable wrath and frustration.
We may squabble about the real motives and numbers (hundreds or thousands) of the demonstrators, but the event itself says one simple thing : people who ventured out to show their anger| took an enormous risk to their personal safety given the regime’s brutal record in dealing with those who break the controversial demonstration law. Significantly, those people seem to have pierced a hole in the armour of fear that the security services have sought to reimpose since 2013. The pitch battles between demonstrators and police, and slogans such as “the people want the fall of the regime” underline the irrepressible energy of the youth who had borne the brunt of the repressive policies of the security wing of the regime.
However, one should not underestimate the broad constituency that supports President Sisi. Those people will in times of crisis take to the streets too just like the others. The question would be on whose side the coercive machinery come down if the polarisation reaches boiling point.
The Islamist constituency (MB as well as their Salafi allies ) are of course waiting in the wings to once again seize the opportunity to make a come-back. Islamists do not have a libertarian or progressive agenda They have more in common with the authoritarian state which they want to keep but use to their own purpose. And as they did in the recent past, they will most likely align themselves with the repressive social and political order to crush the democratic forces who want a new social contract between the state and the citizens based on freedom and respect. These ultra conservative groups do not want change, but simply want the same repressive machinery to impose their vision on society.
Sadly, in the absence of organisational structures for the forces seeking democratic change the outlook does not look good. It is for this reason that I understand the dilemma of those who want change but fear that breaking the current power structure– loathsome as it is in many aspects – may in fact bring to power something that is even much worse : chaos or religious fascism in one form or another.
Mr Sisi still has time to decongest the system by freeing jailed youth and allowing them greater freedom to organise. But the intransigence of the hardliners within the establishment, who are hell bent upon exacting maximum revenge on the Jan25 revolution — will lead it down the path of Mubarak : all or nothing. We all know how that ended, but they are hard set against learning from the past. If that is not suicidal, I wonder what is !
A pressure cooker cannot be kept under control indefinitely. Sooner or letter something will give. The consequences are frightening to contemplate.