Through “their efforts and patience,” the Egyptians led the country “out of chaos and fear towards stability and security,” Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi said in a speech looking back on the ten years of his reign. He recalled the mass protests of June 30, 2013, when millions of Egyptians took to the streets against then-President Mohammed Morsi. Three days later, the army under Defense Minister al-Sisi staged a coup against the Islamist, the country’s first freely elected president.
This also ended Egypt’s turbulent transition period, which began in 2011 with the Arab Spring and the ousting of long-term ruler Hosni Mubarak. Ten years later, al-Sisi and the military are firmly sitting in the political saddle. There is no real opposition, political activity is closely monitored, civil society is harassed, almost all media are controlled. But the problems pile up. In recent weeks, the effects of Egypt’s economic crisis have become particularly visible. Many Egyptians said they could not afford the traditional meat dish at the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice this year. Meat prices have more than doubled in a year. On the one hand, this is due to the war in Sudan, where around ten percent of the beef sold in Egypt comes from. Meanwhile, its own production capacity has fallen by 60 percent after animal feed prices rose by 400 percent due to the war in Ukraine.
Chicken feet had already become a symbol for the immense price increases. The government recommended this dish a few months ago as a high-protein option given that other types of chicken had become unaffordable for more and more people. Many people were outraged.
However, all of these are only signs of a deep crisis. It is estimated that 60 percent of the approximately 105 million Egyptians live below or close to the poverty line. Inflation rose to 32.7 percent in May, just below the July 2017 record. Since March 2022, the pound has lost half its value against the US dollar. The government has devalued the currency three times to receive an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The cash injection of three billion dollars is to be stretched over 46 months. However, the terms of the agreement announced in December include structural reforms that go against the Egyptian regime. Among other things, the privatization of state-owned companies, the reduction of subsidies for staple foods and a flexible exchange rate.
The government has published a list of dozens of companies that are to be partially sold. But powerful actors within the regime are opposed – the military, from which al-Sisi comes from, controls large parts of Egypt’s economy. The army stands behind hotels, dairies, construction companies and pasta factories. The urge for privatization and competition is limited. This, in turn, is fueling increasing dissatisfaction in the Arab Gulf states, which are among the regime’s most important foreign supporters and have stabilized the state with billions of dollars in payments since 2013. Countries like Saudi Arabia are pushing to get something back, such as majority stakes in Egyptian companies. Al-Sisi’s space for maneuver is limited, however.
The president is trying to dampen the growing resentment among the population and the criticism of himself with tranquilizer pills. Two additional days off were granted for the recent holiday term. Al-Sisi likes to appeal to national sentiment. In his speech, he spoke of the “great sacrifices” made by Egypt and the Egyptians, saying they were “worth only one victory.” He praised June 30, 2013 as a “glorious revolution”. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power at the time, is still regularly held responsible for abuses by the regime. In addition, al-Sisi complains about external factors over which he has no influence, such as the Corona crisis or the Ukraine war.
The “national dialogue” launched by al-Sisi last year is one of the measures taken to counteract the growing dissatisfaction among the people. However, the hopes of some members of the opposition and civil society activists that this will open up more freedom or even make fundamental changes to the balance of power have so far not come true. All sensitive or security-related topics were left out in the various dialogue forums. It is possible that the results of the “dialogue” will be presented soon, big leaps are not expected – and no great euphoria in the population either.
One sign of al-Sisi’s waning popularity is that he could face a potentially serious challenger for the first time when he runs for re-election, possibly later this year or early next. Ahmed Tantawi, a 43-year-old opposition MP, announced in April that he wanted to run. Since then, his supporters and relatives have been arrested or otherwise pressured. One indication of how nervous the regime is will be whether it will allow Tantawi’s candidacy in the fall.
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