Over the weekend much of the world was caught off guard by a sudden burst of protests in Egypt. Protesters took to Tahrir Square (location of the famous Arab Spring protests in 2011) on Friday. On Saturday, Egyptian police anticipated their return and filled the square with their own forces. Meanwhile in the city of Suez around 200 protesters gathered to protest corruption in President Sisi’s government. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd of protesters in Suez injuring many. Smaller protests have erupted in other areas of the country as well. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights said on Sunday that at least 274 people had been arrested at the protests and that some demonstrators had reported being beaten and tear-gassed.
Why Are the Protests in Egypt a Big Deal?
The figure being protested in Egypt is the nation’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He has strong support and backing from the military after he overthrew the democratically elected President of the country and member of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2014.
Sisi has been ruthless in the exertion of his authority over Egyptian society. The nation has a serious issue with terrorism in the Sinai area. Some of the world’s worst attacks have occurred in Egypt in recent years. But Sisi has used the threat of terrorism to crack down on anyone he deems a threat to his rule.
Egyptians can be arrested for no particular reason and “disappeared” into the massive and growing prison system erected under Sisi. Eighteen new prisons have been built in Egypt over the last six years according to Human Rights Watch. More than 60,000 people were arrested in Egypt in 2016 as part of Sisi’s crackdown on terrorism. This was a year after the government acknowledged the prison system was 160% overcapacity.
Human Rights Watch has noted that President Sisi is presiding over Egypt’s worst Human Rights crisis in decades. Amnesty International has reported that people can be arrested for no reason at all and described it as one of the worst periods in terms of crackdowns and arbitrary arrests in Egypt’s modern history.
The fact that Egyptians are showing up for protests in the face of these threats is the greatest surprise of all. President Sisi is out of the country this week for the General Assembly of the United Nations.
What Is Behind the Protests in Egypt?
This is the part that the media seems to always get wrong and it is amazing how poorly they assess what is going on in Egypt on a regular basis.
The current popular narrative involves an Egyptian celebrity named Mohammed Ali. From somewhere in Spain he is posting webcam messages to the internet explaining that President Sisi is corrupt and the people of Egypt need to rise up. He frequently makes fun of Sisi and notes the multiple palaces and other building projects being completed for Sisi while the people of Egypt starve.
Even as they keep retelling it, even the US media finds this narrative difficult to believe. On Sunday the New York Times ran a story on the protests: Egypt Protests Came as a Total Shock. The Man Behind Them Is Just as Surprising.
The protests in Egypt are only surprising if you have not been paying attention to the situation unfolding on the ground there. In the last year and a half, I have posted several pieces on what is taking shape in the Egyptian economy and society, noting that it was only a matter of time before something like these protests occurred.
See my prior posts on Egypt:
Egypt has been a backward economy propped up on western aid and administered by corrupt leaders for decades. Those types of issues and their repercussions are not solved overnight. General Sisi has invited western assistance into the country’s economy via the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF assistance works this way. Loans and grants are given to the Egyptians and in return drastic economic reforms are implemented within the economy. These reforms are more popularly known as austerity measures.
So now we have an already weak economy merging with the effects of the IMF reforms within Egypt.
- Overall unemployment in Egypt edged slightly downward in the last year but youth unemployment in 2017 was still above 30%.
- Electricity prices for manufacturers have risen by more than 41% and for households by more than 20%.
- Oil prices have increased by 50%.
- The price of drinking water has risen by 50%
What is occurring in Egypt is very simple. Human frustration is overwhelming the fear of government oppression. This may not be the ultimate burst of protests we should be anticipating from Egypt but it is a shadow of what is to come. The Egyptian nation is hemorrhaging under the weight of corruption and dysfunction. More crisis is coming!