CAIRO – Years after watching and listening to little but enthusiastic support and applause for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from one side and criticism of his enemies from another side, the tens of millions of Egyptians who watch the country’s pugnacious talk shows are now unexpectedly being presented with the president’s faults.
Egyptian Television presenter, Azza al-Hemawy said while looking into the camera but, in fact addressing the Egyptian president “Your excellency, you are not working”. She added,”Not one single issue has been solved since you took over.”
For the first time, the former military chief, who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood to take power in 2013, is facing persistent public criticism of his rule. State television, known for being fiercely loyal, launched an internal investigation on Wednesday into Azza al-Hemawy for her statements. However her comments were hardly isolated.
Years after public idolizing of Sisi as the savior of the nation, many of the country’s most influential figures have appeared to put the blame on the latter for an economy in crisis, an Islamist insurgency raging in the Sinai Peninsula and the cruelty of an unreformed police force.
After authorities imprisoned a young novelist for including a sex scene in a book, one of Egypt’s most prominent newspaper editors, Ibrahim Eissa, addresed the president on his paper’s front page last month saying, “Your state imprisons people for their thoughts and their novels.”
“What happened exactly to make our nation turn around with you to the era of searching consciences, putting minds on trial and imprisoning writers and authors?” Apparently, Ibrahim Eissa is no long-lasting critic: he initially greeted Sisi’s rise and described it as “a day of joy, a day of victory, a day of dignity, a day of pride, the day Egypt and its people were victorious”. Just as recently as three months ago he labeled Sisi as the most backed president in the word, accurately saying that he is “the president with the most amount of popular backing in the world”.
However, Issa clarifies, “We aren’t more critical; there are now more mistakes,” making it precise that it was not the media that had altered its views or changed, but the government’s record did.
Sisi’s rise nearly three years ago ended a conflict-ridden experiment with rule by the Brotherhood and two years of unrest that followed the fall of long-serving Hosni Mubarak. A broad cross section of the public sincerely admired the firm general in dark sunglasses, who promised to reinstate stability into a country that has been in chaos.
Sweet shops could not sell cakes with his face on them fast enough, until a year later when he was elected with nearly 97 percent of the vote, winning ten million more votes than had been won by the man he toppled, Mohamed Mursi.
H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said that Sisi came into power with very high levels of popularity; “That was never going to last. This messiah status is unsustainable” the latter added.
Last month, Sisi appeared angry and unsure through a word speech, with which he expressed his complaints that Egyptians were focusing on his faults rather than his achievements. The speech was met by an unprecedented deluge of sarcastic comments from Egyptians on the Internet, with a popular description on social media even comparing him to Libya’s eccentric deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Previously docile politicians have emerged in recent days to snipe.
A prominent secularist and former Sisi supporter, Mohamed Abu al-Ghar, wrote a column last week accusing Sisi of presiding over a collapsed economy, a police force that “beats and tortures” and a government whose ministers are purely “ceremonial”. On another hand, Amr Moussa, a Mubarak-era foreign minister who led a committee to draft a new constitution after Sisi’s takeover, told a news conference on Tuesday the charter was under threat from laws passed by Sisi.
In addition to that, Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist politician who initially backed Sisi’s crackdown on Islamists but then ran against him in the 2014 election, launched an initiative in recent days to rally opposition groups and present a viable alternative, unthinkable a year ago.
In regard of national consensus, and among the subjects that were once overlooked, is human rights. Just after Mursi was toppled by Sisi, security forces killed hundreds of Islamists in one day, while other thousands were arrested; noting that the crackdown expanded to include secular activists. However, only few complained until now, acknowledged Eissa, the newspaper editor.
He added that there was national consensus on ignoring human rights exploitations if they happen to terrorists; let them burn; and many didn’t care about oppressing activists. “Suddenly people realized it happened to them too. Incidents of average citizens dying in police custody sparked protests,” he said.
Last month, after policemen beat two doctors at a public hospital more than 10,000 doctors protested against police brutality. It was the largest demonstration since authorities curbed the right to protest in late 2013. Some of the doctors compared the beatings to the 2010 death of Khaled Said, a youth whose killing in custody helped spark the revolt that brought down Mubarak.
Momen Abdelazim, one of the doctors who were beaten said that in this country no one who is educated matters, he added “I am seriously considering immigration, at least for the sake of my one-year-old daughter.”
Nevertheless, just a week after the demonstration, a policeman shot a driver in a busy Cairo street in a dispute over his fare!
But perhaps the failure of economy has been the most damaging for Sisi’s image, despite his promises that life would get better now that he had ended the turmoil. Sisi hails the building a new branch of the Suez Canal in a single year as a key achievement. But the project, built with $8 billion borrowed from the public at the height of his popularity, has so far failed to boost the country’s income. Meanwhile, imported commodities such as cooking oil have been in short supply at outlets that offer subsidized goods to the poor, because a foreign exchange crisis has made it harder for state importers to secure regular supplies.
The government did not succeed in replenishing its stockpiles of rice, which is now mostly available only at the market price, far beyond what Egyptians are accustomed to paying.
Businesses complain of rising prices, falling profits and uncertainty over the fate of Egypt’s currency. Even, manufacturers, including General Motors, have been forced to pause production at times because of complications getting imported components that have piled up at ports. Small importers say they are being put out of business by regulations aimed at cutting the trade deficit.
And when Sisi issued a new civil service law that would cut jobs, public sector workers were furious in November. Thousands of bureaucrats, normally hesitant to oppose the government, attempted to protest and were stopped by police. Egypt’s newly elected parliament repealed the law, a rare show of dissent from a body dominated by Sisi loyalists.
“This law filled seven million government employees and their families with terror,” Eissa said. “The middle class suddenly thought this man whom we brought in, whom we love, is working against us.”