Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with a speech to both chambers of Egyptian Parliament, has transferred legislative power to the assembly.
The security deployment at the doors as the former general spoke was unprecedented. The Egyptian presidency is back to being untouchable and unreachable, living in hiding and never attending public meetings for fear of being killed.
Egypt has Syrian-ized; Cairo feels like Damascus before 2011, under a climate of control and irrational suspicion.
The People’s Assembly took office Jan. 11 after the elections that took place between November and December last year. There was a very low turnout and the list that won almost all the seats is a coalition called “For the Love of Egypt.”
The electoral cartel, which unites Hosni Mubarak’s old cohorts, the military and other pro-Sisi candidates, lends al-Sisi total control over the activities of the parliament. Al-Sisi has not even had to resort to the formation of a one-party state, like Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The military regime and populism blend perfectly in him, along with repression and state capitalism.
The parliament has already approved without amendment nearly all the decrees that al-Sisi handed down in the previous three years, in which the country has not had a parliament. Only the civil service law was not approved without changes because the rule was strongly contested by civil servants.
The Egyptian Parliament always been used as a vehicle to co-opt the various political groups, banned from official party activities, as was the case for years with the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is unclear if this will also happen at this stage, when democratic freedoms have been reset to zero.
Certainly the repression of Islamists and the left is relentless.
NGOs, hospitals and the Brotherhood schools have been shut down or are under the strict control of the regime. The hundreds of death sentences against Brotherhood leaders make it abundantly clear the Islamists will not be permitted to return to the political scene any time soon.
The left, too, is completely impeded in its grassroots mobilization activities. The anti-protest law bans controversial events. But more importantly, all major opposition activists are now in prison without the possibility of appeal and with indefinite sentences. It calls to mind South American dictatorships where enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace.
Al-Sisi’s speech is the culmination of the general’s vengeful rise to authoritarian power that began with the military coup of July 3, 2013, the day the nightmare began for Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt.
Morsi was arrested by the presidential guard amid military-organized, anti-Islamist demonstrations of young people known as the Tamarod.
“The people expect their hopes to be realized,” al-Sisi said to the new parliament. “The Egyptian people declare to the world that they have established the foundations of democracy.”
Obviously there is no democracy in Egypt, and perhaps democracy was not even the primary objective of the 2011 uprising: The first demand was the end of a fascist police state. But this didn’t happen either, as evidenced by the thousands of political prisoners and the hundreds of enforced disappearances.
“No one can stop our progress,” said al-Sisi, referring to education and health.
So far al-Sisi’s “populism” has gone in the opposite direction of the people. It has meant a liberalization push and uncontrolled privatization, cutting public spending to obtain an International Monetary Fund loan. None of this has anything to do with the demands for social justice erupting from Tahrir Square.
And so more disaffected sectors are walking out. First it was public servants, and now it’s the doctors’ turn.
At least 4,000 doctors attended an industry meeting to coordinate actions against police violence toward medical staff. Participation was the highest ever. Thousands of doctors have demanded the resignation of the health minister.
Hundreds of members of parliament and politicians, including the lawyer Haitham al-Hariri, have expressed solidarity with the doctors on strike. Many on social media have called for a mass mobilization condemning the conditions of prisons and the assaults on doctors.