Twelve years have now passed since Egyptians bravely took to the streets demanding a right to govern themselves democratically. Some might quibble and claim that the protesters in the center of Cairo, and across so many other cities and towns in Egypt, were not demanding democracy, but something more tangible: “bread, freedom and social justice.” Nearly a decade ago, backers of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s coup claimed the intervention of the military was necessary to preserve the “civic” character of Egypt’s state against the alleged religious extremism of then-President Mohammed Morsi and his political party, aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet those who cheered for Sisi must now reckon with his track record, which has demonstrated that it is impossible to have a successful “civic” state if it lacks even minimal standards of democratic accountability. Egypt under Sisi’s regime is proof that you can’t achieve the material benefits of a modern, civic state using the infrastructure of a military dictatorship.
A modern civic state begins and ends with seeking the welfare of its people. It does not see its success in building vanity projects to the great leader, or in the endless line of sycophants waiting to praise him. So, let us ask, how fare the Egyptian people, 12 years after Jan. 25, and now approaching 10 years since the coup that brought Sisi to power? Let us leave aside for the moment the political brutality of Sisi and his allies. The violence they unleashed, which unfolded virtually live on television for the world to see in the summer of 2013 at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, has essentially continued unabated since. Sisi and his allies have destroyed politics in Egypt; Egyptian civil society has never been so thoroughly decimated and demoralized. Even in the darkest days of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, a public culture of criticism and intellectual ferment existed. There was a modicum of hope that the Mubarak regime could be persuaded to increase space for democratic participation and accountability. Even though that space was relatively small, it was enough to allow for the possibility of politics and for Egyptians to dream of a better future through collective democratic action. [Continue reading…]