Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Egyptians struggle to stand on own feet

  • Print

CAIRO — Nearly three years ago, in the heyday of the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square was adorned with banners of youths killed by security forces. Hawkers sold T-shirts imprinted with their faces.

Those banners are long gone, and this year vendors are selling T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the army leader who oversaw the July ouster of Egypt’s first elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. El-Sissi’s mien is on posters and fancy chocolates, and — in a Photoshopped pic on the Internet — has even been strategically imprinted on a pair of men’s briefs.

Strangest of all is seeing the el-Sissi T’s hanging alongside a few leftovers bearing the faces of Tahrir Square martyrs. Those youths died in an effort to oust the previous military-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak, and to bring in democratic elections. Now many of their revolutionary colleagues have become el-Sissi fans and call for him to run for president.

The reasons many liberals — and a huge number of ordinary Egyptians — came to love a general reflect the huge obstacles to building a democracy in Egypt. But the el-Sissi story isn’t over yet.

Sitting in the historic Cafe Riche, a longtime downtown haunt of writers and journalists, 25-year-old Mohebi Doss told me why he and his friends founded the group known as Tamarod (rebellion), which helped topple Morsi. Tamarod’s multimillion-signature campaign (with help from the military and state security agencies) led to massive public marches calling for Morsi’s downfall.

The military then used the marches, and counterprotests, as justification to dump Morsi, claiming that the turmoil could lead to civil war.

Since Morsi was so unpopular, why didn’t liberals try to unseat him at the next elections? Doss was blunt: "We had to do it this way because of the weakness of liberal parties. They couldn’t defeat the Muslim Brotherhood at elections."

He’s correct. Egyptians are new to party politics, and with a couple of exceptions, small liberal parties have no organization outside of cities. Unlike the mosque-based Muslim Brotherhood, they had minimal capacity to get out votes.

So the liberals learned to love the general because it was the only route to removing Morsi, whom they feared would Islamicize their government.

But the anti-Morsi marchers also included rural and working-class Egyptians — even though many of them had voted for Morsi. In the Ramy cafe in the working-class district of Imbaba, sheesha smokers said they were sick of three years of gas and electricity shortages and instability. Had the Morsi government been competent and created jobs, it would probably still be in power.

Others told me the Tahrir Square revolt had given Egyptians hope for a better life, and Morsi’s hunger for power, and loyalty to the secretive Brotherhood, made them feel cheated. "After it took power, the Muslim Brotherhood gave people the feeling that someone was stealing their revolution," says Nasser Abd’el Hameed, a software engineer and one of the youth leaders of the 2011 uprising. "People were sure the Brotherhood would do the same corruption as Mubarak, but for their own tribe. Because of that, the reaction was extreme."

Thus popular anger and liberal fears (plus a massive state media campaign demonizing the Brotherhood as terrorists) have fed el-Sissi’s heroic image. They also seem to have anesthetized most Egyptians to the killing by security forces of hundreds of Brotherhood protesters, and the arrest of thousands of its members — as well as the recent arrest of liberal protesters and bloggers who were key figures in the Tahrir revolt.

El-Sissi currently holds Egypt’s most powerful post, minister of defense, and the country’s newly drafted constitution exempts that job from political control for the next eight years. But the country is waiting to see if the general will run for president in elections next spring. No one doubts that he would win.

Sissi-mania makes one ask whether the Tahrir Square revolution has come full circle, with liberals and the masses electing a general after deposing a military-led regime in 2011. But the answer is far from clear.

El-Sissi is said to prefer wielding power from the background, since any president will be blamed for the country’s continuing economic troubles. He knows that public opinion is volatile. Yet analysts here say the lack of other strong candidates may convince the general to run.

Even if he does, Egypt won’t become a conventional dictatorship; there will be some space for political parties and movements to grow. Despite the current crackdown, el-Sissi is not cut in the mold of a Putin or Pinochet. And after Tahrir Square and Tamarod, even a general cannot ignore public opinion.

If el-Sissi becomes president, says Egyptian human rights activist Hossam Bahgat, "Our only hope is for people to grow out of the myth that the military is the only institution able to work miracles in Egypt." A President el-Sissi would expedite this process, he adds, because the problems of political leadership would bring the general’s star image back to Earth.


Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Key of Bart - Cali For Jets Nation

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hangs out on a birch tree in St. Vital. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is considered a keystone species. Other species take advantage of the holes that the birds make in trees. A group of sapsuckers are collectively known as a
  • A Great Horned Owl that was caught up in some soccer nets in Shamrock Park in Southdale on November 16th was rehabilitated and returned to the the city park behind Shamrock School and released this afternoon. Sequence of the release. December 4, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google