El-Sisi should look to soft power over security

Leaders’ rhetoric matters! Their explicit messages provide clear indications about the course they intend to steer for their nations; their implicit messages, and the emotions expressed in their contents, are for citizens to interpret. The short speech recently delivered by President Al Sisi during the inauguration of a new gas line that will boost Egypt’s resources significantly, wherein he described his strategy for the coming presidential term, was extremely disturbing.

Al Sisi is a very determined President who knows exactly what he wants and is not in the least distracted by experts’ outlooks or international advice. He has been Egypt’s President since May 2014, and he clearly anticipated that he would rule Egypt for a second four-year term. The rhetoric he used in his speech was clear; he claimed that his people don’t really know him – a signal that he could easily extend and intensify the brutal policy that he has applied during his first term as President.

The President is clearly working on expanding his iron grip on power by capitalizing on the sentiment of fear that he believes serves him best. In reality, however, rather than intimidate, fear works to stimulate Al Sisi’s opponents and the State’s enemies. If brandishing the stick of fear were an effective tool, it would have served him better during his first term in office when Egyptians were truly afraid of terrorism and sought stability above all else. Today, Egyptians are clearly polarized between those who benefit from the State whom the President often addresses, and the growing number of marginalized with nothing to lose.

President Al Sisi is now considering asking Egyptians to repeat the scenario that took place at the time of the ousting of former President Morsi and his ruling regime, i.e. to authorize him to adopt extraordinary measures to (as he claims) prevent the State’s downfall. This raises the serious question of what Al Sisi, who has been a fully authorized President for roughly four years during which he enjoyed a wide scope of effective authority, could do better in his second term.

We have been living with the devastating struggle against terrorism and the possibility of becoming a failed state for the last four and half years, reaching a stage where Egyptians are killing one another in the streets, mosques and churches. The President is proposing to extend his mandate to fight Egypt’s enemies and ward off the failure of the State. I was expecting him to send out a more stimulating message calling for building a peaceful and prosperous nation by applying a different policy.

The greatly debatable results of government mega-projects aside, Egyptians by and large are still living in an economic stagnation that stimulates them to demand a change of leadership or, at least, of policies. The Egyptian State is expanding its economic projects at the expense of a clearly shrinking private sector, while our unemployment rate is rising and the poor are suffering more. This policy is making the majority of citizens less prosperous and favoring the small number of State affiliates.

We Egyptians should not take pride in sacrificing our security apparatus on the front line fighting terrorism while refusing to explore any kind of peaceful solution. Advanced nations tend to measure their success by their ability to reduce the number and magnitude of crimes committed; we are working on fueling mistrust, pitting members of our society against one another – and eventually priding ourselves on the fallen martyrs of the security apparatus. We would be much better off as a nation if we lived together in peace.

Egypt certainly needs a leader who can diffuse the hatred and in-fighting among Egyptians that we have been living with for the past years. This is what motivated the few serious potential candidates who had intended to run for president and were prevented! Moreover, the threatening message that the President is striving to deliver does not work in a country where the vast majority is poor, illiterate and could be easily misguided by erroneous religious interpretations.

President Al Sisi, who believes that ruling Egypt is all about security, should consider tapping into the possibility of utilizing our soft power!  Al Sisi who defines himself as a non-politician is, by default, occupying the premier political position in Egypt in an historical era where politics truly matters. The President has stated that his fellow citizens don’t know him well and that he won’t allow another revolution to happen. He may be surprised by Egyptians – who are willing to pay a high price and are not frightened by the President’s message.

 

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