Between the calls for reform and the arrests, the Egyptian regime seems to be walking with two different heads, led by two competing fronts. Egypt is currently witnessing a number of contradictions: a front calling for reform and releasing political prisoners, while the security services are conducting campaigns of arrest and torture with the same people the other front is demanding reconciliation with.
Supporters of the theory of internal disagreements in the regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi say that the emergence of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the military council, is the most prominent evidence of the existence of these differences.
Every time al-Sisi’s regime witnesses major disagreements, the general resorts to appearing with Tantawi alongside him at the earliest opportunity, in an attempt to demonstrate the army’s continued loyalty to al-Sisi through Tantawi’s generals. Al-Sisi was keen to highlight his links with the army, and he continued to emphasise his defence of the army and blamed critics of the armed forces.
Many observers were puzzled by the contradiction in the Egyptian scene between the two tracks. During the recent arrests since 20 September, pro-regime media and parliamentarians affiliated with the military have called on the country’s political leadership to release prisoners of conscience and imprisoned political dissidents.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ali Abdel-Aal, spoke at the beginning of the current session about the existence of “political, partisan and media reforms,” during the next phase, which he described as “reaping the fruits” after a transitional period that “required harsh measures,” he said.
Amr Adib, Mustafa Bakri, Ahmed Moussa, and other pro-army media outlets clearly demanded the release of “non-Brotherhood and terrorists” who stood with the al-Sisi coup.
Amr Adib mentioned the names of the former Constitution Party President, Khaled Dawoud, Hazem Ghoneim, brother of Wael Ghoneim, Dr. Hassan Nafaa, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mahienour el-Massry, Shadi al-Ghazali Harb and Hazem Abdel Azim, describing them as “not Muslim Brothers, not agitators and not financed from abroad.”
“The world is changing. The House of Representatives is changing, and the voice of the media is changing,” said Adib.
“The security authorities were of the view that the state does not tolerate this dissidence because the state institutions cannot bear any opposition, but once the regime became sure of its strength after the events of September 20, there must be a political initiative to accommodate opponents,” he added.
However, following calls for political reform and the release of detainees, policemen in civilian clothes launched a new wave of arrests, including kidnapping from the street and torture. The most prominent activist is Esraa Abdel Fattah, who was quoted by her lawyers as being beaten and suffocated and announced before the prosecution that she would go on hunger strike. Journalists such as Mustafa al-Khatib, the Associated Press agency correspondent in Cairo, and cameraman Abdullah al-Said were also arrested.
Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, was beaten and attempted to be kidnapped, then he alleged that the same security apparatus that kidnapped the activist Esraa Abdel Fattah was the one who tried to attack him.
Politicians say the contradiction is caused by the conflict between the security services and the military.
They pointed out that security services have continued to repress the opposition since the demonstrations of September 20, out of fear of another revolution.
On the other hand, the military has called for reconciliation with the same symbols who have been arrested and tortured. This contradiction is evident in the messages conveyed by the regime’s media figures who are, as it is known, under the control of the military institutions.
Authors of this view indicate that army units did not split after the 20 September demonstrations. There were also unconfirmed leaks about their sympathies with the businessman Mohamed Ali who called for these demonstrations.
They emphasise that the goal was to “shake” al-Sisi, and pave the way to getting rid of him in a re-enactment of June 30. But the emergence of popular anger, the return of slogans to overthrow the regime and military rule, and the fear that the army would lose its wealth and power, prompted the army to focus on reconciliation, while security has been active in repression.
Attempts are being made by the military to return to the June 30 period as a safe haven for the regime, where the alliance and harmony between the military and leftist and liberal forces are allied. Part of the plan is to release those who were originally allied with al-Sisi, before they criticised him and he arrested them.
The military aims to reunite with them against the Brotherhood, fearing that the rising anger of the revolution will end and the Brotherhood and the Islamist movements will return to the scene. But al-Sisi himself tends to oversee the security services who continue to oppress everyone, and his son, Mahmoud, who is in control of the security services, acts with the logic of “horror” from repeating the January 25 scenario.
At the same time, al-Sisi understands the military’s concern about his policies, so he tried to remind them that they chose him. The general spoke for the first time about his candidacy, saying: “It was based on the consensus of the institution (the military council).” He continued: “On the basis of their understanding, they presented the best one of them,” (meaning himself).
In the last sentence al-Sisi tried to link his fate to the army, and bring military men back to his side, but the extent of his success in doing that will be judged in the coming days.