At 03:00 pm, Qasr Elnil Bridge in the middle of Cairo appears empty of any walkers or cars. At first glance, you might suspect that Cairo is under broad civil disobedience instead of the usual noise of the weekend. This wasn’t limited to Cairo but all the Egyptian cities and even some villages across the country. It wasn’t a response to civil disobedience! It was a status of unwillingness to respond positively to the protest calls, initiated by several Egyptian activists and academic personalities abroad, to protest against el-Sisi’s regime.
The call of 11/11, initiated by the academic and former State Security (political security) officer Hesham Sabry and the former air force officer Sherif Othman, was in conjunction with the climate summit Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. From their point of view, it was an opportunity to direct multiplied pressure on the Egyptian regime, especially with the presence of the world’s leaders. The calls had a significant momentum compared with all the protest calls since 2015, as the people intensively interacted with it in the streets and cafes besides social media. Sometimes represented, the calls represented the calls in comics, shop offers and posters distributed or published on social media. So, which are the reasons that expanded the virtual interaction scope with these calls? And why it failed to motivate the people to protest?
Expanded interaction scope
The calls gained popularity in light of the economic crisis that plagued the country. Between October 2021 and January 2022, more than USD 3 billion of investments and hot money dropped out, affecting foreign exchange reserves. This worsened the deficit of the balance of payments and led the Central Bank to take strict measures concerning the importation and linked it with letters of credit, which was followed by the same behaviour from the Industry ministry that removed foreign companies from the lists of certified suppliers, representing more than 800 Turkish, Emirati and Egyptian companies in the free trade zone. All of that is to control and reduce the drop-out of scarce currency. But January ended with no hope of terminating the US Dollar crisis, as another international factor appeared to escalate the problem, which was the Russian-Ukrainian war that accumulated with an increase in the prices of wheat and oil from USD 9 billion to 15 billion.
As a result of the high production cost, global inflation and the increase of interest by the Federal Reserve Bank, more than USD 20 billion left the Egyptian market, and importation has stopped since March 2022, except for essential commodities. There are no US dollars for importation, and the Central Bank could only provide it for the payment of the quarterly debt servicing. Last March, the Central Bank of Egypt devaluated the pound by 16.6%, a managed liberalization instead of full liberalization. At the same time, the Bank increased the interest rate to attract hot money and prevent the escape of deposited funds. In the same month, the inflation rate increased from 7.3% to 10.5%. However, the problem of providing the US dollar still needs to be solved, so the government tried to get a new loan from the IMF, and to conclude the agreement, it liberated the exchange rate. It devaluated the pound in October to accumulate 35.7% lost from the EGP value. Also, the inflation rate increased to 19% last October, according to the Central Bank of Egypt, while Johns Hopkins determined it at 30%, and the field estimations indicate 40%.
Between May and August 2022, before the second devaluation, about 75% of Egyptian households decreased their consumption of meats, fish and protein and reduced their total budget for food and essential commodities. In conjunction with the increase in the interest rate and production cost, the market and growth have been deflated, as 20% of Egyptian households witnessed a decrease in their income due to losing jobs after the March devaluation, according to CAPMAS. In democracies, when the devaluation rates increase, the elector becomes a powerful punisher for the ruling party. In the case of Egypt, where the public arena is under seizure, the demonstrations represented a way of protest against the economic policies and the structural crisis of the Egyptian economy model that is built on the distribution of rent brought by debts and injected into the service sector instead of the production sector. Also, the coronavirus lockdown followed by the Rusian-Ukrainian war has its share in this situation.
Earlier, Abdel Azim Hammad, an opponent journalist, indicated the reasons for failure, limited to the absence of political organization. Yet, it was inspired by the 25th of January’s tactics instead of being inspired by its thoughts and goals to build a paradigm to achieve a similar impact but with new tools and tactics. This represents a repetition of expired experiences of a radical act. At the same time, in such times, the available means of change come from inside the political regime through what’s allowed because of economic and other pressures. Hammad attributed the failure to fear not any satisfaction from the people.
Alaa Bayoumi, an Egyptian journalist, mentioned six reasons behind the failure of protests against el-Sisi’s regime. First was the absence of hope in the efficiency of change. Second, the need for an effective strategy for the scene, as the calls came without secure networks, positive messages or a clear roadmap. Also, there was a mix between strategy and tactics. Third, disregard of contextual problems represented in the absence of community safety for most Egyptian people and the fear of hunger if shut the work down. Fourth, confusion between symbolism and materialism, and insists on considering symbolism as the way of opposition instead of material reasons. Fifth, there needs to be more clarity between virtual and political aspects, as the mobilization on social media is not an expression of a political act. And finally, the absence of intermediate groups, including political and economic coalitions among the opponents inside Egypt and abroad. The two journalists’ opinions are similar, but let us mention the reasons behind the complete picture of this failure.
Eight reasons behind the failure of protest calls
First: The violent shovelling of the public arena and putting politics under seizure for nine years. There is no concrete social association. Moreover, most governmental and civil institutions lost their independence against the state and sometimes against the presidency. The Egyptian judicial, which was considered the guarantor of a narrow integrity margin under Mubarak’s mandate, is now absent, as Egypt comes at the bottom of the list of the World Justice Project index over the past years, which is a result of the legislation of 2016 and 2017 to subordinate the Central Auditing Organization and the total domination on the Court of Cassation and other following decisions respectively. All political and community organizations were dissolved, which resulted in the inability for association and mobilization, even for internal factional demonstrations in such institutions. This is harmful to the opposition and its call for change in any form, and it is also detrimental to the political system as it means that the public has no brakes if any explosion happens.
Second: The empire of fear consolidated over the past years. During two weeks before 11/11, security forces arrested more than 165 people, according to Mada Masr. Besides, checkpoints across all cities and governorates, police individuals wearing civilian clothes forced citizens to search their cellphones, patrols during the day, and fighter squadrons flew above the Nile Delta region over the last week to frighten people. Moreover, el-Sisi stated the threats in a television call-in with the anchor Yousef El-Housieny, which was perceived as a threat of destruction or killing. Also, there was some leaked news about a military plan called “Eradah” – which means willingness – which is an expansion plan to protect the constitutional legitimacy in the scope of Greater Cairo.
Third: Full absence of hope in any qualified and efficient political act, as the people believe that “After every Caesar dies a new Caesar”, and the segment that revolted before has no desire to repeat it. And for the depoliticized categories, a lack of political consciousness is more than lacking for the organization. It’s a highly complex issue. The first generation (Y) still memorizes the killing and the bloodshed. They have a vivid experiences in their mind. While age (Z) is in a deep gap behind its previous generation, as they haven’t equipped with any consciousness, organization, or clear idea about the political act, which makes them a danger if they are subjected to any politicization process. In such cases, they will become concrete block opposites of the regimes, yet they’re still safe for the regime as they lack the preconditioned consciousness for the organization.
Fourth: The full absence of political imagination for the exiled opposition is followed by a lack of flexibility. There are no plans, strategies, thoughts or theorization to cover such calls. It’s just a repetition of the same experience while expecting different results. Also, the lack of flexibility is a prevailing characteristic for the Egyptian exiled leading personalities and elite. On the 10th of November, at 08:00 pm, Cairo time, the Egyptian YouTuber Abdallah el-Sherif, proactively called for protests at this time. And despite the lies about responses from the people in Suez and Kafr el-Sheikh, widespread videos went viral for campaigns of armoured vehicles and police forces patrolling in Suez and Kafr el-Sheikh, which compromised the sense of safety. They sent a message the regime was determined and will show no mercy the next day. There was an opportunity for the opposition to replace its invitation to protest on Friday morning, considering the disappointing response to the el-Sherif invitation, with civil disobedience and staying home between 01:00 pm to 06:00 pm. Such a flexible move could have sustained the revolutionary act and given a burst of hope to the people. Instead, what happened represented flexibility and the ability to use political imagination. It could have been a building block for an effective strategy that may last a year or two without starting with protests.
Fifth: The radical position against the state. Ignoring that the state in Egypt is the mother of society, as it is attached to her as a fetus, leads to incomplete recognition of any calls that show radical hostility against the state. However, the people believe in the justice of their demands.
Sixth: The economic status is witnessing its worst conditions, and instead of motivating the people to change, it encourages them to maintain the status quo. The living memory of the economic collapse during the January revolution is still present, even though the current situation is much worse. Many national projects have been stopped, and the companies dismissed thousands of their labour.
Seventh: Isolated islands strategy and media blackout. During the days preceding the calls, the police isolated the margin areas from the centre and the middle-class regions through checkpoints. The authorities expected that the most respondent areas would be the poor and marginalized areas, which was true. Last Tuesday, a person, who lived in such places in the city of Tanta, set himself on fire in front of the governorate building after his request for a “food booth” was refused. The incident was intentionally absent from the media, and other incidents occurred, but the police handled it with a high performance of media blackout and silence.
Eighth: The response was limited to the poor and marginalized groups, while the middle class was just an audience despite its leading role. This prompted some opponent intellectuals to accuse this call of being issued by the regime itself as the middle class didn’t adopt the option of change.
Anyway, there are significant and sub reasons. Also, there are structural reasons, including that the ability for political activity and its cornerstone was moved from the centre to the margins and from cities to villages and countryside. The margins are usually dominated by patriarchal structures that control and contribute to the consolidation or tendency towards autocracy instead of urban openness close to modernity. And despite the state’s failure in production, industrial development, agriculture and service sector, it’s still able to respond to the desire for demonstration in wise ways.
However, the status of unrest and the escalation of the economic crisis has no foreseen solutions, and, probably, the regime will face a political problem in the following months. Then the margins may uprise and burn the centre. The silenced scene of Cairo and other cities means that fear is in control, and if hunger persists, then anger and rage will take power instead. In such a case, Adrenalin will have the total capacity to end the status of fear and subordination.