So the day is done and as expected millions took to the streets in response to General Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi’s call to authorise the army to “fight terrorism.” Scenes from yesterday’s different marches and demonstrations show how confusing things were. It was indeed more of a pro-army and pro-Sisi mobilisation than an anti-terrorism event. I understand that those who are pro-Sisi are also with his anticipated crackdown on terrorism (in whichever way the army chooses to define it), but that does not necessarily justify the unmistakable propaganda that occurred yesterday.
I am not claiming that yesterday’s marches were nothing but propaganda, but I am pointing out how many of those who participated were under the influence of a collective infatuation that certainly found its supporting means and started to grow worrisomely. Al-Sisi’s charisma is indeed expanding, the army’s presence in different aspects of life in Egypt is being further consolidated day after day and the role of all political forces, whether institutional or non-institutional, is receding. While these could be seen as early signs of Al-Sisi’s attempts to establish himself as more than a commander-in-chief of the armed forces, I believe this is not what we should be worried about.
The way Al-Sisi is being glorified and celebrated at the moment points to a much dangerous possibility; the re-personalization of the state and of the regime in Egypt. The legacy of Nasser started this political and psychological mechanism. Nasser himself was the symbol of what happened in 1952, and a few years later he became the symbol of Egyptian Nationalism. It was the model of Nasser that started this confusion between the individual and the institution, which we clearly still suffer from today.
I am not about to criticise and debate the Nasser experiment, or the Sadat administration or even the Mubarak years that clearly have a solid lobby defending them these days. What I am pointing to is, despite how different those presidents were, the common thread between them was how personal their political decisions were made, how they made individuals responsible for tasks that should have been carried out by institutions or councils. The outcome of this was a country that just became whatever its president wanted it to be. Look at the huge shifts in policy from one president to another and you’ll see just how personalised Egyptian politics are since 1952. It is exactly this form of patriarchy that should be feared more than glorifying the army and Al-Sisi at this specific time.
At this particular moment, the strength of political institutions remains insufficient to administer the scene in Egypt. Social forces, although with more awareness now, are still far from being powerful and organised enough to actually govern a state-society relationship. Meanwhile, the armed forces remain the only national institution in Egypt. However, this institution is historically prone to, and politically capable of, being personalised and summarised into an individual. In other words, the real threat is not Al-Sisi’s hunger for power; it is jeopardizing the only national institution that we have in Egypt.
The wave of Al-Sisi’s glorification and army reverence must make us always aware of a set of questions. To whom is the army accountable now? How could the army’s statements and information be verified from now on? The army-media-intellectuals alliance, would that ever influence how objectively different events are seen and covered?
These past two years have proven that Egypt is in serious need of institutions. Building political institutions is the answer to many problems that Egypt has faced over the course of its first transitional period; there is no need to make the same mistakes over and over again.
The institutional presence of the army must be kept intact while more input goes to building civil political institutions. Al-Sisi has not shown himself as a power-hungry General so far, but the unnecessary propaganda unfortunately does not help to support this idea. Those who are not pro-Sisi are not necessarily pro-Brotherhood. It must be understood that a middle ground does exist between both poles and there are plenty of Egyptians who are not represented on either side of the struggle, not because they don’t want the army to fight terrorism, but because they want the army to remain an institution. Recreating the rule of the individual is Egypt’s ongoing curse that we must get rid of one day.