There are three movements rooting for Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s nomination in the upcoming presidential elections. One of those movements is what we can call the popular current, which expresses the general mood of the people in the streets. The second movement is supporters of the former regime, including some of the state’s apparatus. The third movement is those who believe in the possibility of reform.
The first movement is made of a wide base of people in rural villages, towns and urban slums. They do not really have a complete understanding of politics or a political vision. They instead depend the sorts of simple promises politicians make to attract those who are less fortunate. The movement does not really have leaders or symbols. Instead, most of the movement is made up of local popular leaders who cannot argue or defend their ideas eloquently or politically. Generally, this movement is not represented within the elite groups, at least in a way that is representative of its strength and numbers in the street.
So, why does this movement support Al-Sisi? To answer this question, I have to return to a point I explained in a previous article about how these people are convinced that ruling should be conducted in an oppressive way. Those belonging to the lower classes are fed up with the security situation and the lack of stability; therefore, the desire to regain their lives, which have collapsed along with their ambitions and expectations, has become pressing. Due to this weariness and desperation, they wish only to regain security and stability – even if it means the return of the negative side effects that often come with security, of which they used to complain. However, the situation has become so bad that they don’t care about their previous complaints. A taxi driver once told me: ”During Mubarak’s reign, it was possible to be detained at the police station and be beaten up a bit, but in return there wasn’t any possibility of being mugged or having someone steal the taxi that is my livelihood.”
This explains why the people want a strong president to forcefully bring security and stability. This idea has been marketed by the upper classes, especially those belonging to the former regime. The driver along with other members of the movement, believe that security will improve their daily lives. The situation is summarised in the film An Ant’s Cry, which was filmed shortly after the 25 January Revolution. The movie tells the tale of a man who criticises the state and ends up being arrested and tortured by state security forces. It ends with the officer giving the protagonist some advice, or, rather, orders, as one of the “lords of the country”. The officer explains to the “lowly citizen” how he’s an ant and that he could easily be stepped on by the “lords” if he starts behaving like he’s somebody. However, if he behaves like an ant, then his life will be safe and will run smoothly. The officer ends his speech with this great piece of wisdom: “If you live like an ant, you’ll eat sugar.” The protagonist then tells his friends, “This country has lords and owners who can barely put up with us, and if we speak out of place, they can deport us.” However, after a few days of water cuts, and after hesitation, the protagonist announces his rebellion because he realises that the police officer’s promise was not fulfilled. He then leads a protest, chanting: “We are the ants. Where is the sugar?”
Where is the sugar? Can Al-Sisi supply the sugar? Gamal Abdel Nasser, who is considered by some as a good ruler, was able to exchange humiliation for security. He distributed three million acres among peasants and garnered the support of the Soviet Union to attain arms and build the High Dam. He also nationalised factories and responded to the demands of the workers or “ants” as among the “owners of the country”. Most importantly, Nasser was a strong ruler, not only through oppressive security tactics, but also through the presence of a functioning state that was capable of providing education, health care and water, among other things.
The popular movement then built their expectations on mistaken assumptions – mainly that a strong state is the same as an oppressive state, which is not true. A strong state is a state that is present and able to provide its citizens with needed services. The second assumption is that the “sugar” is in Al-Sisi’s reach, when facts on the ground affirm that the state is growing weaker because of oppressive security practices. Therefore, “sugar” in Egypt is not in Al-Sisi’s reach – or in anyone else’s reach. It will take a clear concession from the “owners of the country” in order for the “ants” to be able to participate in the collection and supply of the “sugar”.