In reverse gear

April 12, 2014 - 12:36:50 am

General El Sissi’s relentless crackdown on opposition will only destroy Egypt’s social and democratic fabric.

It’s time for Egypt’s current rulers to stop killing their opponents and instead focus on governance. The regime of General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been pursuing Brotherhood members with such virulence and mercilessness that even his backers abroad are worried. But the el-Sissi and his men seem to be not worried. Decimating opposition is their first priority and everything else is secondary, though Egypt’s economy is in such dire straits that it is literally gasping for money. Two members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed yesterday in an exchange of gunfire with security forces in the Nile Delta, and the Islamist group said another of its supporters was shot dead in Alexandria. The Brotherhood too is retaliating. Attacks on the security forces have become commonplace since the army deposed Mohamed Mursi last July after mass protests against his rule. 

Though foreign backers of Sissi are alarmed at the general’s excesses, there has been no serious effort to rein him in. For example, US Secretary of State John F Kerry has made it clear that he is eager to see Sissi “taking steps to govern democratically” before US military aid to Egypt can be fully resumed. But the US can do much more than issue a statement to bring order in Egypt. The Obama administration can exert pressure on the rulers in Cairo in a way that will force them to listen. On the issue of crackdown on opposition in Cairo, the US and Egypt’s Arab allies are caught in a dilemma: on the one hand, they would like to see Islamists crippled in a way they don’t come back to reclaim power, and on the other hand, they don’t want to be seen as working against democratic norms.

But it’s not the Islamic opposition alone which is the target of Sissi. The general’s intolerance and suppression of freedom of expression are reaching new highs with each passing day,  breaking his own record. Journalists are being targeted. Al Jazeera has been the biggest victim. Its reporters, of several nationalities, have been languishing in Egyptian prisons, their only crime being that they reported what was happening in Egypt. In the beginning, the arrest of some Al Jazeera journalists was seen as a stunt to intimidate the media and it was expected that the authorities would release them soon. But the government had a sinister agenda and the scribes were denied justice and were physically assaulted.

The government has also been targeting pro-democracy activists. On Monday, a court upheld three-year sentences for three of the country’s best-known political prisoners. Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel are founding members of the group that led the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak in 2011; Ahmed Douma is another young pro-democracy activist. All three were convicted of protesting a law that bans public demonstrations not sanctioned by the government.