A year after Egypt's military deposed President Mohamed Morsi, a new regime is finally starting to take shape. At its head is the retired field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the commander who toppled Morsi last year on July 3. He was elected president by 97 percent of the vote in a May election, which, although most likely technically clean, hardly constituted a real contest. After all, the most effective opposition movements had already been crushed.
In various speeches and interviews, Sisi has described his mission as repairing an economy devastated by three years of turmoil, preventing Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood from regrouping, and “restoring the prestige of the Egyptian state.” The last phrase is key. Media and officials have used it repeatedly since 2011 to bemoan popular defiance of authority: activist protests that closed down Cairo for days at a time, labor unrest, attacks on police stations, and street vendors encroaching on government property. Only a state ready to wield power ruthlessly can keep Egypt moving, the logic goes. “He who is afraid cannot govern,” Sisi said at his first cabinet meeting. “There is no place for trembling hands.” The field marshal has elsewhere said that “true democracy” may need to wait 20 to 25 years, and that tourists, vital to the economy, would never come to a country with such out-of-control demonstrations.
THE HIGH AND LOW STATE
Sisi's agenda may be to put the genie of 2011 back in the bottle, but he knows that he must adopt new tools and tactics. Former President Hosni Mubarak controlled Egypt primarily through the police and the ruling National Democratic Party -- what can be called a “low state.” Meanwhile, the military and judiciary remained a “high state,” standing somewhat apart in society. The low state’s job was to coerce and co-opt; over time, both the police and the NDP developed a well-deserved reputation for corruption. In contrast, the high state stayed aloof. The army and the courts were not expected to drum up loyalty for Mubarak among the
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