In the long-established tradition of Middle Eastern dictators, General ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, the Pharaoh of Egypt, also wants to rule forever. The minor inconvenience — constitutional provision limiting presidents to two four-year terms — has just been done away with through a parliamentary “amendment” and “approved” in a referendum.
The referendum farce was held over three-days — April 20–22. It was a major headache for the police, members of the pro-Sisi Nation’s Future Party, and “Tick the Box” campaigners. Their challenge was how to get the nearly 55 million eligible but lethargic and largely reluctant voters to the polling stations. They came up with novel ways to get them to the embarrassingly empty polling stations.
Al-Sisi and his henchmen had lined up their ducks before the referendum. First, the 596-member parliament, dominated by Sisi cronies, approved the amendments on April 16. Two articles in particular were at issue: article 140 of the 2014 constitution extended the presidential term to six years from four. Second, it amended article 241 to allow Sisi to run for another term in 2024.
Under the 2014 constitution, al-Sisi’s second term would have ended in 2022. But power is addictive. Al-Sisi and his military henchmen were not going to allow minor constitutional inconveniences to get in the way when they have to deal with such weighty matters as the military’s total control of the economy, domination of the judiciary, and further expansion of its powers to all facets of society.
The Pharaoh on the Nile had also made pilgrimage to the White House to get the blessings of his godfather, Donald Trump. His Zionist masters were already on board. Al-Sisi has locked up 60,000 political prisoners — all troublemakers that need to be dealt with firmly that only he can do. With the military’s expanded powers over the already docile judiciary, civilians can now be tried in military courts and sent to the gallows much more expeditiously.
Leading up to the referendum, the regime also blocked more than 34,000 internet websites in an attempt to restrict the opposition’s Void campaign. The opposition still managed to gather more than 250,000 signatures to oppose the constitutional amendments and ban on their internet campaign against the referendum. The total number of signatures probably surpassed the number of votes cast in favour of the amendments as was evident from the empty polling booths!
This, however, was not for lack of trying. Regime henchmen forced storeowners to hang pro-referendum banners in front of their shops. Large business owners were asked to donate between 300–500 food packages that would be given to those who vote “yes” to the amendments.
That still left the question of getting voters to the polling stations. The police forced microbus drivers to carry voters to the polling stations in return for 300 Egyptian pounds (US$17). Their driver’s license was taken away and returned only after they had bussed the people. Each voter was also given 150 Egyptian pounds, a nice bakhshish for fulfilling their “civic duty”!
At the polling stations, voters were asked to surrender their IDs. While the ID number was entered into a computer, they were given a numbered ballot paper that was also matched with their ID card number. Still not taking any chances, “Tick the Box” officials careened over voters’ shoulders to ensure they marked “yes” on the ballot.
With this great exercise in democracy over, voters were ushered back to the computer tables to retrieve their IDs as well as get a numbered card. This entitled them to a box of rations — rice, sugar, bottle of oil, pasta, and salt — from the neighborhood store. There were chaotic scenes at the stores. Not only were people fighting, the police and polling officials also joined in the melee grabbing what they could.
The Egyptian economy is in dire straits. Six years of al-Sisi’s misrule has brought it to the brink by launching grandiose “megaprojects.” In 2014, he invested $8 billion to expand the Suez Canal Corridor. It was predicated on the claim that the expansion would more than double annual revenue, raising it from $5.5 billion in 2014 to $13.5 billion by 2023. Far from realizing this fantastic figure, the regime has quietly dropped the subject altogether.
His other grandiose scheme is the development of a new administrative capital at a staggering cost of $45 billion. Where the funds will come from is a subject the regime is mum about. It is a way to funnel more money to corrupt military officials who already control 60% of the Egyptian economy. Like the militaries of most Muslim countries, the Egyptian military is also into real estate, hotels, tourism, and industry. The brutes in uniform are involved in everything except defending the country’s borders. They have surrendered to the Zionists and would do anything to protect their financial interests.
Al-Sisi has devalued the Egyptian pound so much that the country would need to triple exports simply to earn the same amount of hard currency as it did in 2008. This is a herculean task for which the Pharaoh and his henchmen have no solution. Similarly, the country is being crushed under the weight of public debt due to massive borrowing. Under al-Sisi, public debt has risen fivefold in the last five years and is expected to rise further.
The regime cannot meet even the most basic needs of the people. Al-Sisi has said publicly that the treasury is empty, and a full third of the budget is allotted to paying interest on the debt. This burden is passed to the people whose income has plummeted amid rising costs. A recent report on household income and expenditure revealed the proportion of people below the poverty line — living on less than $2.50 per day — rose from 27.8% in 2015 to about 30% in 2018.
And yet al-Sisi’s drumbeaters say that the Pharaoh needs more time to continue with his “reform agenda.” What is that aimed at: when every Egyptian except the military fat cats are starving?