The Republic of Fear

The Egyptian government issued a decree in July placing regulatory and independent agencies under the auspices of the president of the country, authorizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to replace the agencies’ leaders. This move effectively puts an end to the agencies’ independent regulatory role by threatening their ability to both ensure the executive authority does not interfere with authorities and to hold public office holders to account. The bodies said to be affected by the new law are the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), the Accountability State Authority – the country’s central auditing agency (ASA), and the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA).

This concentration of power in the hands of the president, in addition to the executive authority’s interference with and marginalization of regulatory and independent agencies, is compounded by the dominance of security and intelligence services over other public institutions. This is reflected in efforts by the government to control universities by granting security forces the right to enter campuses, or through the arrest of workers on charges of illegal protests, such as activist Ayman al-Fakhri who was sentenced to six months in prison. As a result, the Egyptian government has taken on a unilateral and authoritarian nature.

Since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, the regime has passed a number of extraordinary laws and amendments—decrees that limit the right to peaceful protest; that grant university presidents the power to refer students and faculty to investigation; that extends the jurisdiction of military forces to all public institutions; that could potentially restrict foreign funding for non-governmental organizations. These laws violate the basic tenets of rule of law intended to protect justice, rights, and freedoms, not to mention the legal procedures put in place to avoid injustices and discrimination. As a result, Egypt is now in the grip of a ruling regime that pays no heed to human rights or freedoms. Nor does the regime respect the local norms that were enshrined at the national level through sacrifices made by Egyptian citizens. It also disregards the relevant international norms that have been observed by national state institutions and bodies for decades.

On top of this is the state’s unilateral control of the public sphere through the ever-present authoritarian bargain: bread and security in exchange for justice, mind and freedom. The government presents itself to Egyptians as the only actor able to provide bread and security, an ability that depends on the power of the military establishment and state bureaucracy. Potential competitors are, on the other hand, presented as: in need of ‘presidential guidance’ (the private sector); ineffective and driven by private interests and personal agendas (political parties); or as serving subversive agendas and Western interests (civil society). Smear campaigns also target those who stand out from the masses by denouncing the regime’s unilateral and authoritarian style, and those who refuse to be dragged into the McCarthyism that seeks to justify terrorism and violence.

On the other hand, citizens are regularly removed from the public sphere through extraordinary laws, oppression, and continued threats if they peacefully oppose the regime or even publically disagree with its policies and methods. Egyptian and International rights organizations have condemned what they describe as a recent surge in forced disappearances of activists and students.

Finally, the government is seeking to address the country’s pressing economic and employment issues either by promoting national mega-projects, or through deafening silence. The implemented economic measures are either long-term projects, which albeit include important structural reforms that I don’t disagree with, or are megaprojects driven by populist and political considerations. In fairness to the government, some minor projects have been introduced and they are of a positive impact on the poor and needy—such as the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s programs Takaful and Karama, aimed at financing the education of children of impoverished families, or providing disadvantaged senior citizens with a monthly income. On the whole, however, the message from the government is, as the saying goes, “Patience is the key to relief.” As a result, we are faced with a state of pure tyranny, which thrives in a republic of fear and hides behind the banner of Egyptian patriotism, all the while exploiting crimes of terrorism, which are used to justify further oppression, subjection, and disregard of rights and freedoms. These abuses threaten to disrupt the balance between public authorities, transforming Egypt into a republic of despair, bloodshed, and destruction.

Amr Hamzawy joined the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo in 2011, where he continues to serve today. He is a former member of parliament, former member of the National Salvation Front, and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party.