A Spring of Surprises – By Martins Agbonlahor

The 25th January 2021, marked ten years since the so-called Arab Spring occurred in Egypt. A revolution of sorts, it led to the resignation of the then President Hosni Mubarak who had ruled the country for almost thirty years. It was a sight to behold, as the mammoth crowd which had gathered in Tahrir Square chanted their demands ad nauseam: ‘We want freedom, justice and bread!’ They also yearned for an end to absolute dictatorship and of those marauders in military uniform who act with impunity.

An election was eventually organised. Adjudged ‘free and fair,’ it produced an eventual winner: a certain Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was sworn in with pageantry, as a certain individual stood ramrod straight to give his Commander-in-Chief a military salute. He was the obscure General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. But hardly had the new president settled fully on the throne than trouble started, with claims that he would sow division in the country if allowed to rule, as his party: the Muslim Brotherhood was adjudged a ‘terrorist organisation.’ A tumultuous revolt was orchestrated against him, General Al-Sisi eventually staging his overthrow and eventual imprisonment. Some blamed the insurrection on the unseen hand of Big Brother in the White House, but what I can’t decipher is this: if the Muslim Brotherhood was indeed a terrorist organisation, why did the Egyptian state allow the group to present candidates for the election? Why was the party allowed to campaign throughout the country? And why did the upper echelon of the military realise that they had been dealing with a “terrorist organisation” only after their electoral victory, or did they suddenly became “terrorists” after their electoral victory? These need to be answered else the only tentative inference as to why the elected president was toppled would be General Al-Sisi’s inordinate ambition to grab power.

General Fattah Al-Sisi* has today become a dictator who brooks no opposition. And woe betides anyone caught organising an ‘illegal’ protest against his government, as such fellow would be accused of treason, an unappealable offence which carries the death penalty. Anyone following events in Egypt would surely be sardonically amused. This is General Al-Sisi who had himself committed high treason by overthrowing an elected and legitimate government and now he is threatening others with eternal damnation. What an arrogance of power! To add to this, his core henchmen and security operatives are all above the law like Papa Doc’s Tontons Macoutes and Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau. A case in point was the 2016 kidnapping and gruesome murder of Italian researcher, Giulio Regeni, who was massively tortured beyond recognition by the Egyptian security operatives so much so that his mother only recognised him with the only part that stood out from his battered body: his nose. With a commission of enquiry staged by both the Italian and their Egyptian counterpart in the face of some incontrovertible body of evidence presented by the Italian investigators, the Egyptian authorities suddenly withdrew from the case blaming the murder on “unknown enemies.” This has left the Italian courts to prosecute the four Egyptian suspects in absentia.

Recently, General Al-Sisi ordered his new chief of staff to “use all brute force necessary” to stabilise the Sinai Peninsula following a militant attack on a mosque there. Any leader whose sanity is intact would never use such inappropriate words knowing that there are a huge number of innocent civilian populations along that region. But this is General Al-Sisi’s Egypt where might has fast become right and decorum thrown to the dogs. His siege mentality has made almost everyone a target. Journalists are hated with passion, and while one or two are released occasionally due to public outcry and international condemnation, others like Aljazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein who has spent four years in prison without charge are condemned to rot in jail undermining the excruciating physical and mental pain the gentleman has suffered. In a damning report by Amnesty International, it was hinted that prisoners were being routinely denied treatment, crammed into overcrowded prisons and left unprotected from the current coronavirus pandemic. These have resulted in twelve deaths in custody since last year. It will be recalled that ex-President, Mohammed Morsi, had died in prison as well as a top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam el-Erian who died after being denied medical attention.

In the economic front, Egypt which used to be the pride of North Africa is almost now a basket case with debts owed to the IMF to the tune of $40 billion. While basic infrastructures such as healthcare, education and provision of pipe-borne water are crumbling, the Egyptian State allocates a whopping $1.2 billion of its yearly budget to the purchase of American munitions – and yet she is not at war! I feel terribly sad for the poor Egyptian people whose dream of a democratic country turned out a mirage. Your ‘Arab Spring’ was a revolution betrayed, but all hope isn’t lost, for evil cannot persist forever. And to the Fattah Al-Sisis of this world, a day of reckoning would definitely emerge no matter how long it takes. Where’s Mobutu Sese Seko today? He killed his people and plundered the wealth of his country with reckless abandon only to die a broken man in exile. Romania’s Ceausescu was a demigod when he lived and his harsh pronouncements, tantamount to a command. However, when his end came, his henchmen and men Friday abandoned him as fellow officers pumped live bullets into his brain. How about the despotic Samuel Doe of Liberia whose huge frame was decimated piecemeal by his captors when they succeeded in overthrowing him in 1990? I can go on quoting, but General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi should know that power is transient. It is ephemeral. It is either he chooses to leave a positive legacy for posterity’s sake or remain as he is presently, an empty shell awaiting the bulldozers of history. The choice is his to make.

Agbonlahor is a journalist and author based in Manchester. His new novel: Another Poor Cow – the Dangers of Tradition in Rural Nigeria is available in all online bookstores. (* I have intentionally stuck with ‘General’ rather than ‘President’ in this write-up, because tin-god dictators veiled as ‘elected presidents’ do not earn my respect.)       

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