Egyptian contractor and actor Mohamed Ali has succeeded, with a few videos, in creating a degree of controversy that Egypt has not seen in many years. The public interaction with Ali and the rejection of the current situation in Egypt has seen people break the fear barrier after a long silence. This all confirms that the Egyptian people do not accept the reality of their country, the poverty and the World Bank’s conditions imposed in a corrupt environment. Ali has raised all possible discussions about the economy, corruption, justice, freedom, the military, politics and state accountability. The issues presented by him have shaken the mindset of the Egyptian elite across the country.
Modern Egypt has lost territory and become more dependent on the US and Israel; indeed, it is subjugated to both and has lost its status in Africa. Never in living memory has there been such limits imposed on basic freedoms, nor has there been such high levels of poverty.
Egypt has been in crisis since the 2013 coup which led to the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya massacre. With prisons overcrowded with prisoners of conscience and people detained for no more than taking part in peaceful protests, there has been a total lack of political reconciliation. Even senior figures like Lieutenant General Sami Anan and Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, Hisham Geneina and others who proposed alternatives to the government’s policies languish in prison. Anan’s “crime” was to stand against Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in the presidential election; Geneina was his campaign manager. As for Aboul-Fotouh, he simply expressed a peaceful and balanced opinion regarding the situation in Egypt, for which he was imprisoned. There are no guarantees of safety in Egyptian prisons. They are dangerous places.
Aside from social media, Egyptians have nowhere to go to obtain critical perspectives of what is going on in their country. That is why millions have been attracted to Mohamed Ali’s videos, instead of the tame pro-regime media. His efforts have also breathed some life into the opposition media outlets based overseas in exile.
Tunisia changed following the surprise self-immolation of 27-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010, an act which sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. Lately, surprise demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria have brought about progress and change in both countries. Now, Mohamed Ali’s surprise video comments have caused panic in the Egyptian state institutions. Is change going to follow? There is a pattern in the Middle East-North Africa region of rulers and governments undervaluing the people and fighting for power at all costs.
Egypt has many advantages that will affect its political development. The army is not sectarian; it is a truly national body resulting historical steps in state-building and resisting colonialism. In Egypt, the identity crisis suffered by the Arabs generally has been resolved. It is neither Sunni nor Shia, nor does the state belong to a family or tribe. Attempts to make it so will not succeed because of the strength of the Egyptian identity and the constant feeling amongst the people that they will be the catalyst for positive change. It is almost certain that the Egyptian army will never become controlled by a sect or a few officers linked to the political system.
The voices from Egypt assure us that there is no way that 100 million people can be ruled according to one man’s moods or whims, without justice and accountability. Intimidation and repression will only lead to rebellion and resistance. Egypt has an economy without any raw materials or oil covering up the waste of wealth and mismanagement. It is one of the Arab countries most in need of fair economic regulation, progressive taxes, freedoms, rights and transferable democratic power.
If you wonder where the Egyptian people draw their strength from, it is their renewable culture. Egypt has poets, scientists, political movements and theatrical, film and musical creativity. It has a generation of youth able to innovate, as we saw in 2011 and previous revolutions and social movements. It is difficult to control Egyptian society, difficult to rein it in, and difficult to put the people in a box controlled by a security agency or an American or Israeli plan. Egypt is too big to be turned into a country working against itself, its people and its identity.
It is now clear from the new Egyptian movement that large numbers of the elite who supported President Al-Sisi in the beginning are now calling for change; for the restoration of political life in Egypt; and for new elections with genuine candidates who are not imprisoned to keep them from standing for office. The Egyptians know that Egypt needs an enormous effort to save it from corruption, narrow interests and the army’s massive investments and control of the economy. The Mohamed Ali phenomenon marks the beginning of a phase of Egyptian political resistance which seeks a just state, clear rights and an accountable political system.
This article first appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi in Arabic on 2 October 2019. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.