The problem is that it is failing at both. On politics and economics, rather than building partnerships and thinking long-term, Sissi has chosen the easier path — and undermined his ability to achieve reform or stability in the process.
Sissi’s version of economic reform has been limited to removing subsidies and freeing the exchange rate, without a deeper restructuring of the nation’s economic and regulatory structures. Expectedly, this has impoverished many Egyptians. In multiple public addresses, Sissi reiterated his determination to proceed with his policies “even if we have to go hungry.” While he might be willing to do so, the majority of the nearly 100 million Egyptians he governs are tired of it. Their resentment is growing — and the government has increasingly resorted to repression to check this resentment.
And the regime has been taking on enemies left and right. In addition to the millions who reel as the economic situation deteriorates, there are millions of angry Islamist supporters waiting for an opportunity to avenge their dead and tortured. There is also an armed militia in Sinai that has not been defeated. Add to this millions of young people who hate everything the regime stands for, and millions more who had believed that liberal democracy was within reach only to be thrown back to a 1960 military rule.
As if that was not enough, the regime has hollowed out political institutions more than any time in the past. When a group of young activists, led by former member of parliament Ziad El-Elaimy, tried to run for legislative elections, it threw them all in jail. Using a combination of juridical and extra-juridical tools, it has eviscerated civil society, purged the civil service and silenced the media. The result has been the eradication of the regime’s safety valve and removal of the buffers between the regime and its unhappy citizens.
In other words, Egypt’s dictatorship is sitting on a cloud of fear. Below is a powder keg. If this cloud is punched, the regime will be consumed by the ensuing fire. And this cloud of fear is bound to be broken through because the regime’s so-called reforms, and the repression it must use to enforce them, are raising the temperature even further.
That is no sign of stability. If anything, it is a warning shot. Beating up Alaa Abdel Fattah and Esraa Abdel Fattah is not going to make Egypt’s formidable challenges go away, make the majority of Egyptians more accepting of their deteriorating living conditions or reduce the number of the regime’s enemies. Only an end to the repression and a national reconciliation can achieve the elusive stability — and the deep reforms Egyptians need and deserve.