El-Sisi should look to soft power over security


El-Sisi should look to soft power over security

Leaders’ rhetoric matters. Their explicit messages provide clear indications about the course they intend to steer for their nations; while their implicit messages, and the emotions expressed, are for citizens to interpret. I found the short speech recently delivered by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the inauguration of a new gas field that will significantly boost Egypt’s resources, in which he described his strategy for his potential second presidential term, disturbing.
El-Sisi is a very determined president, who knows exactly what he wants and is not in the least distracted by the outlook of experts or international opinion. He has been Egypt’s president since June 2014, and he obviously expectsthat he will rule for a second four-year term. The rhetoric he used in his speech was clear; he said his people don’t really know him — a signal that he could easily extend and intensify the policies he has applied during his first term. 
The president clearly intends to capitalize on the climate of fear, a tactic that he believes serves him best. In reality, however, rather than intimidate, fear works to stimulate El-Sisi’s opponents and the state’s enemies. If brandishing the stick of fear were an effective tool, it would have served him better during his first term in office, when Egyptians were truly afraid of terrorism and sought stability above all else. Today, Egyptians are polarized between those who benefit from the state, whom the president often addresses, and the growing number of marginalized people with nothing to lose. 
El-Sisi is now considering asking Egyptians to repeat the scenario that took place at the time of the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi and his ruling regime — i.e., to authorize him to adopt extraordinary measures to prevent the state’s downfall. This raises the serious question of what El-Sisi — who has been a fully authorized president for roughly four years, during which he has enjoyed a wide scope of effective authority — could do better in his second term. 

If brandishing the stick of fear were an effective tool, it would have served the president better during his first term in office, when Egyptians were truly afraid of terrorism and sought stability above all else.

Mohammed Nosseir

We have been living with the devastating struggle against terrorism and the possibility of becoming a failed state for the past four-and-a-half years, reaching the stage where Egyptians are killing one another on the streets and in mosques and churches. The president is proposing to extend his mandate to fight Egypt’s enemies and ward off the failure of the state. I had expected him to send out a more positive and stimulating message, calling for building a peaceful and prosperous nation by applying a different policy. 
The greatly debatable results of government mega-projects aside, Egyptians by and large are still living amid an economic stagnation that stimulates them to demand a change of leadership or, at least, of policies. The Egyptian state is expanding its economic projects at the expense of a clearly shrinking private sector, while the unemployment rate is rising and the poor are suffering more. This policy is making the majority of citizens less prosperous and favoring the small number of state affiliates.
We Egyptians should not take pride in sacrificing our security apparatus on the front line fighting terrorism, while refusing to explore any kind of peaceful solution. Advanced nations tend to measure their success by their ability to reduce the number and magnitude of crimes committed. We are working on fueling mistrust, pitting members of our society against one another — and eventually priding ourselves on the fallen martyrs of the security apparatus. We would be much better off as a nation if we lived together in peace. 
Egypt certainly needs a leader who can reduce the hatred and in-fighting among some of its citizens that we have been living with in recent years. This is what motivated the few serious potential candidates who had intended to run for president but withdrew. Moreover, the fearful message that the president is striving to deliver does not work in a country where the vast majority are poor and illiterate, and could be easily misguided by erroneous religious interpretations. 
The president, who believes that ruling Egypt is all about security, should consider tapping into the possibility of utilizing our soft power. El-Sisi, who defines himself as a non-politician, is occupying the premier political position in Egypt in an historical era where politics truly matters. He has stated that his fellow citizens don’t know him well and that he won’t allow another revolution to happen. He may be surprised by Egyptians, who are willing to pay a high price for peace and economic stability, and are not intimidated by messages of fear. 
Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.
Twitter: @MohammedNosseir
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