Despite the expanding boundaries of authoritarian rule, more varied and more in number than ever, not to mention the growing contradictions, Mubarakʹs regime managed to offer a measure of flexibility to enable it to continue, with the least necessary recourse to blunt force.

But such an expansion may have been a blessing in disguise. Over the last years of Mubarakʹs rule, the regime lost much of its ability to control the lines between the official and the unofficial, expanding one, whilst being forced to rein in the other.

Brute force

The current regime, from the day it seized power, learned the lesson from Mubarakʹs fall of grace and the meekness of his regime which turned against him. By contrast, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has not tried to promise a better tomorrow. The economic situation is dire, and it will remain so. Sisi doesnʹt lie; there is neither an education nor a health system to speak of in Egypt, according to him.

He doesnʹt raise the banners with slogans about human rights and democracy. The solution is ʹbrute forceʹ, which is repeated by the President again and again. The official media scramble to promote autocracy, not to cover it up. Itʹs out in the open; no-one even bothers to deny that the Intelligence agency buys and runs its own media platforms, something which used to be done behind closed doors.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's campaign kicks off in Cairo (photo: Reuters)
In the grey zone: the ideology of autocracy exists between what is legal and what is informal; between fear and a sense of security; between what the autocratic power says and what it actually does on the ground; between what is public and what is not, regardless of whether something is in fact common knowledge

The regime has openly kidnapped potential presidential candidates and yet they still appear on our TV screens. The regime assaulted the former head of the largest surveillance apparatus, the Administrative Control Authority, as well as a potential candidate, on a public road. Two candidates have been incarcerated and another is under house arrest, all this even before the elections have started.

Shamelessly and unambiguously, the regime is issuing instructions to one political party after another, with the aim of ʹencouragingʹ one of its members to stand in the elections. This much is public; no-one bothers to deny or embellish the story.

An open secret

Opinion pieces appear in the press that admonish the regime for not having had enough time to stage the play. Indeed it is a play which they all acknowledge, albeit unsatisfactorily produced. Never has this been clearer, more public and more open than it is now.

The regime is not really interested in beautifying the electoral process. On the contrary, it is going out of its way to ridicule and insult it, in the most blatant way possible. The regime doesnʹt lie; it doesnʹt wish to lie. There are no grey areas of any sort; those that exist have been reduced to a hairʹs breadth.

Some people console themselves that this version of crude autocracy will necessarily be short-lived by dint of its rigidity and inflexibility, but this is not always so. Autocracy which is true to itself endures, as does autocracy that is capable of adapting. However, the limited number of tools at its disposal, which usually ends up numbering just one, repression, means that its victims are much greater in number – and the price that much higher.

Shady Lewis Botros

© 2018

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

Shady Lewis Botros is an Egyptian writer and psychologist based in London. He specialises in analysing the psychological structure of political discourse in the Arab world.

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