Global Pairings

Syria and Egypt: Two Counterrevolutions in Action

Western leaders still grossly distort what’s going on in Egypt. It’s really no better than what happens in Syria.

Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announcing the coup on Egypt's state television on July 3, 2013.

Takeaways


  • The US and UK praise Sisi for making Egypt just as authoritarian as the Syria they chastise.
  • For all the attention devoted to Syria, the same characteristics apply to Egypt’s elections.
  • Half the population turned out to vote in Egypt and Syria. Sisi and Assad kept the other half from the polls.
  • The World Press Freedom index 2014 puts both countries almost on a par: Egypt in 159th place, Syria in 177th.
  • Should Arabs respect Western powers that hypocritically praise tyranny in Egypt while condemning it in Syria?

The two biggest countries to have experienced the Arab Awakening of 2011 — Egypt and Syria — have just voted in presidential elections. Are these elections really any different?

For good reason, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the Syrian presidential elections a “farce,” while the British Foreign Secretary William Hague labeled it “a parody of democracy.”

Both are correct. At most, half of Syrians can vote. The other half has either fled the country — or lives in territories outside of the regime’s jurisdiction. The excluded half, if given a fair chance, would probably vote against Assad.

There also are no real contestants other than Bashar Assad. It isn’t just that the country has been devastated by a vicious civil war. To add insult to injury, the elections were organized by a brutal regime that is fighting its domestic opposition militarily.

No better in Egypt

For all the attention devoted to Syria, it is important to realize that many of the same characteristics also apply to the Egyptian presidential elections that have just ended.

The turnout and the result will be similar. In Egypt, with a turnout of 45%, less than half of the population voted. As in Syria, much of the other half would probably vote if given a fair chance.

The electoral “campaign” in Egypt was laughably biased. The media were completely one-sided in their support of army chief Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The only other contestant, Hamdeen Sabbahi, was at best like a David fighting Goliath.

Earlier this year, before the constitutional referendum was held in Egypt, any campaign against the constitution was banned outright and the activists who ran it arrested.

Outlawing any viable opposition

In the run-up to Egypt’s presidential elections, it wasn’t just that the main opposition — the Muslim Brotherhood — was declared a terrorist organization. In addition, the main grassroots activists — the 6 April Youth Movement — was also made illegal. No wonder then that, according to unofficial results, Sisi won with 96.6% of the vote.

In Syria, Assad will do just as well, though he had two rivals to contend with to Sisi’s one — Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri. One can look at the 2007 referendum and consider the past as prologue: Seven years ago, Assad was elected as president by almost exactly the same percentage as Egypt’s Sisi now: 97%.

The level of media propaganda is comparable, too. Syrian media run roughly as propagandistic a message as the Egyptian media did.

A silent and brutal system

According to both public and private media outlets in Egypt, Sisi is heralded as fighting Islamist terrorism, mostly in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Syrian state media, President Assad is doing exactly the same — fighting Islamist terrorism.

The World Press Freedom index 2014 puts both countries almost on a par: Egypt in 159th place, Syria in 177th.

Not missing a beat about the continuing loss of media freedom, in a recent meeting with reporters Sisi explained that their job was not to criticize, but to rally Egyptian people around a common goal.

The brutality of the two regimes is almost indistinguishable. Undeniably, the Syrian civil war has consumed far more lives than the post-2011 wrangling in Egypt.

Still, the brutality of the Egyptian system matches that of Syria. On August 14, 2013, in what now seems a forgotten incident, more than 1,000 people were killed in half a day. The speed of killing in front of the Rabaa al-Adawiyya mosque was faster than occurred anywhere in Syria.

Establishment counterrevolutionaries

Like Assad, Sisi is the epitome of counterrevolution. The chief of his campaign in Alexandria resigned because the headquarters in Cairo saw no problem with Mubarak people being responsible for his campaign.

With new aplomb, Sisi is bringing the previous autocratic system back. Meanwhile, Assad is simply clinging to his oppressive regime in the first place.

In both countries, the people lose out to the system. They are mere pawns on a chessboard.

The similarities between Syria and Egypt today are striking, yet very few politicians notice them. Just consider these rhetorical beauties. In fact, they create contrasts where none really exist. John Kerry, the U.S. Secreatary of State, called Syria’s elections a “farce,” but he declared Sisi’s coup d’état in 2013 an act of “restoring democracy.” Really?

Likewise, his British counterpart, William Hague, described the Egyptian elections as “important for democracy.” With such stunners of officially sanctioned reality distortion, one cannot help but wonder if the people of the Arab world will ever take the West seriously.

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About Patrycja Sasnal

Patrycja Sasnal is head of the Middle East and North Africa Project at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

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