Is El Sisi to Much of a Sissy to Embrace Democracy?

In the past few years Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s president, has faced the largest opposition since his election in May 2014. The opposition has been sparked by a failed counterterrorism strategy and a sale of land to Saudi Arabia for cash. How he’s handling it provides a concerning answer for many Egyptians. His authoritarian approach is beginning to draw many similarities with Mubarak’s Egypt in the 2000s, full of corruption and disparities.
El-Sisi’s rise to power began in 2012 when he was appointed to commander-in-chief in the armed forces by then President Morsi, but when widespread protests occurred against Morsi in 2013, Sisi declared Morsi had 48 hours to meet the demand of the people. Morsi however, did not meet the demand and Egypt’s military removed him from power. It was then that El-Sisi was sworn-in as deputy prime minister and later won the election with 96% of the vote.
On Palm Sunday 2017 an attack on a church killing 45 people raised questions about El-Sisi’s commitment to fighting terrorism. El-Sisi’s motivation behind his counterterrorism strategy goes far beyond its intention. He uses it to silence his enemies of which include, activists, journalists, human rights organizations, and businessmen who oppose him. A three month national emergency law simply acts as a cover for brutal practices against the opposition forces. This exploitation of the recent attacks not only fuels the advancement of his political agenda but incites terrorism.
Khalid Ali has become a key figure of opposition of El-Sisi’s actions. Ali ran against El-Sisi during 2012 election, but in May he was detained after suggestions he would run again in the 2018 election. If Ali is convicted he would be unable to run, eliminating El-Sisi’s worry of once again defending the controversial island transfer with Saudi Arabia. The islands were crucial for Egypt to defend the Gulf of Aqaba and almost half of Egyptians say the islands belonged to Egypt. Ali’s was among dozens who have protested against the government, and the charges on which many were detained proved risible. El-Sisi’s motives clearly point toward his desire to win the next election in authoritarian manner.
So, is there anyone who is supporting El-Sisi’s efforts? President Donald Trump of the U.S states, “that we are very much behind President al-Sisi”. Trump has also praised the ways in which he has taken control over the country. This backing creates a real problem. El-Sisi sees this as permission to continue the suppression of dissent. In return, El-Sisi expressed his admiration of Trump’s personality and subtly criticised the departed Obama administration, since this had been his first visit since his election.
In addition to targeting activists and dissidents, El-Sisi has begun cracking down on NGOs and websites. In June the government shut down several independent news websites in an attempt to regulate the amount of opposition being circulated in the media. For NGOs, El-Sisi now has the final say of what NGOs do and how they are funded. The government claims the organizations are “destabilizing national unity”. This raises concerns not only about his secret agenda, but now victims of human rights violations are no longer getting the help or representation they need.
As El-Sisi continues to restrict the freedoms of Egyptian citizens, motivated by Trump’s support and his own political agenda, his ulterior motives behind all his actions become increasingly clear. He has fallen into the same authoritarian leadership of the dictator Mubarak who the Egyptian people overthrew in the first place.

You say “Hezbollah,” I say “Nasrallah.”

Donning his black turban, a subtle reminder that he is a descendant of Muhammad, Hassan Nasrallah reassures the Lebanese people after political events through televised speeches. Upon first glance you would assume Nasrallah is the President or Prime Minister of Lebanon; in actuality however, he is the Secretary General of Hezbollah, a Shia terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel. Nasrallah holds official veto power in the government, as well as control of a powerful Shia militia, Hezbollah has substantial representation in Parliament, and he has an incredible 97% approval rating among Shiites. His ability, as a semi-authoritarian terrorist leader, to gain so much political leverage in the Lebanese government is partially attributed to his history of making military and political decisions that benefit Lebanon, as well as his social reforms and regular communication with the people, creating a extremely loyal following.
Nasrallah has a history of taking action, he was able to build a militia stronger than the Lebanese army by training grass-root fighters and inspiring them with religion. In 2000, he was credited with Israel leaving southern Lebanon and gained even more popularity after negotiating a prisoner exchange that released 400 Lebanese prisoners from Israel. In 2006, he was viewed as the leader of the war with Israel which became a matter of pride among the Lebanese, especially their refusal to surrender arms. Nasrallah’s popularity also increased as he personally oversaw to rebuilding of destroyed homes. In 2008, Nasrallah was even able to stage a takeover of rival party headquarters in Beirut further demonstrating his power.
Another aspect that has greatly contributed to his popularity is his welfare programs, many of which the Lebanese government has failed to provide. Nasrallah has set up successful schools, hospitals, and even sports groups. These facilitates are usually only open to Shiites or members of Hezbollah, which works to create strong bonds of loyalty. If people are not able to receive education or healthcare anywhere else they are unlikely to turn against Nasrallah.
Nasrallah also is known for regularly communicating with his people through televised speeches. The delivery of the speeches themselves are confident yet sincere sometimes even incorporating humor which is rare among religious figures but makes him more approachable. Nasrallah gives his speeches in Classical Arabic with a Lebanese dialect so he can reach more people. He has recently given a range of speeches including one after Saad Hariri’s resignation, where he in a very paternal nature promised to try to keep Lebanon safe and stable, skillfully trying to limit fear but alerting the people to the possibility of Saudi Arabian meddling. He also made a speech in October defending Hezbollah after US sanctions and criticism over their strong ties with Iran, and current fighting in Syria but he made sure to focus on the sacrifice especially parents are making allowing their children to go to war. Nasrallah himself lost a son to Israeli forces, and this personal sacrifice is viewed very favorably among Lebanese citizens, as is a rule he has set in place among his Shia militia that parents with only one child have a choice to send them to war. Through these speeches Nasrallah has created a possible illusion of transparency, but also of trust as he has a tendency to not make promises he cannot keep which has helped him in the long run.

Netanyahu: Really Representing the ‘Jewish People’?

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s, top priority since he retook office in March of 2009, has been Israel’s security. During his time in office he has proven to have gained authoritative power with such policies like his anti-media populism. Although he is a leader tainted by corruption allegations, he claims to have Israel’s best interest in mind, having continual support due to the omnipresent threats in the surrounding area.

Although Mr. Netanyahu has claimed his main focus to be representing the Jewish population, concerned about their safety while fighting to protect the land that he believes to be rightfully Israel’s, he has exerted authoritative power over the news industry in Israel, shutting down news outlets to better his own image. Recently a political cartoon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surfaced showing him stretched out on a psychologist’s couch and clutching TV sets, radios and newspapers to his chest. According to the Washington Post, this cartoon clearly represents what Israelis think about Netanyahu’s fantastical obsession with the media, as he tries to weaken and control Israel’s small news industry. Netanyahu has made accusations of “fake news”, ultimately believing that the news outlets in Israel are trying to expose him and the scandals surrounding him as well as attempting to shed a negative light on him. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog believes “this is a blow to the most important part of democracy-the news,”
Recently the prime minister has been surrounded by a series of scandals which police have called Case 1000 and Case 2000. Despite the accusations, ongoing investigation, and the witness statement that was made by Ari Harow, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Mr. Netanyahu has vehemently denied any wrongdoings, worrying more about his image and political stability than the indictment he may face, Mr. Netanyahu stands accused of allegedly offering a newspaper owner commercial favours in return for positive coverage of him. He has also been accused of failing to disclose his ties to key actors in a merger deal involving the state telecommunications company, Bezeq. Although Mr. Netanyahu has been called “the magician” for surviving in high positions for so many years he has negated rivals from right and left and recently experienced a decrease in popularity on the streets, an obstacle that may stand in the way of him securing a fifth term. He is dependent on the far right and is so politically vulnerable that he is making decisions that can possibly put his entire country at risk.
On October 29, 2017 the Israeli Prime Minister used his power to delay the vote on the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ law that would expand the municipal borders of Jerusalem without annexing this new land. The law would cause a significant increase in the Jewish Israeli population, but has used his ministerial power to delay the vote in order to hold diplomatic preparations with the American government. Determined “to fight Iran’s terrorism, [and] prevent it from establishing itself near [Israel’s] border,” he said in a speech to honor the victims of the two bombings of Jewish communities, by Iran, in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, Netanyahu has used his political power to help influence and urge other world powers to either renegotiate or pull out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. He has also commented to President Putin that “with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is that where the defeated Islamic State group vanishes, Iran is stepping in.” Netanyahu has also used his power to thwart the Palestinian peace reconciliation, telling the Palestinians that they will not accept a “bogus” deal, but may consider accepting it if Hamas recognizes Israel, gives up its armed force, and cuts ties with Iran. With no further negotiations being made, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, with Mr. Netanyahu not making any changes to his terms.

Despite publicly claiming to be a democratic leader of the people, recent events have caused Israelis and others to wonder if Prime Minister Netanyahu is beginning to take on more authoritative power, claiming that he is trying to represent Israel and keeping Israel’s best interests in mind.

King Salman: A Limited Authoritarian

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud holds absolute political power over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he serves as Head of State and monarch. As an authoritarian leader, he is able to make quick changes in policy, though this ability must be practiced with caution due to the reactionary social climate in Saudi Arabia.

The House of Saud, the extensive royal family, has been in power for 273 years, and King Salman seeks to strengthen his branch of the family as indicated by his recent promotions of his sons to more powerful government positions. With power to freely shuffle government posts and issue decrees, Salman adjusted the line of succession so that his son, Mohammed bin Salman, will take power, the first time since the country’s first ruler that a Saudi monarch designated his son instead of a brother as heir.

Despite having made decisions for the obvious benefit of his family, Salman still demonstrates intentions for the professionalization of the government. He has replaced government ministers with non-royal businessmen and has allowed the private sector to take on a larger role in the economy. Further, Salman ordered an anti-corruption initiative, seeking reform and blaming the problem of corruption for hindering development in the country. This initiative resulted in the removal and detainment of eleven princes and numerous current and former ministers.

However, the changes Salman implements are limited by the reactions of his country. Recent salary cuts, made in an attempt to adjust the kingdom’s finances which have struggled due to low oil prices, were revoked and financial perks were restored following widespread dissatisfaction. The government claims these recent actions indicated the country’s improved economic position, though analysts believe the moves may have been made to appease the public, as recent mandates have caused increases in energy, water and fuel costs.

Additionally, in Saudi Arabia, less conservative actions are risky. King Salman’s recent decree to allow women to drive ended a conservative tradition that was seen by many as a symbol of the repression of women in the country. This decision angered conservatives, including influential figures who give critical support to the ruling family. Still, despite the backlash, King Salman has continued to be more inclusive of women through the modernizing reforms he has implemented since he took over as king in 2015.

Salman has been willing to reconsider and change aspects of Saudi Arabian society and has succeeded in making promising efforts to modernize and diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia. His recent visit to Russia was an effort to shift away from reliance on the United States and develop more diverse international partnerships. Saudi Arabia is eager for an outside investment as the country seeks to diversify its economy, and also hopes to have Russian support in limiting Iranian influence in Syria.

As Saudi Arabian monarch, King Salman has ultimate power and is free to make changes to the country with his unchecked leadership. Still, Salman is the leader of a reactionary society and must consider the response of his people before implementing change, which places a limit on his authoritarianism.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: The People’s Frenemy

Over the past few decades, populist and authoritarian leaders have risen from power and, with the support of the people, would soon lead the country. Some populist leaders have been remembered for leading their countries and improving them, while other populists are remembered for dividing their country and for enacting controversial policies during their term that the international community would disapprove of. One of these populist leaders was, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the sixth president of Iran, a man that was seen by the world as an anti-Israeli populist nationalist because of his policies and remarks, and who was in office between 2005-2013.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is considered by many as a populist hardliner, because of his policies, and he has been a very controversial figure in Iran since he was elected in office in 2005. He was the son of a blacksmith, who would soon become mayor of Tehran in 2003. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entered the race for the presidency. During his campaign, he positioned himself as the ‘man of the people’ and promised to reduce unemployment in the country, and would enact social programs to help the poor. Ahmadinejad reportedly spent no money at all during his campaign and had gained major support from the Supreme Leader and other powerful clerics, who used their networks of mosques to gain support for him. Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide, gaining 62% of the vote.

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During his presidency, he was seen as a controversial figure not only in Iran, but in the international community due to his policies and remarks on Israel. In 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made very controversial comments about Israel and the Holocaust, which angered the West. Western media outlets reported that Ahmadinejad stated that he wanted to, “wipe Israel off the map”. The translation was provided by the Iranian Government News Agency and was supported by several independent translators, but others claim it was a mistranslation and that he actually said, “Israel must vanish from the pages of time”. He has also stated that he believes the Holocaust is a myth exaggerated by the Jewish people to justify the making of Israel. There was also another controversy that was ignited when he became president in 2005. Several Americans who were held hostage during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 accused him of being one of the hostage-takers. He claimed that he wasn’t there and multiple known hostage-takers confirmed that claim.

 

“Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps. … Let’s assume what the Europeans say is true. … Let’s give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria. They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?”

– Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

 

Throughout his presidency, Ahmadinejad has been known as a staunch defender of Iran’s controversial nuclear power program, that has been condemned by the U.N.. The U.S. and Israel fear that Iran may develop a nuclear weapon with that technology. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly told the U.N. that Iran is using its program only for peaceful, economic purposes. He has stated that Iran has a right to have a nuclear program and a missile development program. During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad said he would take a different economic approach and promised fair income and wealth fairly distributed to the poor, which he believed would increase more economic opportunities. Instead, Ahmadinejad’s economic approach was managed by his administration so poorly, that they permanently damaged the Iranian economy causing inflation and a high unemployment rate.

As the 2009 election in Iran approached, Ahmadinejad was slowly losing supporters from the middle class and some from the upper class. The results of the election revealed that Ahmadinejad won with a 63% of the voting majority. Unfortunately for Ahmadinejad, his victory was met with accusations and massive protests. Three of Ahmadinejad’s rival candidates accused him of committing fraud and demanded that the government should conduct a full investigation, but the Supreme Leader and the Iran government stated that there was no foul play. This didn’t stop over 2 million people in Tehran from protesting the election and demanding Ahmadinejad’s resignation. These protests were seen as the biggest unrest in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. The protests were met with violence by militias and police that were called upon by the government to end the protests. After the massive protest, hardline clerics stated that future protests would be considered a crime of banditry where the punishment is execution.

Now, people might be wondering, what is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing now? In April 2017, he registered for Iran’s 2017 presidential election, which was against the advice of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who quickly disqualified Ahmadinejad. Although, Ahmadinejad claimed that he did it to show support for his political ally. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran could be managed better than it is now and that Iran’s main focus should be on the needs of the Iranian people, a classic populist slogan that has been used often.