Nariman El-Mofty/AP/Press Association. All rights reserved.Like any fascist regime, Sisi’s military junta has been predominantly dependent on myths of national pride. Its inauguration was made possible in 2013 by propagating an ultra-exaggerated, unrealistic count of anti-Muslim Brotherhood protestors (33 million). This was followed by media assertions that the Egyptian military had arrested the commander of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and invented a medical device that cures AIDS and Hepatitis C.
The momentum of ‘Egyptian miracles’ propaganda lasted a couple of years, creating an atmosphere in which anything was permissible as long as it postulated the superiority of Egyptians and their militarised institutions. Any contestation or attempt at rational thinking that interrupted this celebratory momentum was systematically excluded and vilified as an envious plot against the rising nation.
Today, ‘triumphs’ that had been undebatable and institutions that had been incontestable are now widely and openly criticised; the AIDS cure is now a running joke. Media anchors are condemning brutal judicial decisions regarding children and journalists. These are the same media anchors whose previous guiding ethic was “jurisdictions cannot be commented on”.
The police are also being criticised and even the most police-friendly media figures are condemning what they call the “rise of police-patrol encroachments.” Parliamentarians, governors, and ministers are openly shamed on television. The whole Egyptian state has suddenly been put under media scrutiny, with few, if any, 'red lines' respected.
Is it a sudden awakening of media figures’ consciences? That is unlikely, as the media is monitored by a multi-levelled hierarchy of state agencies. Even if it was, it would not sufficiently lead to such a radical change in media messages. There must be a better explanation for this puzzling phenomenon.
The policy cycle framework, advanced by Wayne Parsons, hints at an answer. Parsons (1995) argues that for a political product, like any other product, there is a business cycle.
First, it starts with a semi-monopoly where alternative products are comparatively outmoded. Prudent policy makers do their best to prolong this phase through simultaneous positive branding of the product and downgrading of its alternatives. This semi-monopoly and its accompanying ‘branding and downgrading’ policy defined the state of politics throughout most of the two years following the 3 July coup. The state was branded as successful and any alternatives as absolute evil and dangerous.
It only gets complicated in the second phase – the one we are witnessing now. In this phase, Parsons argues, the political product suffers diseconomies of scale. That is, public demands are extremely high and meeting them becomes impossible given limited resources. In this phase, the decline of the political product’s monopoly over public support inescapable, as is the necessity of prioritising ‘what to give to whom.’
Parsons' model was entirely based on democratic institutions, but the product in our case is a fascist revolution, or the ‘fascist turn’ of the 25 January revolution. The proposition or product of this fascist regime, that of the mythology of an invincible nation capable of anything under the guidance of an infallible state, gained momentum at the beginning, when its ridiculous inventions or cures were celebrated.
This notion of super nation set the demands high, but resources were scarce. The second phase of state-building followed the euphoric honeymoon of post-coup nation-building, with all attendant questions of distribution.
Given the limited resources, whose portion was to be supplied was a main concern. The regime’s distributive policy was quite clear from the beginning: the military, police and judiciary are placed at the top of the predatory pyramid, followed by business and media men, then government bureaucrats. The rest of society is fed nationalistic slogans and mottos, while their basic subsidies and real income is continuously reduced to compensate for the financial deficits of the extravagant predatory pyramid.
Defending the predatory pyramid it is no longer the way to appease the state, attacking it has become a necessity.
This distribution was optimal for Sisi’s regime, but faced two challenges from day one:
First, how can the lower classes continue to be neglected and entirely excluded from the predatory pyramid, without risking a bread revolution? The immediate answer lies in the will and ability of coercive forces (military, police and judiciary) to silence opposition and reverse any potential for an uprising.
But herein lies the second challenge: how are they going to keep these coercive forces appeased? Money, fame and power are key. The first requires investments, which involves appeasing the business society; the second requires propaganda, which involves appeasing the media; and the third requires a biased, corrupt bureaucracy, which is only attainable by allowing government bureaucrats a reasonable portion of the pie.
With oil money flowing in from the Gulf, Sisi was initially capable of keeping the predatory pyramid intact. But this tap was unexpectedly switched off as a result of the crises Saudi Arabia is facing at the moment. News of Saudi’s cutting off military aid to Lebanon to reinvest in its military missions in Syria, riots in the east of Saudi and the war it is administering in Yemen speak volumes on the diffusion of its resources. This combined with the severe decline in oil prices explains why Egypt cannot expect a blank cheque from its Saudi allies.
Sisi had had a mission to complete in return for support from the Gulf: tame the rising Arab spring before it reached their territories. Whether he managed to placate the Gulf monarchy or not is debatable, but what is obvious is that the 'Arab Spring' is no longer the Gulf’s main threat.
The relegation of Sisi’s 'proxy war' services explains the ultra-generous welcome package he gave to King Salman on his last visit, which included two of Egypt's islands in the Red Sea.
The drying up of Gulf support, the failure of the 'new' Suez Canal to generate expected revenues, the depreciation of the Egyptian pound, murder of Mexican tourists, crash of the Russian jet and murder of an Italian scholar – and expected international sanctions to follow – are but a few factors that make catering for the whole ‘predatory pyramid’ impossible.
The pyramid that had only excluded the working class had to become more exclusionary. The pie is now too small for the military, police, judiciary, business, media and bureaucratic elites to share; and the battle over what remains of Egyptian resources has become a necessity.
What we see in the media today is a reflection of this battle. The media has not stepped beyond the state agenda, but is in fact perfectly implementing it. Since today’s agenda is to reshape the former predatory pyramid, defending it is no longer the way to appease the state; attacking it is. This explains why all of a sudden business and media tycoons, senior bureaucrats (governors, parliamentarians, etc.), and even judges and policemen are spoken of as public enemies. It explains why the Egyptian media suddenly seems uncensored.
The current battle within the press syndicate can be read as an extension of the same internal struggle between the military-media. One the one hand, a front is taking it to an extreme against regime brutality, however when the "regime" is mentioned negatively it is not inclusive of the president. In fact, Sisi has been asked to interfere and resolve the issue.
What we see in the media today is not a revolt against the ruling class, but rather a battle within this class. It is an attempt to redistribute the state’s power and resources, to pave the road for Sisi’s favoured command: “do not listen to anyone but me; only me!”
It is not the beginning of a revolution against a fascist state, as many optimists hope, it is merely the second phase of fascism.