North Africa, West Asia

On illusions and inflated condoms

Maged Mandour

The Muslim Brotherhood, secular activists and even regime supporters have decided to shield themselves from reality, focusing on a discourse that provides them with a protective layer from the grim conditions engulfing them.

Maged Mandour
10 February 2016

Press Association/AP/Amr Nabil. All rights reserved.This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, and it feels different from previous years. All sides of the political spectrum seem to have decided to shield themselves from reality, focusing on a discourse that provides them with a protective layer from the grim conditions engulfing them, a survival coping mechanism. This is true of all sides of the political spectrum: the Muslim Brotherhood, the secular activists and even the regime supporters. It has become increasingly apparent that there are no winners in this struggle.

From a regime that is terrified of any opposition, having raided thousands of flats in down town Cairo and gone through Facebook profiles looking for anti-government comments; to secular activists who keep proclaiming that the 'January 25 revolution' was the greatest in human history. These past few weeks have truly been a spectacle, and they concluded with two young men appearing in Tahrir Square and distributing blown up condoms to the police. They shone like rays of sunshine in the middle of a storm. Their gesture is a reminder of the struggle ahead and the weaknesses of the illusions we have built around ourselves.

The regime and its supporters

This is one of the most interesting groups. After a series of political disasters, the regime, even though it is repeating the rhetoric of Sisi’s undisputed support, is acutely aware of its deteriorating popularity.

The regime promised a return to normalcy, but the country’s security has witnessed one disaster after the next. ISIS’ local branch downed a commercial flight heading to Saint Petersburg from Sharm El Sheikh – one of the worst terror attacks in recent Egyptian history that has brought the tourism industry almost to a grinding halt.


Press Association/AP. All rights reserved.Economically, after numerous promises and what can only be described as propaganda, the regime has failed to ameliorate the country’s worsening economic condition. After heavy investments in the extension of the Suez Canal there has been no increase in revenues. The Sharm El Sheikh economic conference has become a figment of the past, and the new administrative capital has all but disappeared from discourse.

On the political side, the regime has finally held parliamentary elections and produced a parliament, but it has been the butt of jokes on social media from the day it started. This is a parliament that has approved all the laws issued by Sisi and Adly Mansour – the interim president – since 2013, except for two laws in its first session. This was done so blindly that the use of daylight saving time was rejected and approved in the same session, as it had been abolished by Mansour and was reinstated by Sisi.

This sense of failure has crept into the discourse of regime supporters, as they become acutely aware that improved standards of living are no longer on the horizon. The old Nasserist equation of improved living standards in exchange for political obedience, which some hoped Sisi would restore, would not be reproduced. In fact, Sisi seems to have merged the worst of both worlds: the cronyism of Mubarak and repression of Nasser.

This has pushed this group towards the fantastic world of conspiracy theories, mixed with an extreme form of chauvinistic nationalism. For example, there is a belief that the revolt was a conspiracy by foreign powers rather than the product of domestic discontent. Another is the claim made by Lamis Gaber, an appointed member of parliament, that the protestors in 2011 killed themselves in order to accuse Mubarak of murder. Finally, my personal favourite, is the notion that Egypt is currently under attack by what they call “fifth generation warfare”, which involves natural phenomena such as earthquakes, wind and rain. The aim of this rhetoric is not to convince the public, but rather maintain social cohesion within the regime’s supporters as the regime’s failures become more and more apparent.

The Brotherhood and its supporters

This group is not much different. After a spectacular fall from the presidency to becoming an outlawed terror group, the Brotherhood’s leadership does not seem to have learned nor digested the lesson. They committed a number of fatal errors that include: alienating other political forces, attempting to repress protests using their own cadres (the police refused to cooperate), and finally striking a deal with the military in order to act as the civilian façade of the regime.


Press Association/PA/Hussein Malla. All rights reserved.The Brotherhood repeated the same mistakes they committed when Nasser came to power. They allied themselves with the military, the military at first used them to stabilise the regime and suppress protests, and they were finally discarded when they were no longer needed.

The Brotherhood now has morphed into a cult, more than it already was, and developed a victim mentality. They believe that the coup of 2013 succeeded because they were “too soft”, and that they should have been more aggressive when they were in power.

This, of course, removes all blame from the shoulders of the Brotherhood, placing it on other groups, namely the liberals and secular opposition. The Brotherhood fails to understand that by attempting to ally themselves with the military and excluding other political forces, they have misunderstood the dynamics of the revolt. They failed to correctly estimate the real threat, the military, and the potential power in the unification of the opposition. Rather than understand its failures and attempt to build bridges with the opposition, the Brotherhood is now focusing on maintaining internal cohesion through an elaborate process of myth building to maintain the morale of the base who have been subjected to severe repression.

The secular activists

The secular activists seem to have been on the back foot almost from day one. Even though some supported the coup in 2013, the vast majority have now been subjected to intense repression with the most prominent in jail. Examples include: Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Douma, and Mahinour El-Masri.


Press Association/AP/Khalil Hamra. All rights reserved.This group has started to create a myth of its own, namely that the 25 January mass protests were the “greatest revolution” in history. This, of course, is a symptom of a group under severe pressure. By any objective measures, the Egyptian revolt is not comparable to the social revolution that occurred in France, Russia or Mexico. As I have argued elsewhere, the demands of the protestors were limited to the realm of political reform, there was no real desire to take over the state, and most importantly, no radical wing appeared to push the revolt to its logical conclusion. Thus, at best, the mass protests of 2011 and what followed can be described as a revolutionary situation that was not exploited.

This discourse, just like that of the regime supporters and the Brotherhood, is also acting to protect the group from a sense of failure in an attempt to keep morale high in the face of a very grim reality. However, it has the additional effect of reducing the possibility of this group engaging critically with its own failures, and discerning a possible future plan.

Five years after the fall of Mubarak, this group remains disorganised and unable to provide a real alternative that can act as a unified political force. This group, after the failures of the past, has started to adopt new dangerous discourse, namely that the regime is falling apart at the hinges and will collapse under its own weight. Again, protecting themselves from the need to take direct action, and waiting for time to do the job.

In the middle of all of these illusions, two young men decide to make a short video of themselves giving inflated condoms to the police on the anniversary of the revolt. This simple act of defiance reveals the weaknesses of the mythology each group has been trying to create.

For the regime and its supporters, it has shown that no amount of repression can stamp out acts of defiance, especially those as symbolic as this. Even staunch supporters of the regime cannot deny the wide spread and ruthless clampdown the regime is undertaking, even if it is taking them time to accept the reality of what is taking place. And still, the regime has failed to stop simple acts of rebellion such as this.

For the Brotherhood, it shows how irrelevant they have become, and that their awaited “revolution” will not come to restore them to power, but rather relegate them to an even more inferior position. As demonstrated by the call made by the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, closely linked to the Brotherhood, for a long week of protest prior to the anniversary, which went largely unheeded. 

As for the secular activists, it has shown the need for action and that the work of the revolution is nowhere close to finished; in many ways it has not yet even started. The most illustrative example of this are the chants by Al-Ahly football supporters. They gathered for the anniversary of the Port Said Stadium massacre, and chants of "down with military rule" rang across the stadium. This shows that the spirit of the revolt is far from extinguished and that this struggle will carry on whether the regime likes it or not.

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