The protests may have ended, but the past few weeks in Egypt have indicated that, rather than a model of authoritarian stability, the regime that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has built is one of authoritarian fragility. And the regime’s actions make clear that it knows it.
On Sept. 20, nationwide political protests broke out in Egypt for the first time since a brutal crackdown on demonstrators following the 2013 coup d’etat against President Mohamed Morsi that brought Sisi to power. The protests were sparked by a series of viral videos by an Egyptian actor and contractor named Mohamed Ali, who had worked on construction projects with the military for over a decade. In the videos, Ali, who now lives in self-imposed exiled in Spain, accused Sisi and the military of wasting state funds on building luxury hotels and lavish presidential palaces. The accusations resonated with Egyptians, at least one in three of whom live in poverty. Since Sisi signed a bailout with the International Monetary Fund in 2016, Egyptians have also been enduring years of austerity.
Sisi decided to respond directly to the accusations by doubling down. He confirmed he was indeed building presidential palaces and even intended to build more of them—not for himself but, untenably, for Egypt. “It’s all in Egypt’s name,” he told a youth conference in mid-September.