Analysis

Egyptians Slam Sissi Over Sinai Attack Failure - and Risk Jail

Human rights organizations are preparing for a wave of arrests, which will include not only suspected terrorists, but anyone who dared publicly criticize the civil and military failures

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt's president, at the White House on Monday, April 3, 2017
Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Unsurprisingly, the massacre at the Al-Rawdah Mosque in northern Sinai on Friday set social media in Egypt afire. But besides the harsh condemnations and calls by some lawmakers to enact legislation that would “help the security forces take control and fight terror” – as if some piece of legislation can make all the difference in this Sisyphean war – there was also plenty of criticism for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.

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Criticism can be a dangerous thing at a time when “the entire nation,” along with the government, is mourning the 305 Sufi worshippers who were killed in the bombing and armed attack.

Dr. Basma Mustafa, a sciences lecturer at Cairo University, certainly discovered that. She was called in for questioning on Saturday and, until an investigation is completed, will be suspended from her job for three months.

Relatives of of injured worshippers wait at the Ismailia public hospital, in Ismailia, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, a day after they were injured during an attack on a mosque. Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing more than 200 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Amr Nabil/AP

Her grave error was posting a message addressed to Sissi: “You are a failure. You have failed, by any measure. You don’t know how to safeguard the lives of your people, and these explosions [in the mosque] came as cover for the Grand Renaissance Dam [being built in Ethiopia] and for the sewage your people are drinking instead of water. You are a loser. Time after time we cry for our dead and then the president asks us to stand with him.”

>> Sinai Attack: Astonishing Egyptian failure has Israel worried | Analysis >>

The doctor’s anguished post “broke all the rules,” according to the suspension letter dispatched to her by university president Dr. Mohamed Osman Elkhosht, a respected expert on Islamic philosophy who is considered one of the country’s leading liberals.

Mustafa “violated the values and traditions of the university, did not uphold the honor of her profession or the university’s good name and also affected the public order by doing something unbefitting her job,” the university head wrote.

A local governor visits victims of the attack that targeted a mosque near North Sinai's provincial capital of El-Arish, November 25, 2017.
STR/AFP

You don’t need to hold your breath awaiting the conclusion of the investigation – the indictment, conviction and punishment are all there in the suspension letter.

As frustration mounts over the authorities’ failure to halt the frequent terror attacks, harassment of those who won’t join “the national effort” is also mounting.

Two weeks ago, an indictment was filed against Dr. Ghada Sherif, daughter of the development minister during Hosni Mubarak’s time, for publishing an article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm titled “What do we have left to destroy?” Directed squarely at Sissi, it declared: “The current situation, for which you are the person chiefly responsible, is going to bring the whole country to the edge of an abyss. You are the root of this stupidity. The media speaks in one voice, the parliament is your property that you operate at will, the opposition is unable to do anything except be an opposition to itself and break itself.”

You might expect to read such a no-holds-barred attack on the Facebook page of someone feeling bold or foolhardy enough to post such a thing. But in a respected newspaper like Al-Masry Al-Youm – a privately owned publication that has been a pillar of support for the coup and president – writing something like this is all the braver.

The most surprising thing is that this journalist earned a name for herself in July 2013 – the month Sissi ousted the Muslim Brotherhood and assumed control – when she published an article in the very same paper under the heading: “Sissi, you just need to wink.” In it, she wrote, “When Sissi told us to take to the streets, we did. And honestly, he doesn’t need to call on us or command us. All he has to do is wink and he’ll find all of us answering the call.”

This article can still be found online. Not so the one that was written two weeks ago. It was removed from the Al-Masry Al-Youm website the same day it was published, with the editor filing a complaint saying that the site had been hacked.

Al-Masry Al-Youm’s founder is Salah Diab, a wealthy businessman who was tried for fraud and possessing unlicensed firearms, and was one of the donors behind the Long Live Egypt fund established by the president in 2014 to spur the country’s development.

Diab donated about $6.5 million to the effort. The president himself donated half his salary to the fund, the army contributed 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($5 million) and the Orascom Company, owned by the Sawiris family (also a founding partner in Al-Masry Al-Youm) contributed 3 billion Egyptian pounds. On Friday, the fund issued a statement calling on the public to donate generously to help the families of those killed in the Sinai terror attack. Sherif will probably be saving her money to help pay for her legal defense.

The three days of national mourning declared by the president on Friday are about to conclude, but the public’s anger with Sissi won’t subside that quickly. The state media’s efforts to highlight the army’s operations against the terror organizations, while keeping mum regarding the colossal intelligence failure, won’t make anyone forget how overwhelmed the medical services were – how they were unable to meet the immediate needs in the field, how pickups and other vehicles had to be used to ferry the dead and wounded, and how many of the victims were simply buried in their clothes (instead of being washed and wrapped in cloth prior to burial).

Human rights organizations are already on the highest alert in anticipation of a wave of arrests, which will include not only suspected collaborators with the terrorist groups but anyone who dared publicly criticize the civil and military failures.

Egypt is not Israel. For insulting the president, the military and the nation, in Cairo you can expect to be indicted and tried.