First, the wonderfully bitter op-ed in October by Mona Eltahawy sneered at el-Sisi's new Egypt. She put "New Egypt" in scare quotes. Mona is an Egyptian-American author with a book coming about the fight for gender equality in the Arab world. We see where her sympathies lie as well as her disconnect from the Muslims of the Middle East. In November, the Times reported on the dropping of all charges against Mubarak. Then in December, the Times reported on Egypt denying entry to an American scholar who was critical of its government. Grrr, a sovereign nation made a decision that displeased the Times. Cementing the view that el-Sisi has things under control, the Times was left with one progressive gasp in early January. Egyptian authorities cracked down on twenty six gay men. It was appalling in the Times words. They were acquitted but will "suffer a lifetime of public scorn". When the Times is down to that, you know you've won.
How did el-Sisi do it? Well, looking back at that October op-ed, one can see the mechanisms. El-Sisi also received aid from some good Arab friends. Here is the op-ed chunk that explains el-Sisi's success.
The reality is that since July 2013, when Mr. Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, at least 16,000 people have been jailed for their views — most for being members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime has also imprisoned secular activists, such as Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 youth movement, for an unauthorized protest, and journalists, including three from Al Jazeera who were convicted in July on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
Earlier this year, a judge handed down more than 1,200 death sentences in two mass trials, again mostly to those accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters. (The number of death sentences was later reduced to 277 and the judge was removed from his court after international condemnation.)
As a draconian “protest law” that went into effect last November has almost entirely eliminated street protests, university campuses have become one of the few places of opposition. Since the school year began on Oct. 11, with harsh new government-directed security forces on campuses, at least 200 students have been arrested across the country for protesting.
They jailed opponents. They then sentenced extremists to death, removing the judge after international pressure. What a victory though: one judge "retires" but 277 opponents are sentenced to death. The junta will take that trade any day. I find it interesting that this op-ed writer is so against the street protest law and is a feminist. Were not the street protests the site of many rapes and sexual assaults? Hmm, weird.
The regime struck back when the US State department was confused. Egypt accepted billions from the Saudis and have inked deals outside the USG realm and is making moves to reconcile with Qatar, which formerly supported the Muslim Brotherhood. They have to keep the bread cheap. They also showed the Islamists that they will not be pushed around. The message sent not just to the Islamists but to many unaligned peasants is a strong one. As another Arab once said, "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse". The Egyptian regime knows Arab psychology. Troubles come and go. Who won and who was strong? Who showed no mercy? Democracy and voice are overrated if you cannot eat and a mullah is telling you how to live.