The recent Egyptian protests have attracted the attention of the Israeli decision-making circles, both media and political, although Israeli officials – political, military and security – have declined to officially comment on the events in an effort not to embarrass their ally in the Ittihadiya Palace. However, this does not mean that there isn’t close contact between Cairo and Tel Aviv around the clock.
The Israeli circles unanimously agreed that thousands of Egyptians flocking to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo has established a platform for a potential economic explosion in the face of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Newspaper and social media headlines were dramatic, including the “Egyptian revolution is back”, “Mass protests sweep Tahrir Square” and “Thousands call for the overthrow of the Sisi regime”.
Israelis wondered if the claims by Sisi supporters that there has only been a few scattered protests, were true, then why did it have so much impact on the regime’s supporters? Why did the Egyptian media outlets associated with Sisi mobilise to attack other media outlets, especially Qatar’s Al Jazeera?
Regardless of whether the current number of demonstrators, are accurate or exaggerated, the Israeli circles confirmed that we are facing a new situation called breaking the barrier of fear amongst the Egyptians, who took to the streets to demonstrate. They called for the overthrow of the Sisi regime, accusing him and his men of corruption and building palaces at their expense, while millions of Egyptians have nothing to eat.
While the Israeli media was not too concerned with the number of Egyptian demonstrators, it did confirm demonstrations were taking place in a number of Egyptian cities, such as the capital Cairo, Giza, Damietta, Mahalla and Mansoura, with the participation of hundreds and thousands of Egyptians.
Israeli decision-making circles expressed, through their political pens and press analysis, their belief that they are facing a delicate situation in Egypt, given the calls accompanying the protests, which focused on overthrowing Sisi.
The situation is serious as protestors are taking to the streets in spite of a law prohibiting protests. We are facing a repeat of the 2011 protests, which called for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, which were successful at the time.
Though Israel and Egypt under Sisi have an alliance, it does not stop Tel Aviv acknowledging that the majority of Egyptians suffer from extremely harsh economic conditions during the Sisi era and have not felt any of the economic reforms he talks about. They have also not benefitted from the revenue from the projects he initiated. Instead, unemployment rates in Egypt continue to rise and more than 30 per cent of the Egyptian population lives below the poverty line.
The reality of the Egyptian demonstrations, according to the Israeli assessment, is that Al-Sisi is facing a ticking time bomb posed by the economic and social situation and it’s just a matter of time before it explodes. If the Egyptian citizens do not feel any improvement in the foreseeable future, we are facing the return of the 2011 demonstrations and we will be witnessing a new test for Al-Sisi’s regime.
The Israelis link the start of these Egyptian demonstrations to their total absence during the past six years, since the overthrow of the late elected President Mohamed Morsi by means of the military coup that brought Al-Sisi to power. Such protests have been very rare in Egypt since he came to power. Therefore, based on Israel’s assessment, after the Egyptians dared to take to the streets, despite the difficulties faced by critics of the regime, the protests may reach the same magnitude as the 2011 protests, but not necessarily as quickly.
As a friend of Al-Sisi, Israel saw its name frequently repeated during the current protests. Should life return to Tahrir Square, this would be very bad news for Israel because signs of instability for the Sisi regime may cause it to face, once again, the horrifying scenario that it feared after the January 2011 revolution.
Despite the Israeli keenness on the stability of the Sisi regime, it predicts that the restoration of revolutionary movement in Egypt is only a matter of time and thinks it is likely that the Egyptian army will continue to remain in control regardless of the developments. It believes it is unlikely that Sisi will depart at this stage, and even if he does depart, the Egyptian army will have the final say. Israel ruled out the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to power, or any anti-Israel figure.
Israeli forums agree that what has delayed the outbreak of Egyptian protests and demonstrations over the past six years is the repression exercised by the Sisi regime, the promotion of the terror scarecrow in Sinai, mass arrests of Egyptians, and the issuance of court orders against hundreds of Egyptians, many of which were death sentences. The Egyptian people have lived under an iron and fire grip during Al-Sisi’s rule and remained silent.
The recent Egyptian demonstrations signalled that the Egyptian people wanted to get some rest and regroup. However, after several bad years of frustration accumulating due to Al-Sisi’s rule, the invitation by a contractor and businessman was enough to bring thousands to Tahrir Square. Unsure of the outcome, all they know is that they are fed up with Al-Sisi and his regime.
Israeli forums believe that the recent Egyptian demonstrations are motivated by poor economic conditions and the absence of democracy in Egypt, but because Al-Sisi controls the judicial system, bureaucracy and security services in advance, it is difficult for all these institutions to allow a revolution to topple him.
Israel is convinced that the 2011 Arab Spring protests against the corrupt deposed Hosni Mubarak were repeated last Friday, when hundreds and thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities chanting against Al-Sisi.
However, it is interesting in the Israeli reading of the Egyptian protests that when examining the reasons for the Egyptian protesters and demonstrators, it is difficult to find fundamental differences from the causes of the January 2011 revolution.
According to the Israeli assessment, Al-Sisi has transformed, like Mubarak, into a single leader, and his regime rules with an iron fist. In March 2018, when he ended his first term, he was re-elected with 97 per cent of the vote, without allowing effective opposition.
Last February, the Egyptian parliament passed a series of laws enabling Al-Sisi to remain president until 2034, which means a democratic system being introduced in the country is now a dream.
The Israeli reading goes on to the second reason for the Egyptian demonstrations, which is the economic situation. Egypt, with its 100 million population, is still suffering from a suffocating economic crisis. The average monthly wage stands at $120, and the official unemployment rate is eight per cent, but the real figures are much higher. One in every three Egyptians lives below the poverty line, on less than $1.50 a day.
Israel has recorded a number of Al-Sisi’s measures that prompted the launch of these demonstrations, including his reduction of subsidies for the poor, raising tax rates, waging a fierce war against Islamist groups in Sinai, and reducing the Islamic trend in Egypt.
Israelis are concerned about the repercussions of the recent demonstrations as the Sisi regime has maintained strong ties with Israel. This is in exchange for continued support from Israel to Al-Sisi. Tel Aviv also uses its influence on Washington to strengthen the strategic alliance in the Middle East and the financial and military support to Cairo under Al-Sisi.
The biggest challenges facing Al-Sisi are the renewed demonstrations and revolutionary movement, besides the war in Sinai and cooperating with Israel.
What we know for sure is that the interests of Israel and its allies in the region lie in continuing to help Al-Sisi stabilise his regime. It is best for the allies to advise him, even if secretly, to encourage him to continue to govern, amid Israeli predictions of the presence of tensions within the Egyptian military establishment.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.