The coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is still with us, despite the efforts of governments and political leaders around the world, who have placed their countries in lockdown and suspended parliamentary sittings, normal economic activities and most domestic and international travel. Technology is being used to convene essential meetings to deal with national and international affairs.
Moreover, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has delayed a referendum on constitutional amendments; Algeria's presidency has postponed the distribution of copies of the proposed constitutional amendments to prominent individuals, politicians and NGOs; and the parliament in Chile has also postponed a referendum on the 40-year-old constitution. That is how seriously those leaders are taking the pandemic. In Egypt under the dictator Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, however, the parliament insisted on convening and voting to give the president even more power.
On Saturday, the Egyptian parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee held a meeting and approved new amendments to the law that regulates the state of emergency in the country. The emergency has been in place for around 40 years. It was lifted for a while during 2012 when the first freely-elected President, Mohamed Morsi, was in office. He was ousted the following year by the current dictator.
The justification for holding the meeting at the time when most countries around the world are in almost complete lockdown due to the coronavirus was, said committee head Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, because it was "a miracle" that the opportunity to do so had arisen at this time. He pointed out that the amendments giving Al-Sisi new powers were proposed many years ago, but the current crisis is appropriate for them to be agreed because they are related to the health of the country.
"It was unthinkable when the emergency law was drafted many years ago that the country might face such critical health conditions as the outbreak of the coronavirus," Al-Ahram reported Abu Shoka as saying. He then admitted, though, that these amendments do not "stand up to pandemic threats such as the coronavirus."
Al Jazeera correspondent Abdel Fattah Al-Fayed said on Saturday that the amendments give the president the power to close schools and universities, shut down ministries and freeze the activities of certain authorities completely or partially during the state of emergency. "These amendments are meant to fight pandemics such as the coronavirus, but also ensure that he has the powers to tighten his grip on almost all of the main institutions in the country," he explained.
One Egyptian citizen who asked to remain anonymous because he fears reprisals by the regime, said: "Al-Sisi does not care about the people's health despite the spread of the virus. He kidnapped and killed the freely-elected president of the country and stole everything, so why would he care about the people? Then his servants amended the emergency law in order to suit him and his authoritarianism. As President, Al-Sisi has apparently became an expert on military affairs and the economy, and yet he has destroyed both. Now in the middle of the coronavirus crisis he is an expert on health matters. God help us."
The fact is that Al-Sisi believes that increasing his own powers is more important than protecting the health and well-being of Egyptian citizens. As of Monday, Egypt had, the government claimed, recorded 3,144 confirmed coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, although there are allegations that the government is involved in a cover up of the real death toll.
Al-Sisi has asked poor labourers to go to work, telling them that if any of them did not wear a mask he would stone them. The Egyptian president is doing all that is expected of a stereotypical dictator: he is callous and brutal; he has stolen his people's money; and he is building numerous palaces for himself as well as a grand mausoleum for his mother. Meanwhile, one of his aides told Egyptians stranded abroad during the pandemic crisis that they must fend for themselves. "You did not remember us until you wanted protection," he declared, "so you must get yourself home."
Al-Sisi, could, of course, be busy trying to sort out the mess that his army is in across the border in neighbouring Libya. Equipped with the latest technology courtesy of the UAE, Egyptian troops are fighting in support of another would-be dictator, General Khalifa Haftar, and they are being defeated.
Around the world, scientists, doctors and medical staff are the heroes of the coronavirus age. In Al-Sisi's Egypt, though, the most talented of these people are locked-up in harsh prisons, despite the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and other international bodies that political prisoners should be released on parole to protect them from contracting the disease.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's foolishness knows no bounds. He hasn't got even the most basic knowledge of the principles of good governance. It is embarrassing to watch Putin, for example, do all he can to protect his people from Covid-19, while Al-Sisi orders his army of compliant journalists and other media personnel to play down the danger of the pandemic and praise him for his "success" in managing the issue. In doing so, he appears to be mimicking a certain president on the other side of the Atlantic. That can't be good for anyone, so pity the poor people of Egypt.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.