[This article is published in two parts. To access part 2, click here.]
#The_New_Republic (الجمهوريةــالجديدة#) was the hashtag featured on every television screen in Egypt last month to mark ten years since the birth of the political order that came into being after the coup of 3 July 2013. The anniversary coincided with a tense moment in the age of the regime of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The president has been grappling with a deepening economic crisis and international pressures to adopt “corrective” reforms likely to anger important social groups and key interests inside the state bureaucracy.
In response, the president has been pursuing an aggressive Public Relations campaign under the banner of the abovementioned hashtag. On some occasions he showcases the alleged virtues of his rule while speaking of the accomplishments he achieved over the last decade. Other times he pontificates about the threats the country averted thanks to his heroic role in ousting President Mohamed Morsi from power in 2013. As for the intelligence-run media outlets, they have been working on a tight schedule to convince viewers that Egypt under Sisi has flourished in unprecedented ways. One day, talk show hosts will speak about the grand infrastructure projects Sisi has undertaken and that have supposedly modernized the the country and even reduced its infamous traffic jams. The next day, the talking points will shift to public health policies and the state’s purportedly successful campaign to eliminate hepatitis C. And down the list they go: women’s rights, political inclusion through the National Dialogue, poverty alleviation through the “Haya Karima” (Decent Life) initiative, youth empowerment, and so on.
In other words, the president has been on a continuous campaign trail for the month of June, engaging in what seems to be an electoral campaign without actual elections. That reality in part reflects an impending plan to move up the presidential election schedule, which, according to some signals, could happen as early as the end of this year instead of 2024 as initially envisioned. This trend also highlights the political leadership’s anxiety about Sisi’s uncertain popularity in the wake of soaring prices and chatter about the government’s mismanagement of economy—chatter that the state’s own propaganda has implicitly acknowledged.
Resurrecting Politics… at the Convention Center
At the heart of the regime’s responses to these pressures is the “National Dialogue.” The Dialogue, which kicked off last May, is a vaguely conceived multi-track forum in which a host of carefully selected political figures and experts convene periodically to discuss public policy reforms. The political leadership has marketed this initiative to its international and domestic detractors as a testament to its readiness to engage opponents and alternative viewpoints. In reality, the Dialogue is the regime’s attempt at gaslighting critics. Sisi has essentially carved out a space in which political and social grievances can be aired—thereby evoking the impression of genuine public deliberation—without challenging the political status quo in any meaningful way. Stated differently, the spectacle (as opposed to the outcome) of deliberation is the clear driver of this initiative. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Dialogue comprises all the signature elements of the Sisi regime’s usual PR initiatives: enormous high-tech auditoriums evoking the impression of modernity and scientific thinking, elegant panels and fireside chats formatted along the lines of prominent international forums, heavily produced social media content exaggerating the significance of the event, and verbose speeches lacking in substance and reeking of toxic positivity.
The very existence of the Dialogue underscores the extent to which Sisi has managed to lock himself in a corner after spending much of the past decade destroying all forms of managed dissent and limited pluralism, once a staple of the previous authoritarian order. The road to that reality began with the violent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of President Morsi in 2013, which was followed by additional crackdowns against dissidents from across the ideological spectrum. Opposition forces have been silenced, tamed, exiled, or imprisoned, thanks to the use of prosecution and remand detention to punish suspected dissidents and fabricate charges against them. Along similar lines, civil society organizations have been squeezed through state repression and an overbearing legal framework that has made their independence and functional operation nearly impossible. Almost all privately owned media outlets were taken over by the security sector through proxy ownership and severe restrictions were placed on online journalism.
In other words, by early 2023, the regime had decimated the resources it now needed to erect a convincing façade of participatory politics to mitigate the concerns of its international partners and to absorb popular discontent. Padded with regime cheerleaders with little credibility, parliament was devoid of any meaningful opposition. Independent political parties (or what remained of them) looked like empty shells after suffering from years of chronic arrests, intimidation, and intervention from security agencies. Thus came the out-of-the-box solution known as the National Dialogue. Designed to compensate for the absence of state-managed politics, the Dialogue moved sanctioned political speech and deliberation from their traditional sites in the (now demolished) public sphere and legislative institutions into the regime’s own comfort zone, namely the realm of packed auditoriums and extravagant convention centers. The solution was anything but perfect, but the hope was that the distracting aesthetics of the Dialogue and its smoke screens would cover up its basic flaws: its exclusivity, its unstructured and open-ended timetable, the uncertain fate of its recommendations and proposals, the repressive climate in which it is being held, and most significantly, its irrelevance.
The decimated political field the regime has been scrambling to patch up was shaped, not only by the immense amounts of repression Sisi has employed over the past decade, but also by the president’s own efforts to seek alternatives to traditional state-managed political pluralism. How did that journey unfold?
The New Youth Project: The Grooming of a New Class of Politicians
Sisi entered his first term as president in 2014 with an evident sense of skepticism toward established political parties. And how could he not? Having had a front-row seat to such parties’ flipflopping and political jockeying acts in the prior two years, he knew their support would remain tentative and unreliable. It is also important to remember that the July 2013 coup proceeded on the ruins of the “civilian punching bag” model of 2012-13. The latter describes a tacit arrangement in which the military was poised to pursue its interests from behind a civilian interlocutor (or, a “punching bag”), the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party—an arrangement that ended in utter failure. By 2013, therefore, the military’s appetite for working in collaboration with civilian parties had run its course.
As for forming his own ruling party and letting it drown out opponents, Sisi rejected that idea quite openly. Indeed, the distrust toward civilian politicians was so deeply ingrained among military leaders at that point. So was the dominant narrative that Hosni Mubarak’s demise in 2011 was the doing of his own ruling party, which, according to that view, was taken over by an irresponsible group of nepotistic politicians led by Mubarak’s own son—a group with which the former president may have been far too lenient. Given these circumstances, the reinvention of Mubarak-style dominant party rule was not an appealing option for Sisi in 2014.
Accordingly, in his planning for a new political field, the incoming president neither engaged political parties in any serious way nor pursued a ruling party project. The engineering of the 2015 legislative elections reflected that approach clearly. The electoral laws and the regime’s management of the vote generated a fragmented parliament dominated by nominally non-partisan lawmakers and where no one party (of those allowed to run) was able to secure a majority or even a respectable plurality. Eventually, the marginalization of licensed parties took on new heights with the various waves of repression that ensued and that rendered all independent parties obsolete.
In parallel to a policy of undermining established political parties, Sisi was pursuing his own vision for an alternative political field, or what could be usefully conceptualized as “the New Youth Project” or NYP for short. The NYP describes a host of formal and informal initiatives and programs that, collectively, seek to cultivate a new cadre of youth politicians and public servants socialized around military-centric nationalism. The president, put differently, was trying to groom a new generation of political interlocutors who could serve and advance the military’s interests in civilian spheres. The assumption was that these up-and-coming leaders were untainted by the opportunism and questionable loyalties of the traditional political classes and thus could be ideologically molded in ways that suit the president’s own vision. Ultimately, as explained below, this vision proved easier said than done.
The practical beginnings of the NYP can be traced to an executive training program launched by the Nasser Military Academy (NMA) in 2014. The program was advertised as a set of modules designed to educate young leaders from political parties, civil society, and the private sector about the military’s central mission, as well as the national security threats with which it was grappling. It was not long before the scope of the program grew and began targeting other politically pertinent communities, such as journalists, educators, and youth in “border” governorates.
The NYP picked up pace in 2015 with the launch of the Presidential Leadership Program (PLP), an eight-month program co-administered by the defense ministry to prepare youth between the ages of 20 and 30 for leadership posts in government. Later on, the PLP expanded to cover individuals in the 30-45 age bracket and was institutionalized in 2017 as part of the National Training Academy (NTA), a body that now manages an array of executive education programs on behalf of the state. By 2018, various investigative reports had revealed that the PLP was spearheaded by intelligence leaders and presidential aides and that the program’s alumni were granted senior posts inside the executive branch, as well as the media. PLP alumni, according to Mada Masr, were also “put in charge of editorial content for all channels owned by the General Intelligence Service (GIS).”
The Battle of Consciousness and the Militarization of Civilian Spheres
The PLP and the NTA (and the NYP more generally) speak to a broader effort the political leadership is undertaking to inject into public institutions a broad-based ideological commitment to the military-dominated political order. Over the last few years, it has become routine to come across news reports about NMA-run training programs for state bureaucrats, public university employees, journalists, affiliates of professional syndicates, and even members of sporting clubs. Last May, investigative reports confirmed what observers had long suspected: obtaining a government job today is contingent on the successful completion of NMA courses. A month later (and perhaps in response), Sisi stated in a televised address from the NMA that the goal of these courses is “to enhance and reinforce the ability of our sons who will join the various state agencies [and] to give them an appropriate dose of commitment, understanding, and determination.”
Sisi’s words are consistent with a pervading discourse senior officials and pro-regime figures have propagated in the past few years under the banner of “the battle of consciousness” (معركة الوعي). Behind this rather eerie term is a narrative claiming that Egypt’s most pressing national security concern is the spread of misinformation and ideational attacks against society’s so-called core values. The implication of course is that any expression of dissent, criticism of government performance, or questioning of state-provided information is a suspected attempt to foment instability and undermine Egypt’s social peace. The solution, the story goes, is countering such “false consciousness” by promoting public awareness of these threats and by enlisting more patriots in the “battle of consciousness.” It is unsurprising, therefore, that the aforementioned NMA- and NTA-led trainings have centered on such topics as countering “fake news” and “rumors.” Whether or not these courses are in fact effective, Sisi has tried using them to recruit and build a loyal cadre of “civilian soldiers” to fight the regime’s public relations wars inside the bureaucracy, public institutions, and the media establishment.
This is all to say, the Sisi regime has been pursuing a broad-scoped project to ideologically militarize civilian spheres and to inculcate all sectors of Egyptian society with ideas rationalizing blind support for the military-sponsored regime. The NYP, within this broader picture, can be understood as the expression of this same strategy in the realm of high-level politics. Just like the regime has tried to pad the state apparatus, the press, educational and cultural institutions, and professional syndicates with pro-military dissent-averse individuals, it tried to do the same in other political domains.
The NYP and the Taming of the New Civilian Politician: “Study before You Speak”
The NYP arose within a broader vision that sought to militarize civilian life and infuse it with an ideology upholding the military’s dominance in governance while employing the language of warfare and patriotism in defending state policy and the Sisi presidency. Exemplifying this vision is the community of young leaders whose political careers were propelled by programs Sisi has pursued under the guise of youth empowerment. These programs include the abovementioned PLP, as well as the National Youth Conference (NYC). The NYC is an annual forum in which youth representatives (that is, those handpicked by the state) convene to deliberate over state policy, at points, in conversation with government officials, including the president himself. Typically, these conferences raise preprepared recommendations to the president, who usually lends his endorsement to them in a highly publicized and ceremonial fashion. Beginning in 2017, the NYC launched a global edition, known as the World Youth Forum (WYF). In official-speak, the WYF is a space for thousands of young leaders to discuss “global issues” pertaining to development and peace. In effect, however, the WYF is yet another PR tool the regime uses to boost its image and credibility in the international press.
The NYC grew out of the frequent meetings Sisi had been holding with so-called youth representatives since his 2014 presidential bid. Such meetings were driven in part by the commonly held perception that youths were the principal force behind Mubarak’s downfall in 2011 and that they must be engaged and their mobilizational capacity tamed and contained. But these meetings were also guided by a broader vision that saw in youths the potential for a new type of civilian politician. That is, a politician who, if properly groomed and indoctrinated, could make for a reliable interlocutor for the military’s efforts to manufacture a favorable consensus inside civilian political life. The NYC embodies that vision.
One of the president’s most quoted responses when confronted with criticism is (some variation of), “Have you even studied what you’re talking about?” The phrase reveals Sisi’s deeply held view that critics are simply uninformed and, by implication, unequipped to deliberate over serious policy matters. “Study the matter before you speak,” he once said impatiently, with the obvious subtext that his detractors lack the awareness and understanding necessary to make a useful contribution to the debate in question. In a way, this is exactly what Sisi is trying to rectify through the NYC and the community of young leaders it has brought to the fore, specifically by producing the type of politicians who are worthy of engagement (from the president’s own point of view). That is, politicians who have received the proper education and training (thanks to the NMA or NTA sponsored programs) to grasp the depths of the challenges the state is confronting and the serious national security dimensions these seemingly innocuous policy files entail. These also happen to be the politicians who have been coached to impress the crowd by their confident demeanor, their captivating TED Talk public speaking style, and their superficial use of catchy phrases that borrow (albeit superficially) from the language of scientific research. Most importantly, they have been socialized to accept the supremacy of the military such that they would never question the men in uniform, as was the case with the contentious youth activists who often denigrated officers in public forums and protests between 2011 and 2013. By contrast, at such conventions as the NYC, if ever interrupted by the president, these polite and well-dressed youth leaders wait patiently as Sisi chimes in with his own critical commentary on a point or two that has come up in their presentations.
The NYP and the Logic of Parallel Politics
On a different level, the NYC and other youth conventions have, in effect, come to embody a universe of parallel politics, or a political sphere the president has cultivated for the purpose of supplanting formal political institutions, especially the legislature. It is no coincidence that the NYC is designed to play functions like those of a lawmaking assembly, creating the spectacle of deliberation and debate while setting forth policy proposals for the president’s consideration. It is also not surprising that the emergence of the NYC occurred just as the president was reportedly frustrated with the performance of the 2015 parliament, which was becoming rather chaotic, undisciplined, and unmanageable. The NYC and this new political realm it came to epitomize was in a way Sisi’s attempt at building alternatives to traditional legislative institutions and competitive politics more generally.
The conception of the NYC as a domain of parallel politics speaks to a consistent strategy Sisi has adopted whenever frustrated with the ineffectiveness or the bureaucratic resistance of state institutions: the creation of parallel structures to bypass these institutions altogether. Thus, today one finds a host of bodies and offices Sisi formed over the years and that seemingly replicate the roles of existing government ministries. Examples include the Supreme Council for Investment, the Supreme Council for Combatting Terrorism, the Supreme Council for the Automotive Industry, and, currently under study, the Supreme Council for Education. Whereas the office of the minister of health still exists officially, a presidential advisor for health affairs (a former minister of health himself), appointed by Sisi in 2020, has taken a visible role in explaining and defending state health policies, just like a minister of health would.
Sisi attempted to replicate the same approach in the realm of high-level politics, hoping to steer it in a more favorable direction. For example, in parallel to the official legislature, he formed the abovementioned ad hoc (and rather benign) assemblies under the guise of youth conventions, thereby creating the image of public participation in decision-making. Even political parties were not spared of the parallel structure strategy. After years of struggling to manage his own discordant coalition of (often unruly) allies in parliament (as explained below), in 2018, Sisi prodded young politicians from a host of licensed parties to form the Coordination Committee of Parties’ Youth Leaders and Politicians (CPYP) تنسيقية شباب الأحزاب والسياسيين. Besides helping the regime exert influence inside independent political parties, the CPYP also created the façade of cross-partisan support for state policies—a role the president’s allies parliament had performed rather poorly. And like many of the bodies forged under the banner of the NYP, the CPYP also became a steppingstone for ambitious young professionals seeking careers in politics or public service under the auspices of intelligence agencies.
Mustaqbal Watan: Promoting Tomorrow’s Leaders…Cautiously
Despite Sisi’s hefty investment in the NYP, the president eventually had to reckon with the limitations of his ambitious project and the flawed assumptions on which it rested. Nothing shows this reality more clearly than the experience of Mustaqbal Watan Party (MWP). MWP was once the embodiment of Sisi’s dream of a new generation of pro-military youth politicians who could lead Egypt’s post-2013 political scene. After several wake-up calls, the regime was forced to restructure the party so that “Sisi’s youth” could step aside to accommodate a larger role for the older and more seasoned networks and affiliates of the Mubarak regime—the same actors the president once sought to sideline. These transformations underscore the inherent limitations of the NYP and the idea that Sisi, despite all the power and resources he possessed, had to forge compromises with the once-dreaded traditional political classes, even if at the expense of his own coveted project.
Mustaqbal Watan’s origins can be traced to the post-2013 efforts of the military and intelligence bodies to mobilize a youth movement in support of Sisi and his presidential campaign. The party’s founding recruits were mostly individuals who occupied student union posts around 2012 and 2013 and later worked on promoting the new constitution in the 2014 referendum and supporting Sisi’s presidential bid that same year. In 2015, the party ran in the legislative election as part of the state-sponsored list, For the Love of Egypt, and managed to secure the second largest bloc in parliament. To the extent that it was represented in the legislature, MWP emerged as one of the few nodes connecting Sisi’s realm of parallel politics, the NYP, to formal political life.
The ties between the Mustaqbal Watan and the Sisi regime were no secret. MWP’s president Mohamed Badran was featured prominently in state events and observers were aware that MWP was among the political parties the intelligence establishment created and funded to promote the Sisi presidency. Nevertheless, Sisi kept an official distance from the party, avoiding any insinuation that Mustaqbal Watan represents the wielders of power in any formal sense. This policy was partly shaped by Sisi’s aforementioned skepticism of political parties and his interest in engineering the political field from a distance. Thus, Sisi’s approach to the 2015 election revolved around the goal of generating a fragmented parliament where no organized political force enjoyed enough seats to mount an effective opposition to his own policies. This also happened to be a period when Sisi was still riding the wave of popular support he garnered in the wake of the 2013 coup, thus sensing that his own popularity could allow him to get by without having to organize (and institutionalize) a ruling coalition. Put simply, the president’s populist sensibilities, coupled with his general unease with relying on political parties, limited the growth of MWP and of any ruling party project for that matter.
Sisi, Mustaqbal Watan, and the Mubarakists
Upon its emergence, some were quick to reduce MWP to a revamped version of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Objectively, it was anything but that. It is true that, MWP’s initial financial backers included figures tied to the Mubarak regime and some of its young officers had relatives who were involved in the NDP. Yet the party’s management remained largely in the hands of the intelligence-sponsored network of former student union leaders. Up until 2018, that network controlled the key posts inside MWP’s Central Secretariat الأمانة المركزية.
Equally importantly, Sisi’s posture toward Mubarak regime affiliates was, at best, trepidatious and, at points overtly hostile. In the lead-up to the presidential election, Sisi pledged not to ally himself with the Mubarakists or to allow their return to the political scene. As president, Sisi did not shy away from criticizing Mubarak or blaming him for the country’s economic woes. Also, Sisi’s initial set of supporters included individuals with nominal ties to the January 25 revolutionary current, many of whom opposed (at least in public) rehabilitating the Mubarak regime.
But there was more to Sisi’s apprehension toward the Mubarakists than appeasing the January 25thers or deflecting criticism. On a more fundamental level, Sisi was keeping a watchful eye on presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafik, former Air Force general and Mubarak’s last prime minister, who ran for president in 2012 and lost to Morsi in a tight runoff. Even though Shafik opted (rather grudgingly) not to run for president in 2014 after it became clear Sisi was the state’s chosen candidate and trying to challenge him was pointless, his supporters did not relent. And Sisi did not like this one bit. As Shafik supporters began preparing for parliamentary elections in 2014, devising an electoral coalition led by the National Movement Party and featuring NDP-tied politicians, Sisi struck back. The intelligence-allied media chorus began slandering Shafik and his party, thereby intimidating many of his electoral allies into abandoning the Shafik-backed coalition only to join instead the state sponsored list, For Love of Egypt. Now aware that his return to the political scene was most unwelcome, Shafik remained in exile.
The idea of former Mubarakists banding together outside the state’s purview was (and remains) an alarming prospect for Sisi for multiple reasons. They are proficient in mobilizing supporters in elections and have a long experience in the business of setting up vote-buying machines. More than any other civilian player, they can work collaboratively with security agencies. Most significantly, if organized sufficiently, they have what it takes to offer Sisi’s international allies and domestic constituents the same deal he offers them: a stable authoritarian project accommodating the various geostrategic, political, and economic imperatives the Sisi regime claims to protect. Adding to Sisi’s anxiety is the perception that these former Mubarak regime allies were once prepared to throw their support behind political figures like Shafik and Samy Anan, both former military generals and thus widely viewed as credible alternatives to the president. So, whenever any senior figure from the former NDP has shown interest in making a political comeback, the Sisi regime and its allied media tended to move swiftly to deter such efforts.
The irony, of course, is that the very reasons that made Sisi sideline the NDPers in his early reign are the same ones that eventually drove him to accommodate them years later. But that story was long and complicated.
Mustaqbal Watan in 2021: Party Hoppers, Security Moles, Technocrats, and the NDPers
It was the final day of the NDP’s Sixth Annual Congress in late 2009. With President Mubarak seated on stage, the Cairo Secretary of Youth Ahmed Al-Gendy stood at the podium, describing his journey inside the ruling party. By his own account, Al-Gendy joined the NDP after college, serving as a member of the professionals’ secretariat of the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. In 2002, he was appointed to the youth committee of the party’s Policies Secretariat, viewed as the political arm of the president’s influential son Gamal. In 2007, he was elected head of the NDP’s Youth Secretariat in Cairo. And just as Al-Gendy’s nascent political career was taking off, the January 25 Revolution erupted in 2011, resulting in Mubarak’s ouster and the complete decimation of the NDP, which was officially dissolved by court order a few months later. Although his political fortunes plunged overnight, this was by no means the end of the road for Al-Gendy’s political career.
Ten years later, Al-Gendy resurfaced on the political scene, this time as an interlocutor inside Mustaqbal Watan. Al-Gendy was not the only member of the NDP political machine who found a spot inside MWP’s leadership circles. In early 2021, over half of MWP’s Central Secretariat members had ties to the NDP (compared to a quarter in 2016), and so did two thirds of its provincial leaders. This reality stood in stark contrast to the state of affairs inside Mustaqbal Watan during its founding years, when a younger group of political outsiders were running the show. Interestingly, by 2021, only two of Mustaqbal Watan’s 2014 founding signatories enjoyed posts in the party’s Central Secretariat, which now featured a completely different cadre of politicians.
Most of the young faces the intelligence bodies had recruited from the student unions in 2013 and 2014 were displaced by a new coalition of political players, which can be usefully divided into four groups. One comprises what I call “party hoppers,” individuals who bring to table some experience in political organization having been part of (typically multiple) established political parties or movements. They seem to “hop” from one party to the next based on pure opportunism. Another small group consists of “security moles,” individuals tied (through family or former affiliations) to the policing establishment or the intelligence. The third is a group of former “technocrats,” who, by virtue of their past work in the bureaucracy, hold the expertise needed to run policy committees in specialized fields. The largest and most prominent group is “NDPers,” individuals with ties to Mubarak’s ruling party, either through former affiliation or through family ties. These include NDP affiliated lawmakers from the Mubarak era (or, in some cases, their relatives), persons previously involved in the NDP’s youth mobilization during Mubarak’s final decade, and former NDP provincial officials. How did these groups manage to get control of the driver seat in Mustaqbal Watan?
The Road to the New Party: Low Turnouts and Parliamentary Chaos
The transformation of Mustaqbal Watan did not happen overnight, although, as explained below, the year 2018 was an important inflection point. But even before 2018, there were clear signs that the Sisi regime was struggling in the realm of official politics and was not as effective as it was in the world of tightly controlled auditoriums, heavily scripted TED-style talks, and carefully choreographed youth conventions.
For one, turnout in successive national votes fell below Sisi’s expectations for the type of massive mobilizations that could drown out international criticism by demonstrating the immense popularity of Egypt’s nascent political order. Interestingly, in 2014, pro-Sisi pundits’ commentary on the disappointing turnout converged on two claims: (1) all the work Sisi had put into befriending young people (or, to borrow the words of one distraught ex-police general, “all the selfies he took with them”) did not pay off, and (2) the former NDPers purposely demobilized their networks on election day to embarrass Sisi. While the assertions are largely unsubstantiated, they reflect two perceptions that seem to have gained currency within the ruling circle, albeit not immediately. The first was that any voter mobilizational effort centered on youth outreach (in other words, the approach of the NYP) was not going to cut it on election day—at least not yet. The second was that without a clear stake in the political system, the community of former NDPers will remain either a political spoiler or, more optimistically, a source of untapped potential for the Sisi regime.
At any rate, frustrated with recurrent images of empty polling stations, especially after the 2018 presidential election, Sisi began shifting gears. He tasked the National Security Agency (NSA) with a more prominent role in managing elections and political files. Up until that point in the Sisi presidency, the NSA, formerly known as the State Security Investigations Service, had taken a backseat to the GIS in dealing with such affairs.
Besides the question of turnout, Sisi was also showing signs of unease with the 2015 parliament. Those who “engineered” the House of Representatives apparently assumed that a legislature fragmentated across numerous parties and non-partisan lawmakers would remain ineffective and unthreatening. Indeed, the 2015 parliament was fragmented and devoid of any blocs large enough to play hardball with the president. But it was not as pacified as initially envisaged. A small, but vocal independent caucus formed under the banner of “the Alliance of 25-30” (in reference the January 25 and June 30 uprisings). The alliance may have lacked the votes to obstruct Sisi’s agenda, but it had the swagger to provide a visible spectacle of opposition, notably at a time when the president’s tolerance for criticism was extremely limited.
Adding to the president’s concerns was the absence of an effective and coherent majority caucus. For example, less a month into the life of the 2015 parliament, lawmakers voted down by a wide margin the president’s highly coveted civil service bill, among the reforms reportedly “encouraged” by the International Monetary Fund at the time. Additionally, the president’s allies in legislature were in constant discord. The regime sponsored parliamentary speaker made a habit of getting into shouting matches with state-allied lawmakers, and was often at odds with the pro-Sisi media establishment. Put simply, parliament was chaos. And if the standard of excellence for Sisi was the world of the NYP, or the neatly organized auditoriums where politicians speak respectfully, say all the right things, and follow orders as instructed, parliament could have only been viewed by the president as nothing short of an absolute nightmare. Thus, in the fall of 2019, the president decided to put an end to this disarray, ordering a freeze on parliament’s operations, nearly a year before the next legislative elections were due.
All these trends rationalized a shift in the regime’s handling of the political field, especially with respect to the question of a potential ruling party that could bring order to an unruly political scene by, for starters, mobilizing voters on election day and keeping Sisi’s parliamentary allies on the same page. But there was one more crisis that needed to happen before the balance could tip decisively in favor of a change in course. And thus came the 2018 presidential election.
The lead-up to the 2018 vote confirmed in many ways Sisi’s intolerance of any political competition, even to the most limited degree. He went to great lengths to eliminate all presidential contenders by any means possible: imprisonment, intimidation, violence, and dubious legal measures. Left to his own devices, Sisi would have run unchallenged. Pressured by Washington, however, he ultimately agreed to let one of his own political cheerleaders, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, run against him in what proved to be an unconvincing (even if lighthearted) episode of political theater, with Sisi winning 97 percent of the votes.
Beyond its unsightly political aesthetics, the election also reinforced Sisi’s fears of former NDP notables such that the regime could no longer avoid reckoning with this political force. The reappearance of Ahmed Shafik on the political scene as a presidential hopeful awakened, yet again, the perception that interests once tied to the Mubarak regime had been laying the groundwork for a post-Sisi presidency. They supported Shafik in 2012, the reasoning went, and they support him now. They (allegedly) stood on the sidelines and left Sisi high and dry when he was vying for a show of popular support in the 2014 presidential election. Several of the NDP off-shoot parties almost joined the Shafik sponsored list in the lead up to the 2015 election and would have probably stayed there had it not been for the regime’s efforts to sabotage the alliance. The narrative may have not been entirely accurate, but for a security apparatus that feeds on paranoia and distrust, it added up perfectly. And, accordingly, once the election was done, Sisi made his move, opting to do what he had consistently avoided since the onset of his presidency: keeping his enemies close—at least some of them.
 Recently renamed the Military Academy for Postgraduate Studies.
 Preparations for the parliamentary elections were underway in 2014 with the expectation they would be convened in the spring of 2015. However, the elections ended up happening in late 2015 after a March 2015 Supreme Constitutional Court ruling deemed the initial electoral law unconstitutional.
 Certainly, there were a host of NDP offshoot parties, some of which had been operating since 2011, but they have kept a conciliatory stance toward Sisi.
 As legislative elections neared, the president was showing signs of unease with the idea of sharing power with an elected parliament, hinting at this concern in his veiled criticism of the 2014 constitution.