[This article is published in two parts. To access part 1, click here.]
Engaging the Mubarakists…For Egypt’s Sake
Central to the NDPers’ integration into Mustaqbal Watan Party (MWP) was the association (and later “political brand”) known as Min Agl Masr (MAM) or “For Egypt’s Sake.” Seeking to cultivate public support for President Sisi and his policies, the organization made its debut in May 2016 under the official leadership of Mohamed Mandhour. An entrepreneur hailing from a family of retired generals, Mandhour had run unsuccessfully for parliament, once in 2011-12 as an independent and another in 2015 under MWP’s banner. After 2016, he emerged, à la Ahmed Abou-Hashima, as the public face of various non-profits and media outlets with ties to security agencies.
Behind MAM’s sudden rise was Sisi’s disappointment with the performance of his parliamentary allies and their inability to organize an effective coalition in support of the government. Certainly, one could say that the president made his own bed by getting behind the fragmented parliament strategy in the 2015 election. But past missteps aside, he needed an intervention that could energize his legislative coalition and overcome the inexperience of its mostly rookie lawmakers. And this was precisely what MAM was tasked to do. In fact, its parliamentary mandate was apparent from the get-go. Twelve of its fourteen founders were lawmakers. The headliner of its highly publicized launch event was none other than parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal. In a subtle jab at the inexperience of regime-allied lawmakers, MAM officials openly stated that the association would work on teaching MPs how to draft bills and other basic legislative skills like telling the difference between an interpellation, a query, and an information request. Mandhour was no more diplomatic. He admitted in an interview with Al-Dostour that parliament’s performance was “a bit weak,” pledging to support legislators and elevate their work through MAM.
Beyond improving parliamentary life, MAM was also imbued, at least nominally, with the spirit of the New Youth Project (NYP). Part of MAM’s mission, as its leaders claimed, was building a new generation of politically conscious leaders. And it delivered. Within a month of its founding, MAM launched its own youth edition, “Youth-MAM,” and within a year, a student edition named “Students-MAM,” which would go on to make considerable gains in student union elections in 2020 and 2021. While the student association tried to keep an official distance from the original MAM, it acknowledged the support of the mother organization and that of Mandhour himself.
It was very apparent from the onset that MAM was taking on tasks initially expected of Mustaqbal Watan: legislative organization, youth recruitment, and prep work for elections. It was no coincidence that before launching MAM, Mandhour had resigned from MWP, as if jumping off a sinking ship. At the time, MWP had been experiencing internal conflict and resignations, including that of its founding president Mohamed Badran. While the source of MWP’s discord never became fully clear, the writing on the wall was unmistakable: the president lost faith in the youth-led party and MAM was now the new game in town.
Guiding that shift was not only the president’s frustrations with parliament, but also his concerns about the long-awaited municipal elections. According to the 2014 constitution, municipal elections were due within five years of the constitution taking effect. However, the relevant law had been reportedly “stuck” in parliamentary committees for years and would not make it to the floor until 2019. The reason for the delay? Some said the military feared these elected councils would impede its economic interests and its ability to secure lucrative contracts. But even if true, municipal elections were not feasible to begin with: the regime simply lacked a large enough candidate base to make a strong showing in these races. Devising a candidate list for a few to several hundred parliamentary seats was a surmountable challenge. But for the 55 thousand seats that would have been up for grabs in a potential municipal election, the regime just did not have a lot to work with.
This deficiency only reminded a frustrated president that the NYP (or its de facto representative in formal politics, MWP) was falling behind in delivering a large enough political cadre, without which Sisi could not work the electoral field. So, as he often does when he gets irritated with the institutional instruments available to him, Sisi resorted to his usual tactic: creating an alternative parallel structure. And thus, he set MWP on the backburner, clearing the way for MAM.
Within this picture, it becomes evident that MAM’s youth component was not merely lip service to Sisi’s open-ended talk of empowering a new generation of young leaders. MAM was a concrete effort to prepare and groom regime-sponsored municipal election candidates. Mandhour and other MAM leaders did not hide it and were openly proclaiming the mission of building a “politically aware” and “responsible” community of young leaders qualified to serve on municipal councils. It is anything but shocking, therefore, that MAM publicized the participation of Ahmed Zaki Badr, then minister of local governance, at the association’s launch event nearly as much as it publicized that of the speaker of parliament. The message was clear: MAM was not just eyeing parliament, but also the municipal councils.
At some point during this conundrum, the question must have been posed inside leadership circles, how on earth did Sisi’s predecessor manage to fill tens of thousands of electorally contested seats? The answer of course was the National Democratic Party (NDP). Thus, taking this awareness to heart, the regime padded MAM with the special recipe MWP lacked: the experience and political networks of the former NDP. In other words, for the first time in his reign, Sisi was seriously reckoning with the traditional political classes he once dismissed. The president realized that for the NYP to survive outside of its traditional domains of scripted conventions and invitation-only conferences and to assert influence in formal political life, it would need to work and compromise with the very political notables and insiders he had long shunned. They may not fit Sisi’s ideal vision of the properly groomed and indoctrinated youth politicians, but these notables had the experience and resources to make things happen—at least until the NYP could catch up and stand on its own two feet. If Sisi had once thought that a political field could be built from scratch, he now knew better.
Yes, MAM: Sisi Holds a Place for Those Who Pay
The presence of the former NDP was somewhat pronounced within the founding coalition of MAM to the extent that some of them were once tied to the NDP through official association or familial alliances with the former ruling party. The presence of the NDPers became much more visible as MAM grew, particularly in the lead up the 2018 presidential election.
At that point, MAM became more than just an association, but a brand-named that lent its model to a variety of like-minded offshoot movements and initiatives, including Youth-MAM, Women-MAM, and others. The slogan, Min Agl Masr, riffed off the phrase “‘ashan Masr,”عشان مصر colloquial for MAM, which Sisi frequently invoked whenever pleading with the public to show sacrifice or patience (or both) for the country’s greater good. It was catchy and it caught on until it became the regime’s de facto brand. And as the election season neared, MAM launched a campaign in support of Sisi’s presidential bid under the banner “Kolena Ma‘ak Min Agl Masr” كلنا معاك من اجل مصر (“We Are All with You for the Sake of Egypt) or All-MAM for short. Two years later, as it prepared for parliamentary elections, the regime ended up naming its own sponsored list “The National List-MAM.” The slogan was everywhere, so much so that it even became the title of multiple songs, including ones by Shaaban Abdel Rahim, Mohamed ‘Adawiyya, and Mohamed Fouad.
MAM’s success relative to other regime sponsored public relations initiatives was owed in part to its systematic deference to expertise. It did not seek to reinvent the wheel and build on a clean slate, as was the case with Mustaqbal Watan. Rather, it sought to recruit the help of credible and effective social and political forces. This was apparent in All-MAM’s publicity efforts. Whenever it set up shop in a given region, it advertised the support it received from distinguished families and institutions with credible social standing, presumably to encourage others to follow suit. In a similar vein, at the national level, All-MAM events were often centered on a who’s-who of politics, media, arts, and sports.
MAM’s deference to expertise and social capital was also evident in its reliance on individuals with prior NDP credentials; that is, people who had the knowledge and connections to run a political machine. While some of the cofounders of MAM fit that bill, All-MAM was in some ways an NDP reunion. This was a sharp departure from the recruitment approach the Sisi regime had adopted in the NYP with its emphasis on socializing and grooming and its preference for newcomers untainted by the opportunism of the older political classes. But the clock was ticking and the NYP was not delivering any goods for the regime to work with in either national or municipal elections. So the NDPers made a comeback, and the title of that comeback was “All-MAM.”
Nothing symbolized Sisi’s embrace of Mubarak’s political machine more than All-MAM’s pick for secretary general, Mohamed Heiba, the former NDP Secretary of Youth. Under the leadership of Gamal Mubarak, Heiba was once at the forefront of the NDP’s youth mobilization efforts. In early 2011, when the NDP was scrambling to build a counter-mobilization to the January 25 Uprising, Heiba was reportedly in the room where it happened. And there he was in 2018 doing much of the same work he used to do in a previous lifetime, collecting endorsements, organizing conventions and presidential lovefests, and running recruitment drives, but this time for the sake of President Sisi. Heiba’s involvement in politics only grew from there; today, he serves as the chair of the Senate’s human rights committee.
Besides leaning on the seasoned political organizers of the NDP, All-MAM was also relying on the former ruling party’s big business politicians who brought to the table not only experience, but also money. The most emblematic example was mogul and former NDP lawmaker Mohamed Aboul Enein, an icon of the business clique that dominated politics during Mubarak’s final decade. Up until that point, the Sisi regime kept a largely cordial orientation toward the likes of Aboul Enein. Certainly, Sisi may have worked to politically disempower such oligarchs, but he steered clear of expropriating their assets, as Amr Adly notes. Thus, high-profile business NDPers such as Aboul Enein survived, and may have even thrived to some degree, but they were not encouraged to play politics. For Aboul Enein specifically, the tide began to turn in 2018 in the lead-up to the presidential election, as he became a visible figure in the marketing of the Sisi campaign. The regime was not simply tolerating the former NDPer, as was previously the case. It was awarding him a political role, while proudly showcasing his support for the president. On a deeper level, Sisi was essentially indulging the NDP’s deep pockets, hoping they could bankroll the big campaigns the regime was about to embark upon. Sisi may hold a grudge or two against the Mubarakists, but he will always hold a place for those who pay.
From a Nation’s Future to a Nation’s Swamp
By the time the presidential race was over, MAM had become the face of the regime’s operations, with its name plastered all over the political stage. As talk of an impending reshuffle in the political apparatus ensued, everything was pointing toward MAM taking the logical next step in its trajectory: forming a party on behalf of the regime. MAM was already a party in all but name. It was coaching parliamentarians, recruiting candidates, organizing campaigns, and mobilizing voters. So, why not make it official?
From Sisi’s perspective, there were enough pressures rationalizing such a move. Legislative elections were around the corner and averting a repeat of the 2015 parliament fiasco necessitated a party capable of establishing a coherent majority with competent legislators. So, why not MAM? It was already contributing to that effort and even laying the groundwork for municipal elections. Besides, if Sisi were to run for a third term, the constitution would first have to be amended to do away with term limits. What better way to choreograph a popular campaign in support of such an amendment than through MAM?
On an equally important level, MAM proved to be a useful instrument for coopting NDPers and deploying their resources and expertise on behalf of Sisi. Also, it kept these Mubarakists loyal to the president and away from the likes of Shafik and other presidential hopefuls eyeing the Mubarakist networks. Put simply, all the signs were pointing to a MAM party.
Sure enough, ten days after Sisi was declared winner of the so-called presidential election, MAM announced it would form a political party, framing the decision around the “great success” it showed in the election. The news release added that MAM was holding nationwide meetings with potential candidates under consideration for joining the party (translation: accepting applications, call us now). Aware that such a party would push them into political irrelevance, MWP leaders were livid. Rumors had been circulating for months that Sisi wanted underperforming parties to consolidate under a larger umbrella. But little did Mustaqbal Watan’s leaders know that their party was among those in question. For the NYP, such a move would have been consequential, as it would have pulled the plug on the single initiative that gave it life and presence in the formal political arena.
Two weeks later, MWP chief Ashraf Rashad broke his silence with a statement revealing that his party had been “invited” to join forces with MAM—a diplomatic way of describing an imminent takeover by a rival group. On the surface, Rashad was cordial. He described MAM as “a respectable political entity” and promised its invitation would be given due consideration. But if Rashad was trying to hide his indignation, he definitely failed. He fired at those claiming that MWP was becoming a deadbeat party and that MAM was putting it to shame: “Just as some political entities were drafting municipal election lists and dividing posts left and right, we were organizing medical convoys to serve the people of this nation. Like President Sisi, we made development our primary goal and it comes before anything else” (translation: just as MAM was busy distributing the spoils among its opportunistic patrons, we were the ones putting in the work to uphold Sisi’s presidential bid). If there was any doubt that the said negotiations were going poorly for MWP, Rashad gave it away. He warned MAM against any attempts to “exclude the youth or marginalize them” or “violate the president’s proclamation that youth are the shield and sword of this country.”
Less than two weeks later, journalist and occasional Sisi confidant Yasser Rizk, whose views tended to echo those of intelligence agencies, made one final hail Mary attempt to save MWP. The late Rizk wrote an article containing every buzzword that could possibly trigger Sisi into backtracking on sidestepping Mustaqbal Watan in favor of MAM: the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Mubarak, June 30, the NDP, and more. In a veiled reference to MAM’s political party project, he cautioned against the efforts of Mubarak regime remnants to hijack and undermine the “June 30 Revolution.” Rizk drew parallels between the deal now being worked out with Mubarakists (i.e., MAM) to grant them a political party and the deal the NDP struck with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 and that ultimately gave the Brotherhood 88 seats in parliament. It was that bargain, Rizk warned, that eventually brought down the Mubarak regime. He went on to claim that the deal underway is but a plot by the former NDP to take over parliament, municipal councils, and unions with the end-goal of delivering the presidency to Gamal Mubarak in 2022. Rizk tried to defend MWP and excuse its shortcomings, albeit without mentioning it by name, asserting that building an effective political organization takes time and is not something that could happen overnight upon demand.
Whether or not Sisi ended up heeding Rizk’s call is up for interpretation. On the one hand, the president brought an end to MWP’s experiment as we all knew it, a project centered on grooming a new generation of youth politicians. On the other hand, MWP survived (at least in name) but was effectively taken over by MAM as part of the long-awaited merger deal the press had been chattering about. And it made sense: why reinvent the wheel when MAM could just take over MWP’s existing offices and institutional structures?
Although Ashraf Rashad ended up keeping his post as party president, someone must have broken the news to Mustaqbal Watan’s young officers that amateur hour was over, and it was time for them to step aside and make room for the adults. As the merger deal was announced, it became evident that MWP’s Central Secretariat had been taken over by a group of older insiders, including former NDP affiliates. From that point until the aftermath of the 2020 legislative elections, MWP gradually turned into a new political entity—one that continues to embody Sisi’s accommodation with the traditional political classes, with all of its tensions and harmonies.
Thus, by early 2021, MWP looked much less like the youth-led party of 2014 and much more like MAM, with many of the association’s founders, including Mandhour, holding senior posts inside the party. Likewise, the NDPers made themselves quite comfortable inside MWP, as exemplified by Mohamed Aboul Enein, who became vice president of the party, not to mention deputy speaker of the House of Representatives following his return to parliament after the 2020 election.
Even though the NDPers occupied a large segment of MWP’s leadership circles, it is misleading to treat them as a unified faction or to overlook the diversity of profiles they represent. For example, not all NDPers inside MWP are heavy hitters like Aboul Enein. Many of them are former mid-level NDP officers who either ran for parliament unsuccessfully under the NDP’s ticket before 2011 or, in some cases, failed to secure the party’s nomination altogether. Another contingent consists of individuals who held posts inside national or regional NDP youth secretariats and later brought their youth mobilization expertise to All-MAM in 2018. A fourth one comprises persons hailing from prominent political families with histories of alliances with the NDP. A final contingent is made up of individuals who, in various capacities, used to run the NDP’s local or regional operations and are now charged with doing the same for MWP.
Analytically, these groups are significant not because they have behaved as a cohesive political faction; they have not. Rather their importance is derived from what they collectively represent, a community of politicians who most likely would have been leading the NDP if it were still in existence today; except, they are now in Mustaqbal Watan. It is in that sense that their entry into MWP captures Sisi’s post-2018 rapprochement with the interests and clientelistic networks that once occupied the Mubarak regime, as distinct from the cadre of younger politicians Sisi had been trying to cultivate through the NYP. All this begs the question, what then became of MWP’s youth?
From among MWP’s youth founders, there were no more than a few winners. The most prominent was Ashraf Rashad who served as MWP president for a few more years. Even though it was no secret the regime was using him as a youthful façade for what was becoming a party of older insiders, Rashad utilized this new role to advance his own political career and milked it for what it was worth. In 2020, he ceded the presidency (rather bitterly) to former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and would-be Senate speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek. But Rashad kept his influence as vice president and secretary general of MWP and majority leader of the House of Representatives (and, on occasion, parliament’s presidential sycophant). Rashad aside, the young founding leaders of MWP, by and large, disappeared from the political stage (at least for now). Yet this was not by any means the end of the road for the NYP, which has continued to flourish and grow inside Sisi’s parallel politics spaces such as the National Youth Conference (NYC) and the World Youth Forum (WYF). But there was one more plot twist in this drama.
Just as Sisi was preparing to shut down MWP’s all-youth operation and hand over its structures to MAM, he opened a different political playground for his cadre of young leaders, the Coordination Committee of Parties’ Youth Leaders and Politicians (CPYP). Interestingly, a few of the figures pushed out of MWP’s leadership circles ended up in the CPYP, which became the NYP’s primary channel for formal political engagement. The CPYP reoriented Sisi’s youth project away from the political party centered approach, once exemplified by MWP. Instead, it created an association of young pro-Sisi aspiring politicians, in the hope that they would organize cohesively until they were able to take over the helm in their respective fields or organizations. Whether or not such a strategy is effective or even realistic, the point here is that MWP overhaul, once contextualized within the formation of the CPYP, comes to resemble more of a reconfiguration (not a complete termination) of the NYP’s contributions to formal politics.
Finally, it is important to remember that the NYP, despite the setbacks it suffered, never lost relevance. In fact, the NYP (or, at least, the “wisdom” behind it) was essential in facilitating Sisi’s accommodation with NDP-tied families. Many such families capitalized on the president’s NYP discourse, prodding their own younger members to enter the political stage under the guise of youth empowerment. It may be hard to believe, but longtime political families managed to gaslight Sisi right back: “You want youth? We’ll give you youth.” This strategy was evident in MWP to the extent that it featured young affiliates of NDP families. But it was more than just MWP. By the time the 2020 elections were over, the phenomenon of relatives of former lawmakers entering parliament became more visible across parties and regions, as Amr Hashem Rabee noted. Outside legislative chambers and Mustaqbal Watan, other parties jumped on the same bandwagon, recruiting and showing off young figures from politically prominent families. In other words, every establishment party is now cutting two carrots with one knife: get on Sisi’s good graces by checking off the youth empowerment box, and, at the same time, solidify alliances with politically distinguished families. Obviously, this leaves one wondering whether this increasingly popular strategy will inevitably relegate the NYP to a political prep-school for the sons and daughters of privileged classes. That is, in contrast to Sisi’s original vision for a project empowering (and indoctrinating) previously excluded youth to supplant the political classes the president is now, quite ironically, in bed with.
The Aftermath: From Fragmentation to Micromanagement
The second founding of MWP in 2018 marked a shift in the Sisi’s handling of formal political life. Whereas between 2014 and 2018, the regime’s principal aim was keeping civilian politics weak, fragmented, and inconducive to collective action, its approach became more interventionist beginning 2018. This is because the president now had a clearer vision for political outcomes he needed to generate, majorities he wanted to manufacture, and allies he needed to coopt and reward. He still did not have a formal ruling party, but now he had a horse in the race (even if unofficially) after the revamped MWP became his instrument of choice for managing his allies, bringing order to parliament, and preparing for electoral contests.
That shift in orientation was evident in the regime’s posture toward the licensed opposition. While Sisi’s repressive campaigns against political movements, civil society, and the media had been unforgiving since 2013, a new element came to surface after the MWP reshuffle. The regime began showing its wrath to licensed political groups committed to working through constitutionally sanctioned legal channels. Exemplifying this trend was the “Hope Alliance” case of 2019, when authorities arrested and fabricated charges against opposition figures planning for the 2020 legislative elections.
The case was proof that the regime’s aggression had surpassed those rejecting the post-2013 political order and that the security apparatus was just as predatory in targeting opposition actors who have accepted the political system and agreed to work from within it. On a different level, the case underscored the regime’s growing interest in jailing, not just vocal and high-profile political figures, but also the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers suspected of devising the strategies and positions of opposition parties. That is, the organizers, the strategists, and the alliance builders. How else could the regime execute its ambitious plans for dominating the electoral field through the “new” MWP? These plans required actively suppressing competitors to Sisi’s nascent political arm, depriving them of their key interlocutors, and micromanaging their access to formal politics. These endeavors were unnecessary in 2015, because the regime’s goal was to keep civilian politics fragmented and contained, not to choreograph it in such fine detail. In other words, as Sisi began reorganizing his own political apparatus and putting his own ducks in a row, he embarked on an effort to sabotage his competitors and wreak havoc on their organizations and networks at an unusually broad scale.
That same preference for micromanagement was similarly apparent in the 2020 legislative elections, especially when compared to that of 2015. In 2020, the regime abandoned the fragmented parliament strategy pursued in 2015 when it lacked a primary political arm. Instead, it adopted a party-centric approach aimed at manufacturing a majority for MWP, alongside smaller blocs for regime-sponsored parties. That goal was reflected in the electoral formula employed in 2020. Half of the seats (compared to one-fifth in 2015) was designated to four winner-takes-all party list races, each encompassing several governorates. This design, coupled with the realities on the ground, made it nearly impossible for any party to gain seats through these races without joining the regime sponsored party list, or more precisely, without negotiating with the security apparatus in advance of the vote. And this is exactly what the regime was after, the power to predetermine as much of the electoral result as possible. In contrast to 2015 when it sought to engineer a fragmented parliament, this time around, the regime wanted a majority for its own political arm and was adamant to stack the cards in favor of that outcome. Not only that, but the regime was also keen on dictating the candidate rosters of other independent parties participating on its own list, “The National List for the Sake of Egypt.” Indeed, Sisi was that determined not to leave anything to chance.
The other half of the seats were designated for first-past-the-post individual candidacy races. These electoral districts were now larger than they were in 2015, adding difficulty to an already uphill battle for the often-underfunded opposition parties. Unsurprisingly, the regime (through MWP and other allies) pursued these seats more aggressively than it did in 2015, hence the final composition of parliament. In 2015, thanks to the fragmented parliament strategy, non-partisan candidates comprised three-fifths of the House of Representatives. In 2020, they were less than a quarter. Meanwhile, MWP got fifty-five percent of the seats, not to mention the twelve percent secured by two other regime sponsored parties. The party-centric strategy generated the majority Sisi had been yearning for.
Of course, the manufactured majority was, as mentioned, a reflection of Sisi’s interest in bringing order to parliamentary life. But it also evidenced the growing number of alliances the regime now needed to maintain and service, thanks to its post-2018 accommodation with traditional political classes and notables. In simple terms, there were more political players around Sisi asking for a piece of the pie. Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that the 2020 election marked the reintroduction of parliament’s upper chamber. As a body devoid of any meaningful legislative powers, the Senate provided Sisi with a low-cost method of rewarding political allies with “certificates of prestige.” Certainly, this was not unique to Sisi’s reign. This same tradition was prevalent under previous rulers. But that Sisi is now conforming to this same template shows that he has finally succumbed into resurrecting his predecessors’ cooptation and clientelistic practices after years of eschewing them in his dealing with civilian politics. The details might differ, but the overall story is a familiar one: the initially timid officers instinctively avoid getting their hands dirty by civilian politics, until the imperative for survival draws them into the same “swamp” they once swore to drain.
Into the Political Friendzone
But even with the majority in MWP’s hands and the party’s status elevated in ways that left no doubt that it was the regime’s primary political arm, Sisi still refused to accept and recognize it as his ruling party. In fact, the president has given MWP nothing but mixed signals. One day, the pro-Sisi media will claim that he is getting ready to give Mustaqbal Watan cabinet posts or governorships; then months pass without anything coming of it. Today, MWP controls parliament and serves as a vehicle for advancing Sisi’s political agenda. Yet, the president holds no affiliation with it and neither do most senior members of the government and the state apparatus. There has been no clear effort to encourage officials to affiliate with the party either. In other words, the president has kept MWP in this ambiguous space akin to a political “friendzone.”
Sisi’s refusal to grant MWP (or any party for that matter) the status (and privileges) of a ruling party arguably speaks to the persistence of his populist instincts and his own belief that he is in fact capable of ruling without the mediation of any political class. After all, Sisi’s adoption of an “acting” ruling party (MWP) was not his first choice, as explained above. He resorted to the acting ruling party model only after coming to terms with the practical difficulties of governing without experienced and resourceful political partners.
The distance between Sisi and MWP serves as a reminder that the party is home to a host of elements the president has been trying to keep at arm’s length. Most notable among them are the Mubarakists, whom Sisi ended up accommodating only out of necessity. In other words, for Sisi, turning MWP into an actual ruling party would be ceding power and access to the very political forces he has been trying to contain. If the NDP (along with all its missteps) was the reason for Mubarak’s demise, why give its descendants the chance to grow and gain more influence through MWP? Therein lies the source of the paradox: Sisi needs the NDPers’ expertise and resources, but he is aware their support cannot take for granted. Thus, despite Sisi’s accommodation with the Mubarak regime’s networks and their presence in MWP, the president’s propaganda machine remains discursively hostile to NDP remnants, especially more recently with growing chatter about a Gamal Mubarak presidential bid.
Beyond the president’s apprehension toward the traditional political classes occupying MWP, there is also Sisi’s evident faith in his own vision for an alternative political field as enshrined by the NYP’s initiatives. The president may believe that his investment in this project will someday bear fruit, contributing to a new reality actualizing his vision for the ideal civilian politician—that is, the politician who will blindly defer to the men in the uniform, accept their supremacy, and respect their economic privileges (with all the corrupt practices they entail). Until this day comes (if it ever will), Sisi will just have to keep playing friendzone with the political classes he inherited from his predecessor.
The Future of Grooming and Gaslighting
The trajectory of Sisi’s management of the political field gives some depth to our understanding of the president’s erratic flirtations with dialogues and reform initiatives. The regime’s continued inability to assert its hegemony over the formal political sphere, its dependency on political intermediaries it does not trust, and the shutting out of credible competitors from politics, have all limited Sisi’s political options for managing the ongoing economic crisis. For example, these realities have precluded conventional political liberalization initiatives centered on cosmetic empowerment of legislative institutions. This has, in part, forced the regime to resort to the realm of parallel politics, embodied this year by the National Dialogue, an initiative that seeks to establish the appearance of political participation and deliberation outside of formal institutions. On one level, this reality reflects the extent to which the realm of formal politics has become so discredited that the regime itself is aware that it will not provide its international audiences a sufficiently persuasive façade of democratic politics. Put simply, the Dialogue itself is recognition that there is no room in the current formal political field to erect a credible façade of participatory politics. It also reflects the difficulty the regime faces in operating outside of its own comfort zone, the parallel politics spaces, as symbolized by the heavily choreographed programs it convenes in tightly controlled auditoriums.
As explained above, since coming to power, Sisi has recalibrated his political apparatus after every major electoral contest. The distribution of political roles, the configuration of alliances, and the strategies of containment and cooptation have shifted after every such juncture, even if slightly. Thus, with the upcoming presidential election around the corner, numerous questions abound, including: how will the president recalibrate his political apparatus after that vote? What will become of the NYP, his acting-ruling party, and the traditional political classes he has been cautiously courting? Certainly, the outcome of the vote is no mystery. What is less clear are the implication of that vote for Sisi’s long struggle to invent the politics he dreams of through his political grooming projects, while evading the politics he actually faces by gaslighting his allies and critics, alike.
 In an interview with Youm7, Mandhour acknowledged that some of MAM’s work was similar to that of Mustaqbal Watan’s.