Egypt’s government is paranoid, fearful that the unrest that ended Hosni Mubarak’s rule in 2011 could once again rear its head. Back then, Egyptians took to the streets in imitation of those demonstrators in Tunisia. Now, the country’s rulers fear that events further afield, in France, could be a catalyst for change. Preventing another rebellion, this time with a “French flavour”, is the central concern of the country’s government. But rather than placate people with much-needed reform, the response from the Egyptian state has been simpler: banning the sale of yellow vests.
Shops have been told not to sell hi-vis jackets to one-off customers. Restrictions have also been placed on wholesalers seeking to purchase the vests for use on building sites in a bid to prevent ‘yellow fever’ taking hold in Egypt. The country’s regime, headed up by president el-Sisi, is right to be fearful of change. Nearly a quarter of Egypt’s 100m people are illiterate, poor and, in the eyes of the government, easily manipulated by political Islamists. This has led el-Sisi to believe that totalitarianism is the only effective ruling mechanism for safeguarding national sovereignty. Tens of thousands of people have been locked up. And in the election earlier this year, to nobody’s surprise, el-Sisi won a second term with 97 per cent of the vote.
But while el-Sisi is unassailable at the ballot box, the country’s young population (those under 30 account for two-thirds of Egyptians) remain frustrated. Youth unemployment is around 42 per cent and there is a feeling of anger among a generation whose optimism at Mubarak’s fall was quickly dashed. The move to ban yellow vests to prevent copycat gilets jaunes-style protests on the streets of Cairo reveals the fragility of the ruling regime. It also sums up the approach of the Egyptian state: to deal with symbols and ignore the real source of the country’s problems.