The Rise of Hyperauthoritarianism under al-Sisi

Bruce Rutherford (Colgate University)

The regime of Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi exhibits a deeper form of authoritarianism than its predecessor. Its distinctive features include a higher level of violence against the country’s civilian population. This paper develops a causal argument for why this change occurred by focusing on the dominant threat faced by Egypt’s ruler. The uprising of 2011 led to a change in the dominant threat from an elite threat — which had prevailed since the regime’s founding in 1952 — to a mass threat, which was manifest in the scale of the public demonstrations in 2011 and compounded by the rise of an insurgency in Sinai and the flow of weapons and fighters across the Libyan border that supported popular opposition. The shift to a mass threat contributed to a new authoritarian architecture grounded in the military as the dominant institution. However, the other repressive institutions of the regime created from 1952 to 2011 remained intact and retained strong structural incentives to engage in ever-higher levels of violence. This combination has produced a new type of regime — hyperauthoritarianism — that exhibits characteristics of both authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Hyperauthoritarianism dramatically reduces the prospects for democratic change. If change occurs, it is most likely to result from tensions within the security apparatus over access to resources or declining levels of competence and professionalism.