Friday,27 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1226, (18-31 December 2014)
Friday,27 April, 2018
Issue 1226, (18-31 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Beyond the map

EGYPT, along with the rest of the region, has experienced unprecedented upheavals in its political, social and economic maps since the spark of revolution, first emitted in Tunisia on 17 December 2010, ignited the Arab Spring. The processes of fermentation and turmoil are still ongoing. It is impossible to predict the outcome, the nature of the changes that will have occurred once the quakes and aftershocks, the pushes for reform and outbreaks of chaos, subside.

Egypt has undergone two regime changes, presaged by the revolutions of 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013. The country’s political forces are still reassembling. The Muslim Brotherhood came to power after the first revolution, winning control of both parliament and the executive. Yet within a year the drive by the Brotherhood to assert its hegemony over government institutions and agencies, and the arrogance with which it excluded other political forces from the decision-making processes, had alienated a majority of the people. To restart the political process, they rose up against Muslim Brotherhood rule.

The result was the roadmap announced by armed forces commander Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 3 July 2013. The new map led to the promulgation of a new constitution to replace the one tailored by the Muslim Brotherhood. The 2014 constitution paved the way for presidential elections, which were won by Al-Sisi. Egypt is now on the threshold of parliamentary elections, the third and last milestone on the map. The poll is scheduled for mid-March 2015.

The path delineated in the roadmap has been marked by violence, terrorism and bloodshed. A series of bombings has targeted army and police facilities, soldiers, officers and civilians. The mounting casualty list drew Egypt, and Sinai in particular, into the expanding boundaries of Middle Eastern terrorism. Diplomatic battles raged over the nature of the 30 June Revolution. International organisations became a major arena for confrontations between friends and enemies of the Egyptian revolution.

Poverty, marginalisation and unemployment remained dominant features of Egypt’s socioeconomic map. To circumvent them the government and the president initiated ambitious projects, including the construction of a parallel Suez Canal channel. Development projects and opportunities for investment, from the Nile Valley to Egypt’s coasts, were launched, offering the prospect of escaping the vicious circle of dwindling resources, economic stagnation and the unacceptable strings attached to international loans and grants.

The fight against terrorism and the drive to resuscitate Egypt’s economy are still works in progress over which many important questions hover. They are not the only ill-defined areas of the map. Human rights practices, or the absence of them, have occasioned strong criticism, as have laws that, in part, fail to appreciate that Egypt has experienced two revolutions demanding “freedom, bread and social justice.” Nor is there a clear vision of how to steer the country out of the cycle of violence, beyond the security/military approach to the fight against terrorist groups in Sinai and terror cells elsewhere in the country.

In this special edition, Al-Ahram Weekly identifies the contours and boundaries that make up the interwoven maps of Egypt, the region and the world. The fierce storms that buffet the region make this task both difficult and painful. Waves of terrorism and jihadist militia warfare transformed the Arab Spring into a scorching summer, a grim autumn and now a cold and merciless winter.

Syria is engulfed in a conflict that has attracted takfiri jihadists from more than 80 countries. Millions of people have been driven from their homes. Those who have chosen to remain face appalling conditions and the constant threat of death by bullet or starvation. The Syrian conflict spilled into Iraq where Islamic State (IS), taking advantage of the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict fuelled by the policies of the Al-Maliki government, seized control over most Sunni governorates. IS then embarked on a murderous rampage, massacring Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Armenians and anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who dared to disagree with its dogma. The plague soon infected other parts of the region. Jihadist militias in a number of Arab Spring countries have declared their allegiance to the leader of IS, the self-proclaimed “caliph” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Libya is caught in a vortex that threatens to drag the country back to a time before the emergence of the sovereign nation state. Tribal chauvinisms and the proliferation of militias intent on outdoing one another in the extent of their violence make it almost impossible to envisage a federal solution to the Libyan crisis.

Processes of fragmentation are also at work in Yemen. While political forces initially resolved to partition the country that overlooks the Bab Al-Mandab Straits into six federal regions, the move was followed by the Iranian-backed Houthi’s march on Sanaa, seizure of strategic locations in the capital and imposition of their conditions on the political arena. The old regime, the ruling party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the ex-president himself, were far from innocent parties in these developments.

Closer to home, in Palestine, the conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority and Fatah in the West Bank continues not only to fuel partition but furnishes indirect support for Tel Aviv’s schemes to expand settlements, Judaise Jerusalem and gobble up more chunks of Palestinian land. There is, too, the regional role played by Hamas, a member of the International Muslim Brotherhood organisation and a key player in the tugs-of-war that followed the setbacks sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood in several countries, most notably Egypt.

It is the International Muslim Brotherhood that dictates much of the agenda followed by the Sudanese government, particularly when it comes to Khartoum’s positions towards Egypt. The same applies to Khartoum’s policies towards its former territorial partner, South Sudan. As a result of such policies, the western region of Darfur is poised for renewed conflict and tensions are mounting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the bulk of the population is non-Muslim, raising the spectre of further partitions and, perhaps, secessions.

In Africa and other parts of the world established maps are being redrawn in much the same way as in the Middle East. Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula has set new boundaries. The US and the EU are reassessing their relationship with Moscow and its strongman, Vladimir Putin. Part of this process involves a radical revision of oil and natural gas supply routes. The West is scrambling to identify alternatives, as well as any potential pressure cards that might prove useful in future confrontations with the Russian bear over a range of issues. These include the fate of former Soviet states and the direction of Middle Eastern countries, Egypt, Syria and Iran foremost amongst them.

The proliferation of militia groups across north and sub-Saharan Africa has not only aggravated terrorism in the Middle East. Ideological and logistical connections with other groups in the region and, at times, the convergence of interests with parties elsewhere, has compounded the global dimensions of the terrorist plague.

Our exploration of emerging maps would not be complete without an attempt to read the impact on the Egyptian mindset, both emotionally and intellectually, of two revolutions, two regimes and their attendant waves of violence, sexual harassment and culture of anarchy. We need to also examine the state of the media, the efforts of which can feed the confusion and chaos in people’s minds, in the Egyptian family and in the street. We must examine the national media, which has lost its traditional role, and the private media, which is searching for one. Nor can we ignore the state of culture and its spin-offs as they relate to tourism, an industry in tatters after four years of turmoil but on which a great many livelihoods depend.

In this special edition you will also find an assessment of changes in the world of sport, not least football. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil saw the powerhouses of Brazil, Spain and Portugal go down to defeat, while new stars, such as Costa Rica, thrilled the world-wide audience. We also touch on the failures of the national teams of Egypt and Nigeria in the African Cup.

Some people look at maps to confirm the existence of constants, of immutable lines and borders that remain the same. In this special edition we have set ourselves the task of reading between those lines, probing below the surface of the terrain and analysing the way the sands have shifted over the last twelve months. In the process, our eyes have remained trained on discerning the possible contours of future maps, the features of which will be determined by the developments — hopefully, positive ones — that will come to shape 2015.

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