Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Completing the agenda

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is pursuing an ambitious agenda, notably in foreign affairs, but analysts say that the country won’t be satisfied until there is a full transition to democratic rule, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the first half of his first year in office as president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has made foreign affairs the centrepiece of his government. He paid visits to the African and North African countries of Equatorial Guinea, Algeria and Sudan in June; Russia in August; the US in September; Italy and France in November; and China in December 2014.

Earlier this week, Al-Sisi paid a two-day visit to Kuwait, which had joined most other Arab Gulf countries in supporting the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and welcoming the election of Al-Sisi as president in 2014. In the next few weeks, Al-Sisi will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.

In a meeting with the editors of Egypt’s national newspapers last week, Al-Sisi indicated that his foreign policy strategy was designed to meet the two aims of improving the country’s economic and investment climate and reasserting Egypt’s traditional role in Middle Eastern affairs. “We are now moving from a state that was on the verge of collapse to a state that is recovering stability at home and regaining legitimacy abroad,” he said.

Al-Sisi said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, will soon visit Egypt. “We are not only paying visits to other countries, but the leaders of foreign countries are becoming more eager to visit us, a remarkable signal of the success of our new foreign policy,” Al-Sisi said.

At the end of his visit to Kuwait on Tuesday, Al-Sisi stressed that the objective of the new foreign policy was “to tell the world that Egypt as a strong state is back again and that it is regaining its influential role in the region.”

“My message to Arab Gulf leaders is that in the same way that Egypt has been able to regain confidence in itself, the Arab world should also move quickly to close differences and mend fences in order to be able to stand up to new challenges.”

He said that a further important visit would be to Ethiopia at the end of this month, during which he will seize the opportunity of the 24th round of meetings of the African Summit scheduled in Addis Ababa on 29 January to hold discussions on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam.

“They have given us verbal assurances that this dam will not negatively impact Egypt’s annual quota of Nile water, but we still have to see how these assurances will turn out in terms of the reality on the ground,” Al-Sisi said.

According to Hassan Abu Taleb, an Al-Ahram political analyst, there is no gainsaying the fact that Al-Sisi has been conducting a very active foreign policy since he came to office.

“He visited the United States, a country whose relations with Egypt have worsened since Morsi’s ouster, but he has also been keen to strike a balance with this Western superpower by forging close relations with another two world powers: Russia and China,” Abu Taleb said.

“As for the visits to Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain, these were mainly aimed to prepare the ground for the economic conference on Egypt and for the Arab Summit scheduled for next March. But they were also part of the military and economic axis Al-Sisi has been able to build with the Arab Gulf countries.”

Abu Taleb said that Al-Sisi’s foreign agenda is different from that pursued by ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. “A case in point is that while Mubarak ignored Africa after he faced a failed attempt on his life in Addis Ababa in 1995, Al-Sisi’s new foreign policy has embarked on prioritising this vital backyard of Egypt,” he said.

But while Abu Taleb agreed that Al-Sisi’s foreign visits had so far been a great success, their positive effects on local politics had yet to be seen. “The foreign visits gave the necessary international legitimacy to his rule, and also helped rekindle the interest of foreign investors in Egypt, but they still have to be completed by a gradual transition towards fully democratic rule,” Abu Taleb said.

Mohamed Al-Said Idris, also an Al-Ahram analyst, said, “Foreign visits might help improve economic conditions and boost the country’s regional and international role, but they fall short of moving the country forward in democratic terms. The complete transition to fully democratic rule will not come about so much from foreign visits as from depending on an internal national dialogue between Al-Sisi and all the country’s political forces, including the Islamists.”

Idris said that the main domestic priority of Al-Sisi in his first year in office had been reforming the economy. “This is good given the fact that the country has gone into a tailspin since 2011, but the problem is that the economy and politics are interrelated and reform should thus go both ways,” Idris said.

He said that that the slow preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections had sent a negative signal at both the local and foreign levels. “Egypt should have had a parliament by now, but the little enthusiasm over the last six months has sent the disappointing message that the new regime is not very interested in boosting political reform,” Idris added.

Although Al-Sisi ratified a new electoral constituencies law on 21 December, the Higher Elections Committee mandated with supervising the parliamentary polls has not yet held a press conference to announce a timetable for the polls.

In his interview with the national editors, Al-Sisi was clear about wanting the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies out of the new parliament. “The Egyptian people will not allow elements from the Muslim Brotherhood to sit in the new parliament,” he said.

For Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, Al-Sisi’s remarks went against possible attempts at reconciliation with the Brotherhood and what the West, and America in particular, has called  “inclusive democracy.”

“However, the West should recognise that the tide against the Muslim Brotherhood is not an Egyptian specialty. It has extended to sweep most Arab countries, including even Qatar which decided two weeks ago to abrogate its traditional support for the group in favour of regaining full diplomatic relations with the three Arab Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain and Al-Sisi’s Egypt,” Al-Sadat said.

Al-Sisi told the editors that he would meet with the leaders of the political parties this month to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections and the period beyond them. “I know they were not 100 per cent satisfied with the new election laws, but they must realise that if things were already perfect there would be no need to move a step beyond them,” Al-Sisi said, expressing his hopes that “the political parties will be able to forge strong electoral alliances capable of creating a powerful and vibrant parliament.”

Al-Sisi indicated that his main interest in the first half of his first year in office had been to stabilise the country, urge Egyptians to regain their self-confidence and put the country on a sound economic track. “Some people have asked for the philosophy behind my rule, and I want to say that my philosophy during that initial stage was to help the country stand on its own two feet and make it immune from political storms,” Al-Sisi told those at the meeting.

Officials from the political parties said that although their anticipated meeting with Al-Sisi is late in coming, it will be a good chance to exchange views on the country’s political future. “Al-Sisi should realise that political stability will not be complete without serious dialogue with all the political factions, relinquishing the Mubarak-style rule which was based on monopolising power and marginalising the political forces,” Nabil Zaki, spokesperson of the leftist Tagammu Party, said.

Zaki said that there are hopes that Al-Sisi will discuss the expected reshuffle of provincial governors. “The political forces should have a say in this respect, especially as it comes before the parliamentary polls,” he said. There have been rumours over the past few days that former senior army and police officers will be appointed the governors of North Sinai and Marsa Matruh in order to meet terrorist threats coming from Gaza and Libya.

Zaki said Al-Sisi’s insistence that he will not set up his own political party is a good sign. “He must know that the people revolted in 2011 not only to remove Mubarak from office and prevent hereditary rule by his son Gamal, but also to get rid of what used to be called ‘the president’s own party,’” the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Al-Sadat said he hopes that the dialogue with Al-Sisi will tackle controversial issues such as the political protest law, the NGOs law and the keeping of three Al-Jazeera journalists in jail. “The president and his government should realise that these issues have done a lot of damage to the country’s image,” Al-Sadat said, praising a presidential decree last November that allows Al-Sisi to deport foreign journalists convicted of crimes to face trial in their own countries.

There have been reports that Diaa Rashwan, head of the Press Syndicate, will petition Al-Sisi to allow two of the three Al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt to be deported, especially after the country’s Cassation Court, the highest judicial authority, ordered their retrial. The two journalists are the Australian Peter Greste and the Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy.

Despite widespread criticisms of the case, Al-Sisi has resisted intervening, citing judicial independence. However, he has told Egyptian journalists that the best option would be to deport “foreign journalists convicted of offences” rather than putting them in jail in Egypt.

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