Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Facing down terror

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi vows that last week’s terrorist attacks will not delay the government’s plans to host a major economic conference or derail the timetable for parliamentary elections. Dina Ezzat reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In the wake of last Thursday’s terrorist attack in north Sinai that left 24 soldiers, six policemen and 14 civilians dead, the government has launched an intensive diplomatic offensive to convince the world that Egypt is a safe destination for foreign investments.

In separate statements the president, the prime minister and the minister of trade said preparations for a major economic conference scheduled for March are continuing.

“The conference is essential if the economy is to be revived. [The terrorists] want to derail it but we will not delay the conference,” said President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in public statements made on Saturday.

During a joint press conference with the investment ministers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE — two of Egypt’s largest donors — Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said the Sharm El-Sheikh conference, to be held between 13 and 15 March, will showcase not only investment opportunities in Egypt but the progress the country has made in implementing the political roadmap adopted following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

“There were no second thoughts about it. Though the president is aware some in the investment community fear the March conference might flop following the terror attacks in Sinai he believes cancelling the conference now will send a more negative message to the world about conditions in Egypt,” said a presidential source.

“The president, who had been keen to hold the conference earlier than March, refuses to countenance any more delays. He is very concerned that Egypt begins attracting investors as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will face serious economic problems. Even the keenest of donors have made it clear they want to move towards investments and away from providing direct support to help cover Egypt’s acute budget deficit.”

The president, the source continued, is closely monitoring government attempts “to update investment laws and improve the investment environment in general.”

Said the source: “He is determined that by March we will be sending a clear message to the world that Egypt is an attractive destination for investors.”

But what impact will last week’s attacks have on investors’ appetite to come to Egypt?

Ambassadors of capitals keen to support Egypt have expressed concern that the impact will be negative.

“We want to support Egypt as much as we can but there is no denying the volume of violence in general, and the latest attacks in Sinai in particular, are not sending the right message at all,” said the ambassador of one of Egypt’s leading European trade partners.

In the wake of the attacks, Al-Sisi assigned Lieutenant-General Osama Askar to command the Third Army, responsible for South Sinai and Suez. He takes charge of the troubled area east of the Suez Canal, with a clear mandate, according to reports, “to avenge the killing” of Egyptians in Sinai. The president also announced that the development of Sinai was an integral part of his government’s strategy to combat extremism in Sinai.

On Sunday Al-Sisi met with cabinet members, army and police officers and the politicians and public figures who were part of the 30 June 2013 coalition that mobilised against Muslim Brotherhood rule. He told the meeting that unity is a prerequisite for the defeat of terrorism and “all those who wish to bring Egypt down.”

“The meeting showed that despite the challenges facing Egypt, President Al-Sisi continues to enjoy the support of the public, the political classes and state institutions. That said, we think a more comprehensive and inclusive political set-up will help the cause of stability — and I mean long-term and sustainable stability — in Egypt,” said another European ambassador.

Political and public figures who attended Sunday’s meeting with Al-Sisi told Al-Ahram Weekly there were few, if any signs, that a more inclusive approach is on the agenda of the president or the security and military apparatus.

“I am afraid that for now the overwhelming sentiment is that the country is at war,” said one.

In his first reaction to Thursday’s terrorist attacks Al-Sisi said Egypt is in a state of war with the “most dangerous underground organisation of modern times”, an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is a war, he continued, that “Egypt will surely win” through the coordinated efforts of the head of the state, the army, police, the judiciary, media and the people.

For some of the participants at the Sunday meeting the government’s strategy for defeating terrorism is in urgent need of revision.

“It places so much emphasis on the security and military approach that no room is left for any political manoeuvres,” said one.

The state-of-war discourse, argues political-economist Amr Ismail, is unlikely to help in promoting Egypt as a destination for foreign direct investments.

“Last week’s terrorist attacks were clearly intended to undermine the economic conference’s chances of success, and beyond that to challenge the rule of the Al-Sisi regime,” says Ismail.

“What we are seeing in Sinai is a full-blown insurgency and it has to be treated as such. But we can do this without resorting to the rhetoric of war.”

Isolating the extremists, says Ismail, is a necessary first step towards defeating them. And this, he argues, requires a political approach “to the role of political Islam.”

“I am not talking about the Muslim Brotherhood,” he stresses, “but the much wider camp of political Islam.

“We need to defuse the anger felt by this considerable bloc and in doing so we will deny militant Islamist groups the chance to recruit more sympathisers,” he says.

The task is made more urgent by the fact the government will have to pursue more austerity economic measures “in line with the demands the International Monetary Fund has been making since 2007.”

Absorbing the socio-economic unease that will result, says Ismail, requires an “opening up rather than further closing of public space” and the pursuit of more ambitious development projects, especially in vulnerable areas like north Sinai.

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