Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Crises and transitions

Dina Ezzat reviews the latest strategic report, compiled by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and published this month

Report of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strate
Report of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strate
Al-Ahram Weekly

Current Transitional Developments is the title Amr Hashim Rabei, editor of the Strategic Report of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, chooses for his introduction to the almost 500-page volum
Issued in Cairo, the report includes contributions from 20 political scientists and covers political in 2013 and 2014, though always with an eye on what might happen next.

Over the past two years, though particularly in 2 014, writes Rabei, a number of game changers have occurred that will have a profound influence on the shape and direction of domestic, regional and international developments.

Washington’s hesitant approach to many international issues, including some related to the Middle East, signals the beginning of the end of the unipolar world order, argues Rabei.
He also identifies a qualitative shift in the volume and reach of international terror which has grown way beyond the threat Al-Qaeda once posed. It is a change, he argues, that directly impacts the socio-political stability and political priorities of the Middle East.
“The Palestinian Cause has suffered as a result of expanding terror, especially in the Arab region, where it has declined drastically on the list of political priorities,” writes Rabei.
The report divides into three sections: Dynamics of international relations, Arab and regional order and Egypt.
The Egypt section provides a detailed account of the problems Egypt has faced over the last two years and which will continue into 2015. Over 150 pages three words crop up with predictable regularity: elections, reconstruction and choices.
The chapter dedicated to long promised but yet to be held parliamentary elections casts a spotlight on the hesitation and indecision that could threaten future hopes, not least by detailing the confused electoral scene in legal and political terms.

The story of parliamentary elections, as told by the authors of the strategic report, sums up the oft-told story of post 25 January 2011 Egypt: the plot includes a state far from keen to reach out to political players; political players who command little public support and while away their days squabbling, and a legal process that has some way to go before it begins to be capable of disinterested arbitration when it comes to entrenched forces. It is a tale that is continued in the chapter on political parties.

The report argues the current legal process, even if it undergoes some tweaking, will produce a parliament dominated by pre-25 January Revolution interest groups, the Mubarak-era political class, big business, and Islamists. Elections will return a parliament in thrall to existing centres of power, one ill-equipped and unwilling to pursue political or economic reform.
Not that the authors of the report see the problems of parliamentary elections in isolation. Rather, they are part and parcel of a deeper crisis engendered by the collapse of the 30-June coalition.

Political scientists and commentators continue to argue about when the coalition began to fragment. A few date its breakdown to 3 July 2013 and the announcement of the Road Map. Some of the authors of the report argue it began with bloody dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins in August 2013. But the majority opinion is that the coalition fell apart irretrievably in January 2014 when it was announced that the Minister of Defence, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, would run for president.

The epitomic site of this collapse, argues the report, is to be found in the Tamarod Movement which had spearheaded public dissatisfaction with Mohamed Morsi only to split following Morsi’s removal.
Divisions within the anti-Islamist camp and the interminable delay in holding parliamentary elections are among the most dramatic aspects of a political scene that also includes confusion within the media and a failure to revise the role of the presidency.

The report is published as the debate over the state budget continues to rumble. Informed sources say there is disagreement at the highest levels about what to do amid warnings that any failure to significantly reduce the budget deficit will be catastrophic, and concern that a significant reduction will decimate already crumbling public services.
The report also warns of the socio-political risks of failing to tackle Egypt’s acute energy problem, both in terms of supply and in the possible ramifications of slashing subsidy levels.

The authors of the report’s Egypt section repeatedly find themselves arguing that greater balance, and a coherent vision, are needed to overcome political and economic challenges. This balance and vision, they suggest, should reduce Egypt’s dependence on Arab Gulf financial assistance and eventually allow more room for manoeuvre in foreign policy.

The latter is essential if Egypt is to adopt a more creative approach to the many crises besetting the region, not least in Libya and Syria. The situation in both states, argue the authors of the Middle East chapters of the report, has been exacerbated by the wavering of US foreign policy as Washington focuses ever more intently on Asia and on the chronic problems posed by US relations with Cuba and Iran.

The report also examines the rise of new international players, China, of course, but also some Latin American states. BRIC countries are offered as a possible model for future cooperation, and Cairo’s failure to “pick up the extended hand from Latin American countries after the January Revolution” is criticised.

Changes in the international order are a two edged sword. Coming at a time when the regional order is characterised by a lack of coherence – many Arab states remain dependent for their defence needs on the West and some face acute challenge posed by the spread of extremist movements like ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra – they could have a negative impact on regional development.

“The weakness that has marked the Arab regional order since the end of World War II continues,” says the report, and is in danger of being exacerbated by international change.

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