Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Next step New York

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will promote a development and stability strategy first on three overseas visits, Dina Ezzat reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the successful inauguration of the New Suez Canal President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is busy planning three overseas visits, to Moscow, Beijing and New York.

During his trips to Moscow and Beijing, which government sources say are pencilled in for the first half of next month, Al-Sisi will be seeking further arms purchases and greater industrial cooperation.

In the third week of September Al-Sisi is scheduled to head the Egyptian delegation to the UN General Assembly where he is expected to reiterate the message that Egypt is working hard to promote development for its people in the face of challenging regional circumstances.

In New York, says a government source, the president “is particularly keen to touch base on issues of common interests with several African leaders, including the Ethiopian prime minister and other leaders of Nile Basin states”.

 “For now,” he added, an extended meeting with the US President Barack Obama is not on the cards though there will be “an encounter” between the two heads of state.

According to Egyptian and American sources, there is not much for Al-Sisi and Obama to discuss. Relations between Cairo and Washington had been normalised, with the US giving prominence to joint regional security interests rather than concerns over democratisation, and Obama, in any case, will soon be leaving the White House.

“We will be beginning negotiations over a new free trade agreement with the US and are due to resume our joint military manoeuvres. There is unlikely to be any substantial change for the remainder of the Obama administration’s term,” says an Egyptian diplomatic source.

Sources acknowledge, however, that Al-Sisi is likely to hear concerns from some of his interlocutors in New York about the process of democratisation and the state of human rights in Egypt. His line, they add, will be to stress that parliamentary elections will soon be held and it will be up to the newly elected House of Representatives to pursue democratisation. He will also underline that for the vast majority of Egyptians development and stability remain the top priority.

Al-Sisi will call for parliamentary elections before heading to New York. “I think, given the schedules and the security arrangements and administrative preparations we can expect the first round of elections to take place in early October,” says a presidential source.

This means the first session of the newly elected parliament is likely to be held around the second week of January 2016.

“We are still finalising the schedules but we have started the process and short of a big game changer we will move ahead with our plans.”

Most commentators expect a major government reshuffle following the elections. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb will have completed his mandate, and at least 10 cabinet ministers, mostly with service and economic portfolios, will be replaced.

“There is a lack of cohesion in the economic group. We cannot afford continued squabbling in the cabinet,” says a leading entrepreneur who asked for his name to be withheld.

Speculation is rife over who will replace Mehleb as prime minister. Hani Sarieddin, who already advises Al-Sisi on financial and legal matters, Hisham Ramez, the head of the Central Bank, and Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, are among the front-runners.

One informed political source told Al-Ahram Weekly that Al-Sisi favours Mamish — “he likes his command of detail and military discipline but may hesitate to remove the man from a position in which he has demonstrated exceptional efficiency.”  He added that the president might also worry about the international response to the appointment of a prime minister with a military background. Before being appointed to the Suez Canal Authority Mamish was head of the Egyptian Navy.

The fate of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri is hanging in the balance.

“This has nothing to do with his performance — he has the president’s full confidence — but because he may be nominated as Arab League secretary-general,” says a source at the Foreign Ministry.

Rumours about the fate of the Minister of Defence remain just that, rumours, says a presidential source. He refused to comment on what he termed “idle speculation”.

During his overseas visits Al-Sisi will raise the issue of Sinai as part of the wider regional threat posed by Islamist militants and will argue that the Muslim Brotherhood acts as the mother organisation for a wide range of extremist groups.

The president will also discuss a possible bigger role for Egypt in the regional fight against regional Islamist militant threats, especially that posed by the IS.

“I think it is safe to say that we are planning to expand our efforts but it will be done in a very calculated way,” says the presidential source.

According to the Foreign Ministry source, Egypt is closely watching the growing regional influence of Iran, and the manner in which Tehran, in cooperation with both the US and Russia, has been seeking to redraw the regional order. He argues that when it comes to areas of immediate strategic national interest such as Syria, over which Iran is working with the Saudis via Moscow and Washington, “Egypt cannot sit by and watch.”

According to Western diplomatic sources, for the most part the international focus now is on regional stability.

“I keep telling my Egyptian interlocutors that a process of democracy is essential to keep Egypt stable. The regime of Hosni Mubarak was not doing that badly in terms of development and international coordination on regional issues. It was challenged because it failed to score on democracy,” says a Cairo-based European ambassador.

According to another European ambassador: “I think that the president of Egypt should not be too surprised if he receives questions on the demonstrations that we saw in Cairo yesterday [by employees protesting against the civil servants regulations law] and on the chances of other equally big, or maybe even bigger, socio-economic demonstrations”.

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