Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Looking to the year ahead

2016 promises difficult challenges and new opportunities for Egypt and the region, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Political experts interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly anticipate that the aggravated danger of terrorism will remain a foremost security challenge regionally against a backdrop of the ineffective international handling of this phenomenon, through some analysts have suggested that it could be eliminated in 2016.

With regards to Egypt, terrorism will constitute the heaviest and most pressing security burden in the coming year in the light of the growing presence of the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya, emanating out of Sirte, and the threat this poses to Libya’s neighbours amidst the ongoing political conflict in the country.

In spite of the signing of the Skhirat Agreement in mid-December, leading to the creation of a national unity government in Libya backed by the UN, there is a likelihood that the scenario of bifurcation in governmental bodies will reproduce itself as the Libyan-Libyan dialogue that is currently in process may result in another parallel government.

The situation is a recipe for ongoing security problems, regardless of whether or not four countries, headed by the US, are in the process of forging an international coalition to combat terrorism in Libya, as the Libyan delegate to the UN has claimed.  

As Mohamed Qashqoush, military advisor at the Nasser Higher Military Academy in Cairo, put it, “it is impossible to contend that any government can reign in the security situation which has deteriorated so gravely in 2015 and is likely to deteriorate further in the coming year, especially in southern Libya.”

He noted that such a development would be troublesome for Egypt as it would be more difficult to secure the border area in the region and require a heavy military concentration along Egypt’s southwestern border as well as along its southern border with Sudan due to the possibility of infiltration into Egypt from Darfour via Jebel Al-Uweinat.

“The triangle of the Egyptian-Libyan and Egyptian-Sudanese border is a danger zone of extremist militias from IS or even other militias such as the Tuareg tribes or those fleeing from northern Mali. All these contingents form a surplus force the repercussions of which have been felt in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. Egypt must therefore factor this challenge into its calculations,” Qashqoush said.

But the foregoing scenario does not rule out the likelihood of positive political developments to the east in 2016. There is scope for breakthroughs in both Syria and Yemen, both of which are major national security fronts for Egypt.

At the local security level, there was a marked decline in armed violence during 2015. The year opened with some 125 terrorist attacks in January, but in September there were only 12, according to the index published by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. Incidences of violence in Sinai accounted for only 12.98 per cent of total incidents of violence throughout the country.

 Nevertheless, Sinai remains the most intense security challenge, although there is hope for a qualitative shift towards development. The Jebel Al-Jalala Projects and the recent visit by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Sinai to inspect industrial projects there are signs of the government’s keenness to give greater weight to developmental processes.

With regard to the terrorist organisations operating in Sinai, experts do not foresee any dramatic developments and in fact predict a marked decline in their performance in the framework of the government’s iron-grip policy towards them.    

As for political challenges, the recently elected parliament, whose sessions are expected to begin in the second week of January, is likely to form the focus of these. Sobhi Assila, an expert in parliamentary affairs at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Weekly that “parliament is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time.”

“Beginnings lead to results but beginnings can be negative. There are some who want to push the parliament towards a single voice, which flies against the nature of its role and function. The danger of such an attitude is that it drives the opposition out of the parliamentary chamber and onto the streets, which is to say it could reproduce previous crises,” Assila said.

“We should operate on the assumption that the political opposition should be expressed through the exercise of its institutional role beneath the dome of parliament.”   

There are a range of economic concerns that will continue to press on decision-makers in the coming year. According to Ibrahim Al-Ghitani, a researcher at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, the continuing budgetary deficit is one of the most important since there has been a “chronic deficit during the past five years”.

It remains a main source of anxiety against the backdrop of a decline in economic growth rates, lower tax revenues and general economic stagnation, he said, and there is also the ongoing challenge of the declining value of the Egyptian pound.

Efforts to stabilise the exchange rate were an interim goal, Al-Ghitani said, the chief aim of which was to minimise the gap between the official exchange rate and the market rate for the Egyptian pound.

A third challenge was the need to attract investment, he noted, saying that in spite of the considerable legislation issued to provide guarantees for investors this had not been rewarded with an improvement in the investment environment, which continues to suffer deficiencies.

A related problem is commercial arbitration, in view of the red tape, time and costs involved. Last but not least are problems related to major economic projects that seek to stimulate growth and development. Apart from the New Suez Canal, which enjoys a number of key advantages due to its location, other major projects lack strategic vision.

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam is another serious challenge that will carry over into 2016. Nader Noureddin, an expert on international watercourses and hydrology, said that the three most important challenges facing Egypt in 2016 were water security, food security and energy security.

“Water, food and energy are the three keys to development,” he said, adding this “this is where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam comes in as one of the foremost challenges in this regard.”

Egypt suffers from a water deficit of around 30 billion cubic metres, Noureddin said. “Yet, according to Ethiopian policy we have to sacrifice a large chunk of our share of Nile water. This would compound the deficit as our quota would be reduced to around 42 billion cubic metres, which will not suffice. One immediate consequence would be to increase the deficit in food security from 55 to 75 per cent, which would affect all other development concerns in Egypt.”

He also expressed his concern that the reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam was at its lowest recorded level. “The only hope I can imagine for 2016 is for us to expand our activities in the desalinisation of seawater,” he said, noting how prospects for this had increased following President Al-Sisi’s recent visit to Singapore which should boost transfer expertise in the field.

Over the past year, the media have left a generally negative impression among the general public. Instead of performing the function of imparting information, relaying the news, enlightening the public and offering entertainment, the media have tended to become a party to successive crises.

But Hassan Mekawi, deputy chairman of the Supreme Press Council and former dean of the Faculty of Journalism at Cairo University, harbours considerable optimism on this front.

He expects that the first half of 2016 will bring solutions to many of the country’s media crises through new legislation. Legislators will review old laws and issue new ones. Efforts will also be made to organisationally restructure such bodies as the National Press Council.

On the question of the din of television talk shows that increased in 2015, Mekawi maintained that this would most likely recede because the control of capital in the press would change.

A single owner would not be allowed to possess more than a 10 per cent share of any single media outlet, he said, and new legislation would usher in tighter regulation and monitoring of media performance.

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