Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Nasser syndrome

Galal Nassar examines what lies behind Western attacks on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi

Al-Ahram Weekly

When reports were leaked ahead of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to London last November suggesting London and Washington remained unconvinced of the popular revolution of 30 June, 2013 – the leaks were sourced from circles close to Al-Sisi and the then British Prime Minister David Cameron - neither Cairo nor London rushed to deny them. Not only were London and Washington unhappy about the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood and their emissary in the presidential palace, Mohamed Morsi, according to the leaks they were loath to accept subsequent events, including Al-Sisi’s election as president of Egypt in democratic elections. Cameron even asked Al-Sisi to hold early presidential elections in mid-2016, on the grounds a second mandate was needed if his rule was to withstand domestic and foreign pressures. There were also demands to allow the Muslim Brotherhood back into the political process and pardon its leaders.

London continued pressing for early presidential elections. A week after Al-Sisi’s visit the BBC gave Brotherhood opposition figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh a platform to demand a new presidential poll. The same demand was soon being voiced by Ayman Nour, researcher Saadeddin Ibrahim, known for his close ties to Washington, and other members of the opposition. Attacks on Al-Sisi and his management of economic and social affairs soon followed. Tourism, a major source of hard currency, was nearly eliminated. Major national projects initiated by Al-Sisi came under scrutiny, starting with the New Suez Canal, inaugurated a year ago.

The latest broadside in the attacks came from The Economist, an influential magazine in Western decision making circles. Under the headline “The Ruining of Egypt” the magazine not only criticised Egypt’s economic policies but joined London and Washington in demanding Al-Sisi not seek a second presidential term. It even suggested the army, on which Al-Sisi relies to build his megaprojects and combat terrorism, be denied arms until Al-Sisi steps down.

Ankara, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, contributed to the attacks, as has Doha whose ruler’s hostility towards the 30 June Revolution and Al-Sisi himself is hardly a secret. Doha continues to act as a proxy for Washington which maintains its largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar.

The latest instance of support for the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood came when London offered refuge to the group’s leaders, claiming they faced persecution in Egypt. The move continued London’s historic role in contributing to the formation of the Brotherhood in 1928 and promoting a role for it in the region.

In comments to Al-Ahram Weekly sources in Egyptian decision-making circles say the latest round of orchestrated attacks on Al-Sisi betrays the belief in London, Washington, Doha and Ankara that Al-Sisi will emerge victorious in any coming election. They have thus modified their demand for early presidential elections and are now pressing him not to run for another term. The sources add that an unprecedented number of domestic and regional crises are being stoked in an attempt to ensure Al-Sisi fails.

“There have been signs of a growing tendency by some Western parties to pressure President Al-Sisi not to complete his first presidential term for some time now,” says political analyst Abdallah Al-Sennawi. “I wrote about this in March and none of the parties denied it. The goings-on in closed rooms have now come out in the open on the pages of one of the most temperate and influential magazines in the world. The Economist’s reporting on Egypt has strayed from economic journalism to direct political action.”

Al-Sennawi believes The Economist’s latest story represents a significant escalation in the campaign against Egypt.

“Egypt’s economic crisis is growing and the government sees the signing of a final agreement with the International Monetary Fund worth $12 billion, with additional loans of $9 billion from other international institutions, as the last remaining life line. The most serious message,” warns Al-Sennawi, “is that Egypt is losing necessary international sympathy at the very moment existential threats jeopardise its future.”

Al-Sennawi is particularly concerned by The Economist’s reports that Gulf states are increasingly ready to reconsider economic aid to Egypt.

“The timing of such talk is worrying,” he says, “not least because the magazine has ties to economic decision makers in allied Gulf states. In this context it is also worth noting that the immigration department of the British Home Office has recommended that political asylum be granted to Muslim Brotherhood members and journalists who can prove they face persecution. We are on the cusp of a very difficult international situation and it is being reflected in faltering relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Washington.”

Cairo University professor of political science Hazem Hosni is also concerned.

“Intelligence sources and finance and business circles in Britain and other Western states are part of The Economist’s network of contacts for stories. Economic decision makers in Egypt and elsewhere, aware of the complexity of the network of international relations in the age of globalisation, should read the magazine with extreme care. Instead of endless talk about evildoers, conspiracies and Brotherhood hands behind every international move that unsettles Egypt’s ruling circles, attempts have to be made to review the missteps that have led yesterday’s allies to turn against Egypt, from Russia to Saudi Arabia to Italy, the list grows longer every day. Egypt’s rulers cannot afford to stick with the self-flattery that has led them to sign documents that place Egypt on the path to ruin, as the shocking Economist headline says.”

Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo Tarek Fahmi believes “one of the most significant reasons for the attacks by the British media is that London has not changed its position on the 30 June Revolution”.

He points out that Theresa May, the current British prime minister, was responsible for the Brotherhood file under the Cameron government, and characterises The Economist’s message that the president should not seek a second term as a flagrant interference in Egyptian affairs.

On the Turkish front, where senior state figures attack Al-Sisi at every opportunity, the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministers have repeatedly clashed. Commenting on a statement about the situation in Egypt by his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said that though the Turkish minister’s words indicated a desire on the part of the Turkish government to improve relations with Egypt, overall his message was contradictory.

Shukri said that while he has reiterated several times how much Egypt values Egyptian-Turkish ties it is unacceptable for Turkey’s foreign minister to make improved ties conditional on Cairo adopting Ankara’s view of internal Egyptian political developments, to lecture Egypt on economic and social conditions and insult the Egyptian judicial system. Improved bilateral relations must be based on respect established principles, including non-interference in domestic affairs. Shukri added that the conditions set by the Turkish minister suggest government officials in Ankara seem to believe they exercise guardianship over the Egyptian people.

Addressing any Turkish or Western party seeking to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs, Shukri said: “The attempt to bend the will of the Egyptian people towards the view of any outside party is a fantasy, perhaps motivated by nostalgia for an era that ended centuries ago. Despite repeated statements over the past two years that insult the Egyptian people and their choices Egyptian officials have refrained from irresponsible or intemperate reactions.”

Shukri renewed Egypt’s commitment to a policy based on moral principles derived from its Arab civilizational heritage and the precepts of international law in managing international relations. These principles include neighbourliness, the pursuit of common interests and the preservation of regional and international security and stability. He concluded by saying the will of the Egyptian people, as expressed in two great revolutions, is the source of the policies pursued by the Egyptian state.

Al-Sennawi argues the only way to withstand the storms currently buffeting the Egyptian state is to revive the 30 June alliance.

“The entire situation needs speedy review. This will require opening channels for public dialogue. Independent opinions must not be automatically dismissed as casting doubt on achievements. Social complaints must be listened to seriously and political grievances alleviated by releasing all prisoners not involved in violence and who have been subjected to flagrant injustice. If Egypt does not take measures to correct these flagrant deficiencies, and take them soon, it is headed for one of the worst crises in its modern history.”

Sources told the Weekly that despite all the attempts to deter him from running for a second term Al-Sisi is banking on his popularity among the public. He is determined to press ahead with a long overdue package of difficult economic reforms, trusting that his record with the people as a popular hero, produced by the revolution of 30 June, 2013, will ensure their support. Pressure from abroad to prevent Al-Sisi from running for a second term, say the sources, will continue, aided by the Brotherhood and the violent groups working for it, for the simple reason that Al-Sisi stands as a bulwark against the implementation of foreign agendas.

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