Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Sending clear messages

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had a busy schedule during his participation in the UN General Assembly, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky from New York

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Al-Ahram Weekly

During a five-day visit to New York to attend the annual session of the UN General Assembly, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi held several high-level meetings to discuss international security and ways to combat terrorism.

Official Egyptian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly in New York that several government institutions had worked more than two months to make Al-Sisi’s visit a success.

Al-Sisi and his team used all their meetings to present Egypt’s vision on regional security especially at a time when many countries in the region are facing instability because of either internal disputes or terrorism.

“We are passing through difficult times in the region,” a senior Egyptian official in the delegation told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity. “Important powers in the international community are pressuring Egypt to play a role in different areas, but we will only play the role that serves Egyptian interests and helps the region to become stable.

“That is why the presidential team is exerting every possible effort to explain Egypt’s vision on fighting terrorism and regional stability.”

He added that starting from 2015 Egypt reviewed its foreign policy on all fronts and integrated a strategy to protect the country’s interest from instability in the region especially in Libya and Gaza.

“All the tracks are linked. Gaza is connected to the overall strategy to revive the peace process. Libya is connected to stability in North Africa to stop the spread of terrorist groups in this area,” the source added.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Al-Sisi emphasised the role of the Middle East peace process as an important pillar in restoring stability to the region. On Syria, Al-Sisi called for a political solution to end the suffering of millions of Syrians in and out of Syria. He warned that any further military intervention in Syria would make the situation worse and would prolong the war.

On international security, Al-Sisi urged world leaders in his UN speech to think broadly in fighting terrorism and to use all means at their disposal, including revising religious sermons and encouraging young people in developing their country in order to protect them from joining any extremists group.

One of the most important parts of the speech was about Libya. Al-Sisi said Egypt was supporting the Libyan people’s efforts at stability and called on the international community to help the Libyan army in the war against terrorist groups.

Over the last few weeks, Egypt announced its support for the Libyan army’s move to secure the country’s oil wealth and preserve stability and security.

The Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar launched attacks on militants based near petroleum ports for two days two weeks ago and managed to regain control over them. The move, which was welcomed by Egypt, was criticised by the US and European countries.

Al-Sisi’s UN speech echoed messages behind closed doors in his meetings with several world leaders, especially British Prime Minister Theresa May. In the meeting, Al-Sisi explained Egypt’s position on Libya and called on the UK to help restore stability in the war-torn country.

Additionally, the two leaders discussed the possibility of lifting the travel ban imposed by British airline carriers to Sharm El-Sheikh.

“We both agreed to continue mutual cooperation to resume flights to Sharm El-Sheikh in the future,” Egyptian presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said.

Al-Sisi’s meetings also included talks with the US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump who made it to New York only to meet five leaders out of 86 attending the General Assembly. The statements that were issued after the meetings from both candidates showed major differences in how they view US relations with Egypt.

In a statement, the Egyptian presidency said that Al-Sisi discussed with Clinton cooperation between the US and Egypt in regional security.

“They both discussed the recent developments in Egypt, including electing members of the House of Representatives and the separation of powers in Egypt which contribute to major reform efforts taken by the Egyptian government,” the statement said.

In a statement, Clinton said that Egypt is an important ally of the US and an important player in the stability in the region. She said both sides discussed additional topics, including human rights in Egypt.

“Secretary Clinton emphasised the importance of respect for the rule of law and human rights to Egypt’s future progress,” said Clinton’s campaign in a press release.

“Secretary Clinton called for the release of US citizen Aya Hegazi.”

The meeting, which lasted 30 minutes, was not the only communication between the Clinton campaign and the Egyptian government. Over the course of the last three months, several advisors in the Clinton campaign visited Cairo and met high-level officials.

After meeting Clinton, Al-Sisi met Trump and the statement issued by the Republican candidate indicated differences between the two White House contenders over Egypt.

Trump released a statement that said the meeting with Al-Sisi “highlighted how Egypt and the US share a common enemy and the importance of working together in defeating radical terrorism”.

The statement also said that the Republican candidate told Al-Sisi that “under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead”.

“If he (Trump) were fortunate enough to win the election in November, he would invite President Al-Sisi on an official visit to the United States and would be honoured to visit Egypt and the Egyptian people who he has a great fondness for,” the statement added.

The major difference that Trump or his advisor never talked about human rights in Egypt, while Clinton has to mention in any statement related to Egypt the issue. Already many advisors in Clinton Campaign have a record in calling for reform in Egypt and worked before in human rights organisations.

In an interview with the Weekly, Trump’s foreign policy advisor Waleed Fares said that Trump considers Egypt the most important player in the region in fighting terrorism.

He added that he wants Cairo to play a more important role in the region as it has a balanced foreign policy that takes into consideration the interests of all other players, in addition to its experience.

“Egypt should play a more important role in restoring stability in all the countries of the Red Sea. It is the guardian of the maritime movement in this area,” he said.

In an interview with PBS conducted by Charlie Rose, Al-Sisi said he was working with parliament and judicial authorities to build a country that has a strong rule of law that protects everybody and holds everybody accountable regardless of his position.

He added that Egypt has a modern constitution that will not allow any president to stay one day more after finishing his term.

“In 2018, there will be presidential elections. The Egyptian people will choose between a new president and re-electing the current one. It is up to them and no-one else,” Al-Sisi said in the interview.

In his residence, Al-Sisi met several Arab leaders, including the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, Jordanian King Abdullah, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi.

According to information obtained by the Weekly, Al-Sisi will not meet Qatar’s ruler Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Sisi also met Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades who said Egypt is a special ally of Cyprus. Anastasiades told the Weekly after the meeting that he will visit Cairo from 11-12 October to discuss cooperation in various areas.

Al-Sisi also addressed a high-level UN plenary meeting which debated the immigration and refugee crises. He said Egypt had contributed rapidly to international community efforts to manage the crisis.

He said Egypt appreciates the push given to international momentum to discuss the crisis, and welcomed ongoing efforts to issue two international UN convents on refugees and immigration.

“Let's all agree that combatting illegal immigration should be at the top of our international priorities,” Al-Sisi told world leaders. “Let's also agree that there is no way to stop the flow of illegal immigration except through addressing its main roots and opening up doors for legal migration.”

Al-Sisi explained that Egypt will combat illegal immigration by updating already existing anti-human trafficking legislation.

Egypt already outlaws all forms of human trafficking with its 2010 anti-trafficking Law 64 which stipulates punishment from three to 15 years imprisonment along with fines.

The president highlighted the Egyptian government's commitment to spreading awareness on the dangers of illegal immigration, and discussed efforts undertaken by Egyptian security and Armed Forces to secure maritime and land borders as well as foil illegal immigration attempts.

He also said that Egypt currently hosts five million refugees of various nationalities "in accordance with our commitments on the issue since the outbreak of the refugee crisis".

“We are working on providing refugees with respectable living conditions without isolating them in camps,” Al-Sisi said.

“Many refugees in Egypt enjoy equal rights with Egyptian citizens in education, health and housing services. They are also benefiting from the subsidy system despite the huge burden it puts on Egypt's general budget.”

“I stress Egypt's commitment to supporting efforts in dealing with the migration issue,” Al-Sisi said.

“I ask you all to promote cooperation to support development efforts and reach a solution to the political conflicts in the region so that people do not emigrate from their countries in search of security or the right to live.”

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