Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Editorial

Al-Ahram Weekly

Referendum repercussions

At first glance, voting on the new constitution may seem to be a strictly domestic matter for Egypt. But the truth is that its repercussions for people living across and outside this region are considerable as well.
Observers are keen to see if the right procedures are followed, if the turnout is high, and how will the vote go. Every step of the way, this referendum will be meticulously examined by analysts here and abroad.
The referendum must be seen as the first step towards a new constitutional legitimacy, one that negates that attributed to the former president while opening the way for the presidential candidacy of Egypt’s strongman, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the army chief.
Some people have been promoting Al-Sisi’s candidacy in an unquestionable manner. These people don’t seem to care if the country has any guarantees against Egypt’s strongman turning into a new dictator. Nor do they seem concerned that we must have a political and social programme consistent with the aims of our two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June.
Egypt deserves to become a modern democratic state, one governed by civilian institutions. So before he runs for president, Al-Sisi will be expected to announce such guarantees.
A Nasserist who has no interest in repeating the experience of the 1960s, Al-Sisi rose to prominence in a country that has much changed since the heydays of the Cold War.
Traumatised by the events of the past three years, Egypt needs time to recuperate, and is no mood to engage in the risky politics of the Nasser era. Anyone who dreams of reviving the high-stakes politics of the Nasser era is “delusional”, Al-Sisi once told journalists.
Following four decades of excessive dependence on US regional policy, Egypt’s influence has dwindled in the region. Some say that the country is now unable to fulfil the minimum requirements of its national security.
A firm believer in national independence, Al-Sisi understands that the cost of confrontational politics is prohibitive for a country that is economically exhausted and strategically unprepared.
Al-Sisi, sources close to him say, is concerned that his elevation to power may confront him with problems that are too hard to tackle.
A strong public showing in the referendum may be necessary before Al-Sisi decides to make a bid for the presidency.
When Al-Sisi stepped in to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power, on 3 July, he did so without the approval of Washington, thus violating a foreign policy premise that dominated Egyptian politics for nearly 40 years. Since then, he has been dragged into a power game with the US administration.
In fact, Al-Sisi is the last one the Americans wish to see in power in Egypt. And the fact that he favoured a Russian weapons deal, in a bid to diversify the country’s sources of armaments, did nothing to endear him to Washington.
What must have come as a shock to the Americans, however, was that their closest ally, Saudi Arabia, was prepared to bankroll the deal to the tune of $2 billion.
The Americans have miscalculated on two fronts. First, they failed to see that their reliance on the Muslim Brotherhood to spearhead regional changes was offensive to Gulf countries. Then, when Washington sought to mend bridges with Tehran, it further alienated Gulf countries.
Alarmed by the new trends in US policy, major Gulf countries decided that a strong and healthy Egypt could be something to turn to in need. This is why Gulf countries have given support to Egypt’s interim authorities, offering it generous financial and political aid.
The eagerness of Gulf countries to see Al-Sisi in office contrasts with desperate American efforts to block him from power.
According to reliable sources, major Gulf countries offered to pump massive investment into the Egyptian economy to ensure that no hiccups take place during Egypt’s resurgence.
The Saudi expression of support to Egypt did not have the usual cloak of reserve that marks Riyadh’s regional policies. The UAE is also standing solidly by Egypt during these transitional times.
The messages coming from the Gulf to Al-Sisi can be summarised as follows: “Have no fear from economic trouble, for we will be there for you every step of the way.”
The divergence between the American and Gulf positions is remarkable, as well as symptomatic of the regional state of flux.
Interestingly, Europe has largely refrained from toeing Washington’s line on Egypt. On the whole, European officials see the constitutional referendum as a prelude for Egypt’s long-awaited stability.

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