Egypt -The Abdel Fattah El-Sisi Presidency
El-Sisi enjoys the support of one of the most powerful political parties in Parliament
In the first week of May 2023, Ahmed Eltantawy, former head of the leftist Karama party, and until 2020 a prominent member of Egypt’s Parliament, announced that Egyptian authorities had arrested his male relatives and friends. Nabeh Elganadi, a lawyer for the independent Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said at least 10 of Eltantawy’s relatives, friends and supporters, including two uncles, had been arrested. They would be held for 15 days for questioning at the State Security Prosecution on accusations including joining a “terrorist” group.
The obvious reason for the arrests, in a Facebook post in March 2023, Eltantawy had announced that he would be running in presidential elections scheduled for 2024 “to offer the civil democratic alternative”.
Egyptian democracy is subject to the designs of former General and now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The Moslem Brotherhood had won Egypt's first free presidential election in 2012, but there were mass protests against its autocratic rule. The military under Sisi overthrew the government of President Mohamed Morsi of the Moslem Brotherhood in 2013.
El-Sisi was elected head of state in the 2014 presidential election. He enjoys the support of one of the most powerful political parties in Parliament, the Mostaqbal Watn (Nation’s Future) Party which won a clear majority in the December 2020 parliamentary elections. The party actually increased its majority, partly because of new electoral rules.
Since Mosri was ousted the once most powerful Islamist movement in Egypt has continued to face a crackdown by the authorities. Egyptians witnessed one of the bloodiest events in their recent history, when security forces crushed the protest camps of thousands of supporters of Morsi in 2013.
Over 800 protestors were said to have died. The Moslem Brotherhood’s leader-in-exile, Ibrahim Munir, who had lived in the United Kingdom for almost 40 years, died in 2022.
The Egyptian Constitution of 2012, which was suspended by Sisi after his coup, gave only a four-year term to the President, to which the candidate could only be re-elected once. A constitutional referendum was held in Egypt from 20 to 22 April 2019, with overseas voting taking place between 19 and 21 April 2019.
The new Constitution incorporated changes that made it possible for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to remain in power until 2030. The constitution allows the President to appoint up to 5 percent of the parliament. He also has the power to dissolve Parliament.
The Parliament of Egypt is the oldest legislative chamber in Africa and the Middle East. With 2020 elections to the new Senate, the chamber became bicameral. There are said to be more than 100 political parties in Egypt. The formation of political parties based on religion, race or gender is prohibited by the Constitution.
International Human Rights Organisations such as Human Rights Watch have commented that since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took office in 2014, civil society and the political opposition have found their ability to operate increasingly shackled.
There is no longer a guarantee of separation of powers. Freedom of opinion, freedom of Assembly, press freedom and the work of non-governmental organisations are severely restricted. Military involvement and control of politics, the economy and society has been increasing.
No dissent is tolerated. In 2013 a law was passed banning protests without prior police approval. There were protests from human rights groups who expressed concern about the government’s commitment to democratic principles.
There have been massive crackdowns which had led to a significant number of Egyptian dissidents forced to live in exile. Human Rights Organisations have spoken of mass arrests to crush domestic opposition and dissent and said that “ torture is rampant in detention”.
Human Rights Watch has singled out the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency for being responsible for disappearances of regime opponents and their torture in detention without the Agency’s personnel being held accountable. The crackdowns have been justified by the government and Sisi’s supporters as being necessitated by the imperative need to ensure stability.
Al Azhar in Cairo is one of the most ancient and renowed centres of Islamic thought and teaching and was an independent power centre much to the chagrin of late President Nasser who turned it into a state institution by law in 1961. Now the President appoints the Shiekh of Al Azhar and during the Arab Spring protests, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed al Tayep, had issued a statement in favor of the Sisi regime.
Dr Jamal Abdul Sattar Mohammed, a former Professor at the College of Islamic Dawah at the Al Azhar University, was forced into exile. He had said that the post Sisi coup period has been the worst for Al Azhar. It is believed that the security services are the ones that manage Al Azhar, and that they control what the institution produces.
Al Ahram had published an article in 2013 criticising the civil and liberal elite for being spineless and backing a military dictatorship. Many key figures and leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSF) had backed the overthrow of Morsi. They were said to be competing for their degree of support for military rule.
Mohamed Abul Ghar, the head of the “civil” Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party and a leading figure of the NSF, had declared his support for General al-Sisi and tried to convince other NSF leaders to support al-Sisi as the most competent candidate to lead Egypt at this stage.
The article accused them of one-upmanship and pressure to justify their support and promotion of al-Sisi as a presidential candidate. Some were reported to have suggested giving al-Sisi a pledge of allegiance” as president to save the cost of campaigning and elections. Many newspapers continue to laud the support al -Sisi enjoys among intellectual and cultural figures.
Though the President had declared that 2022 would be the “year of civil society,” key members of civil society still face travel bans, asset freezes, and criminal investigations for their activism and criticism of the government. Human Rights Watch reported that Egypt refused to provide essential documents like passports and Identity Cards to dissidents living abroad in order to force them to return to Egypt where they were most likely to face persecution.
President Sisi had announced that a national dialogue would take place to suggest political, economic and social reforms. It commenced in early May 2023. The dialogue's chairperson, Diaa Rashwan, had made it clear that while sessions would be open to the media, no discussion relating to the Constitution, foreign policy and "strategic national security" would be allowed.
Critics were sceptical about the government’s intent and as Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of secular and leftist opposition groups said, they doubted the government's commitment to political reform. Wesam Ata, a researcher at the Egyptian rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression had said the dialogue had little to do with the reality that the security agencies would continue to decide whom to arrest.
The authorities had released hundreds of detainees but some were re-arrested along with new detainees. Peaceful activism is still not tolerated and despite a national human rights strategy being launched, little has been done to repeal any of the many laws used to curtail basic freedoms.
Agriculture had traditionally been the dominant sector employing around 21 percent of the population and contributing 11.8 percent of the GDP. But the services sector dominated by telecommunications and tourism now represents 52.2% of the Egyptian GDP and employs more than half of the population (52%).
While the economy of a country of 107 million population was largely able to withstand the Covid 19 pandemic it had been shaken by the conflict in Ukraine though for 2023, the IMF had forecast GDP growth at 4.4% going up to 5.2 percent in 2024 because of an increase in natural gas production and favourable world prices.
There had been increased investment in infrastructure and international funding support. In a third arrangement with the IMF since 2016 a $3-billion support package for Egypt was approved in December 2022.
The support came at a price with Egypt being told to make its foreign exchange rate more flexible that led to a major devaluation of the Egyptian pound The IMF also demanded that the government make direct cash transfers to 5 million vulnerable Egyptian households.
There had been some criticism of Sisi’s approach to the economy when he announced mega projects like the world's longest, driverless monorail — at a cost of $23 billion (€21 billion); and a whole new city, the $50 billion (€46 billion) New Administrative Capital, near Cairo.
The increasing role of the state and particularly the military in the economy had depressed private investment including from overseas making Egypt increasingly dependent on international assistance though, at IMF insistence, the government had agreed to rein in the Egyptian military's economic interests.
Some commentators had begun to compare the Egyptian situation with Lebanon. Food prices had doubled, salaries halved and banks were restricting cash withdrawals. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had triggered capital outflows and led to the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, which by January 2023 had lost half of its value.
While the declared inflation rate was a little over 20 percent economists suspected it was closer to 101%. The unemployment rate stood at 7.4%, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), with female unemployment four times higher than for males.
It was a measure of Egypt’s importance that despite its current problems the country had secured a new $7 billion partnership agreement with the World Bank for 2023-2027. It was designed to boost private sector employment, better health and education services, and adaptation to climate change.The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) would both be involved in the funding.
For the future the Egyptian government has committed to undertaking structural reforms. A Egypt Vision 2030 strategy has been drawn up to focus on programs related to transport, entrepreneurship, logistics, and the environment.
Egypt has been facing problems in North Sinai where armed groups such as the Islamic State affiliate Wilayat Sina have been active. The major underlying cause of the conflict is Bedouin anger at the state’s economic, social and political policies which discriminate against and marginalise the Bedouin and dates back to the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
Lack of political representation of the Bedouin, denial of land rights, and exclusion from the Sinai’s tourist industry were contributing causes and the absence of legitimate opportunities led to the Bedouins taking up illegal activities such as smuggling to Gaza. Local Bedouin tribes have joined militant groups in a ‘marriage of convenience’ driven by common anger towards Cairo.
Militants have targeted the police and security forces and the Egyptian response has been largely security oriented. In early 2022 President al-Sisi had publicly announced that the military operations in North Sinai, involving mainly the army, were ending.
But some reports suggest that army-affiliated militias formed from members of local clans and trained and supported by the army were increasingly involved in fighting in North Sinai in 2022.
Egypt has been a respected player in the international field. It has been looked upon by other Arab countries as a dependable intermediary when disputes occur. Egypt focuses equally on its Arab and African identity and as a model of tolerant Islam promoting interfaith dialogue.
The country believes that its national security is based on the security of its Arab and African peripheries by countering terrorism and supporting stability in the Arab countries after the revolutions that had taken place in the region. Egypt has very close relations with the USA, Japan and the European Union countries whose leaders have always been quite accepting of the fact that the country is actually a democracy in name, ruled by a military dictator.
Egypt also looks at the major Asian countries as essential partners, an approach that it applies to the Russian Federation and China. Egypt and India were dominant voices in the now fossilised Non Aligned Movement.
The Camp David agreement, with Egypt establishing relations with Israel, was a historic event that could be said to have created an environment that very gradually has made it possible for Israel to recently be welcomed by other Arab countries. Israel now has dealings with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Morocco, Sudan, Oman, Bahrain and Jordan.
Of considerable worry for Egypt is the ongoing internal war in Sudan. The Egyptian military has had a relationship with the Sudanese army and Egyptian soldiers have been present in Sudan. Of primary concern for Egypt and Sudan is the uninterrupted flow of water in the Nile and both countries had had misgivings when Ethiopia constructed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had warned Ethiopia that his government would not tolerate any moves that would reduce Egypt’s share of water from the Nile. Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, had protested Ethiopia’s planned third filling of the dam to the UN Security Council but Ethiopia had gone ahead with the third filling in August 2022. The water issue is dominant as far as Egypt’s regional relations go.
There is little likelihood of there being any sudden change in the nature of Egypt’s polity. Egypt would have a major interest in seeing the Sudan and Ukraine problems solved and President Sisi has been seeking to play the statesman as far as the Sudan situation is concerned.
The real problem that Egypt has to tackle is economic and somehow a reduction in dependence on foreign funding and support. In this a curtailing of the economic dominance of the military would have to be undertaken.
But given that the army is Sisi’s support base, the extent of such an exercise, despite the pressures from the IMF, would be limited. One has to wait and see the outcome of the ongoing national dialogue and the implementation of the Egypt Vision 2030 strategy.