From one revolution to another- Egypt cannot stop

 

 

Following the Arab Spring, which had shaken Egypt in 2011, the rise of the voice of the "Egyptian street"- young, frustrated, mostly unemployed and connected to social media with almost no exception- had brought to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and after a transition period, to the rise of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

During the very brief reign of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi did not have the chance to make extreme changes in Egypt. The Egyptian-Israeli relations and other sensitive international relations were left almost unchanged, given that the officers who cultivated these relations before the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood continued to manage them during his reign.

 

Egypt was negatively affected by the changes of rule, mainly due to the weakening of control between one transition to another. The pushing of the Sinai Peninsula population to the social and economic margins during President Mubarak's rule and the lack of establishing social-economic prospects for the population, provided a suitable environment in which different terror groups simply began to "buy" this population, with relative ease.

 

During Morsi's reign, a certain lenience has been taken in relation to the movement from Gaza to Sinai. That is, due to the ideological proximity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas in Gaza. This openness has enabled more organized terrorist groups to enter the vacuum which was earlier created, while the Muslim Brotherhood leadership was busy trying to learn how to turn from a semi-underground movement to one that holds power in the new and challenging Egypt.

 

In general, the Egyptian street has become less safe for its citizens during these transition periods, both on the criminal and the terrorist levels. Hundreds of terrorist attacks take place in Egypt each month, most of which are not reported in the media. The Egyptian street has also become especially dangerous for the women of Egypt, in a way that was not present during the Mubarak rule. The current leadership is making huge efforts to confront these challenges. In fact, current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi branded himself as raising the banner of women's struggle in the country, and has made several publicized visits to Egyptian women who suffered sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo.

 

Egyptian society, while comprising 80-90 percent Sunite Muslims (the rest are Christian Copts), is thus extremely homogenous within it's Muslim majority. Despite this seeming homogeneity, it is dichotomously split: During the term of ousted President Morsi, as well as during current times, a little more than half of the Egyptians support the military regime and the relatively secular ideology it represents and oppose the Islamists. One may add to that the Copts, who comprise 10-20 percent of the population (depending on whom you ask…). The rest oppose the military regime and are mainly part of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups which have a less significant number of supporters, less influence and weaker organizational mechanisms.

 

Daily, people who are suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now once more outlawed, are being arrested. The prisons in the country are filled to the brim.

 

The Egyptian army is currently running the country in a vast number of areas, with unclear separation of powers and few checks and balances which limit its power. The very deep ideological internal rift, together with the unstable economy (recently, it has been reported that there is a significant lack of sugar in the country, a situation which has triggered public outrage) have caused the army to lose a degree of its legitimacy. That is, not as a result of a lack of successes on its part, but rather owing to the growing discrepancy between the very high expectations which accompanied the rise of the current President and the challenging reality- particularly the economic situation.

 

On the international arena, Egypt begrudges the United States and mainly the Barack Obama administration, owing to the public criticism by the American President and his administration following el-Sisi's rise to power in July 2013.

 

Obama, who after Sisi's rise to power, had allowed the American State Department to host official delegations of the Muslim Brotherhood and called Egypt to return and adopt the ways of democracy, was perceived as betraying the Egyptian leadership – no less. Despite significant attempts which had been made by the American administration since then to make amends, Egypt has not quite forgotten the insult. Hence, it currently stands by the United States' rival – Russia – in a rather non-ambiguous manner, on a number of international issues. For example, one may review the Egyptian policy vis-à-vis Syria- Russian-Egyptian maneuvers are planned constantly, and UN votes on the matter are coordinated between Cairo and Moscow.

 

Within the framework of the relative rapprochement between Syria and Egypt, one may see a significant cooling off in the relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

 

Following an especially grand visit of the Saudi King in Egypt during April of this year, which included returning the islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi hands (meanwhile this gesture has been retracted by Egypt); an Egyptian-Saudi declaration regarding the construction of a first-of-its-kind land-bridge which would connect them over the Red Sea in order to encourage trade and comprehensive Saudi financial support in the current Egyptian regime in an unprecedented manner in order to strengthen it against domestic opponents, fractures between the two countries have recently erupted. Sunni Saudi Arabia, which is considered Egypt's main partner in the local playground since they both stand together, amongst others, against the Shi'ite threat, supports various groups who oppose Bashar al-Assad in Syria. These groups are perceived by Egypt as sister groups to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas- Cairo's sworn enemies.

  

On another front, Israel is no longer perceived as the main enemy, and the Egyptian leadership does not use it as often as before, in order to distract public opinion from internal challenges and problems. The reasons for that are purely pragmatic, since Israel is needed for promoting Egyptian strategic, political and security needs. Hence, significant collaboration is taking place in Sinai, which is possibly the most significant since the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries in 1979. In light of the vast flexibility Israel is showing toward the limitations of the treaty, the delicate balance of the Egyptian army forces in the Sinai Peninsula has been broken, in order to allow the Egyptian army to deal with the terrorists threatening its soldiers.

 

At the same time, the policy towards Israel in the international arena has remained ambivalent. Egypt, for instance, sounds a little less critical toward Israel in international forums, in return for a quiet Israeli promise to help promote Egyptian interests in the United States. On the other hand, Egypt has recently worsened its attack on the Israeli nuclear policy, is lobbying the de-legitimization of Israel in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and leads an insistent and uncompromising strategy, through the Arab League, currently headed by the former Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Recently, Egypt has also voted in favor of the rather odd UNESCO decision denying the connection between the holy sites in Jerusalem and Judaism.

 

The Egyptian leadership, despite its declarations of support in the current Palestinian leadership, is taking concrete steps to strengthen the Mohammed Dahlan camp in the West Bank and is working towards building his camp within the Gaza strip as well. In fact, it hardly believes in the power of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and is preparing the ground for "the day after" he leaves the arena. Despite the importance Egypt attaches to reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – which would bring, as it sees it, more stability to the area – Cairo chooses not to risk mediating between the two sides publicly and failing, as did the United States in recent decades. Rather, it encourages Russian involvement in this matter. Nonetheless, Egypt clearly does not see the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only cure for Islamic terror, and does not foster false hopes that the end of the conflict shall bring an end to regional terrorism. In Egyptian eyes, this threat is very real and to counter it, all (or most) means are justified.

                                              


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