In the aftermath of Egypt’s July 2013 coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, and set the stage for the country’s current military-led political order, the regime of President ‘Abd Fattah al-Sisi has single-mindedly and ruthlessly sought to eliminate independent political life in Egypt. While the initial focus of the al-Sisi regime was the repression and eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood, the security establishment quickly pivoted to a much broader course of repression to include any and all independent civilian political actors or parties.
As in many parts of the world, COVID-19 has brought into sharper relief the structural problems in Egypt’s economy. In many respects, these problems are far from new. Egypt’s economy has had a current account deficit since it was a monarchy. Government efforts at regime-led industrialization and economic growth failed in the 50s and 60s under Gamal Abdel Nasser due to a combination of poor economic planning and insufficient investment, due in large part to high defense spending.
The drums of war being beaten by Egyptian President ʿAbdel Fattah al-Sisi in June 2020 ‒ in response to the Government of National Accord (GNA) forces’ advance on the Sirte-Jufra frontline towards Cyrenaica, Egypt’s declared red-line ‒ seem to have been set aside to favour a possible agreement between the parties, as a consequence of the ceasefire announced at the end of August by Libya’s UN-backed and internationally-recognised GNA.
On August 25th, 2020, the Director and co-founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) Bahey Eldin Hasan was found guilty of “publishing false news” and “insulting the judiciary.” Tried in absentia while in self-imposed exile in Tunis, he was sentenced to 15 years’ prison for tweets critical of the regime. The trial by the Fifth Terrorism Circuit of Cairo’s Criminal Court marks a new low for Egypt’s judiciary.
Analysing the evolving trajectories in contemporary Egyptian foreign policy is not simple for several reasons related to its history, the cultural importance in the Arab and Muslim world, the geostrategic relevance of the country, and, finally, for the role of military in national and international politics. There are several determinants that explain Egypt's foreign policy behaviours and its peculiar approach in the external dimension of the state.
Egypt is on the threshold of becoming a natural gas and electricity export hub, a development which, if it materializes, carries the potential to radically reconfigure the pattern of energy connectivity between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Reorienting the energy architecture at the intersection of three continents, Egypt’s program to develop its energy exports has already started to reshape geopolitics from the eastern Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa.
In his recently-published memoirs, Egypt’s former foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, painted a clear picture of the prevalent mood inside Egypt’s ruling establishment concerning the country’s stance towards great powers. In the 2000s, he explains, former president Hosni Mubarak and many of his aides “came to believe” that the United States was pushing for a regime change agenda in Egypt.
The Nile River conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia still appears to be at an impasse. But even if an agreement is reached on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt will be on the losing side. For decades, Cairo had opposed any expansion of the water infrastructure on the upper reaches of the river. However, the country was unable to prevent dam construction in Ethiopia. Such dams are particularly dangerous from an Egyptian perspective because over 85 percent of Egyptian Nile water comes from the Ethiopian highlands.
Egypt’s brief dalliance with free elections after the 2011 uprising led, perversely, to the most authoritarian government since the 1970s. Under the presidencies of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, the country had started a slow and uncertain transition from the full authoritarianism of the Nasser period to a halting semi-authoritarianism: it had reopened the system to party competition, although it continued to ban the organization with the largest popular support, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. It allowed some, though limited, freedom of the press and of speech.
Check-points guarding the entrance to a village or road junction. In January and February, I crossed many of them in the southern regions of Egypt, on the Luxor-Aswan-Abu Simbel axis. The guards do not appear very attentive. Helmets are worn loosely, bullet-proof vests are laid on a mobile shield, coffee mugs lay around, vehicles are under canopies, and there are few mobile barriers. From a turret, the muzzle of a Kalashnikov emerges, but upon closer observation, there is no guard ready to embrace it. The rifle is instead fixed to a firing slit.