Showtime for the Egyptian President: Zvi Mazel, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016— Western media have been quick to speculate about the end of the road for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, pointing out a rapidly dropping approval rate.
Save Egypt Before it’s Too Late: P. David Hornik, Frontpage Magazine, Nov. 17, 2016— Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, reports that Egypt is in trouble.
Egypt and Israel: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 25, 2016 — The cold peace that has characterized Israel’s relations with Egypt since the signing of the 1979 peace treaty is warming up on the diplomatic and military levels.
The Truth About Egypt’s Revolution: Oren Kessler, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2016 — The usual account of Egypt’s revolution goes like this: In February 2011, Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of protests led by the tweeting revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, ending his nearly 30-year presidency.
Egypt Court Overturns Death Sentence for Ousted Leader Morsi: Times of Israel, Nov. 15, 2016
Egypt on the Verge of Crisis?: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, Oct. 25, 2016
Egypt Juggles Its Friendships as Russian Influence Surges: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2016
Russian-Egyptian Cooperation in the War on Terror: Dr. Shaul Shay, Israel Defense, Nov. 9, 2016
Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016
Western media have been quick to speculate about the end of the road for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, pointing out a rapidly dropping approval rate. Above 90% a few weeks ago, it now stands at “a mere” 68% – a rating that many a Western leader would be ecstatic about. Nevertheless the Egyptian president is doggedly pursuing his objective of reforming the economy and putting his country squarely on the road to sustainable growth.
He has achieved a lot so far, launching or completing a number of mega projects. There is the doubling of the Suez Canal carried out within one year by the army – no mean feat – and a source of great pride to the Egyptian people. He has initiated the building of a new capital east of the present one. It will be the seat of the huge Egyptian administration, easing the congestion of the old capital, now slated to become a touristic and commercial hub.
An estimated 3,000 km of new highways are at various stages of planning. Reclaiming one and a half million feddan (about 1.5 million acres) will extend agriculture lands into the desert. More prosaic but no less vital was the cleaning and rehabilitation of silos, where every year 30% of the wheat, main staple for the Egyptians, rot because of dirt and negligence. Sisi has also boosted research and development of oil and natural gas resources; once an exporter, Egypt now needs to import at great cost the oil and natural gas it needs. Improving the situation can take a few years. The process could be greatly accelerated if the West decided at long last to help Egypt. It has not happened so far.
Western countries led by US President Barack Obama still see in president Sisi a military dictator who grabbed power from a “democratically elected president.” They do not want to admit that Morsi was toppled by a popular uprising – admittedly with the help of the army – just in time to prevent him from creating an Islamic dictatorship. Deprived of Western backing, Egypt turned to Russia and China for political support and economic cooperation. The two countries promised to invest in industrial and tourist projects, including the construction of a nuclear power plant by Russia in northern Egypt. Russia also pledged to supply Egypt with advanced weapons.
This new alliance put Cairo on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, which opposes Russian assistance to president Assad of Syria. To mark its displeasure, Riyadh announced it was halting shipments of oil to its former ally. A drop in popularity is a small price to pay for the successful completion of long and difficult negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Egypt is about to receive a $12 billion loan at very low interest. This much needed injunction of foreign capital should help it over the coming months.
The loan comes at a price. Sisi had pledged to take drastic steps to reform an ailing economy burdened by a bloated civil service and hampered at every turn by unending terrorism. While the Muslim Brotherhood is still carrying out low-grade warfare against local infrastructure inside the country, the Sinai branch of Islamic State has dealt a series of deadly blows which left Egypt still reeling.
The downing last year of a Russian plane has brought tourism to a near standstill. Supply of much needed foreign currency has all but dried out, hampering trade and severely inconveniencing the population. Faced with a black market out of control, and to comply with the exigencies of the IMF, Sisi announced that the pound would “float,” with the rate adjusting daily according to supply and demand. While the rate had been artificially pegged at 8.8 pounds for a dollar, it traded at 18 on the black market. It is now stabilized at about 13, hopefully marking the end of the black market. The move was welcomed by traders and businessmen.
Other measures dictated by the IMF were not as popular. For the first time in history there is a VAT in Egypt. Set at 13% at present, it may not be easily implemented in a country where lots of transactions are still in cash, but it was another of the IMF requests. So was cutting down subsidies drastically for oil and natural gas. There was a corresponding rise in the cost of living, leading to a lot of muttering and general dissatisfaction. Hence the drop in approval rate. Unfortunately, the government felt threatened and tightened security measures as well as pressuring the media.
So it is now show time for the Egyptian leader. The next few months will be critical. On the one hand, most Egyptians understand that their president has no other choice; should his reforms fail, the country could very well plunge into chaos. On the other hand, his drastic measures are taking their toll on the poorest of the poor, while the Muslim Brotherhood is busy fanning the flame. Hopefully the new administration in Washington will reverse course and at long last provide much needed relief in the form of investments and transfers of technology. Meanwhile, Israel is quietly helping wherever it can. It could undoubtedly do much more were the Egyptian leadership ready to defy the Islamic establishment and the old Nasserist circles, still bitterly opposed to any form of normalization.
P. David Hornik
Frontpage Magazine, Nov. 17, 2016
Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, reports that Egypt is in trouble. On the one hand, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is pursuing ambitious economic reforms. He’s doubled the size of the Suez Canal, bringing a major spike in revenue. He’s building a new capital south of Cairo, aimed at relieving congestion and pollution in Cairo and making it a commercial and tourist hub. Sisi has also launched processes of building about two thousand miles of new highways, cleaning and rehabilitating wheat silos where wheat—the main Egyptian staple—rots because of negligence, and developing oil and natural gas resources. That oil and gas development, Mazel notes, “could be greatly accelerated if the West decided at long last to help Egypt. It has not happened so far.”
Indeed it’s well known that since Sisi—then the defense minister—overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Obama administration and other Western governments have turned Egypt a cold shoulder. They have done so even though that overthrow was backed by the most massive popular protests in history, with 14 million Egyptians taking to the streets. They were protesting a regime that was radical, incompetent, and—in office for a year—already taking steps to abrogate Egypt’s constitution and strangle the country in sharia legislation.
Yet “Western countries led by US President Barack Obama,” Mazel notes, “still see in president Sisi a military dictator who grabbed power from a “democratically elected president.” They do not want to admit that Morsi was toppled by a popular uprising—admittedly with the help of the army—just in time to prevent him from creating an Islamic dictatorship. Jilted by the West, Sisi has had to turn elsewhere. China is underwriting his building of a new capital. More problematically, Egypt has already signed major arms deals with Russia, and Russia has pledged $25 billion toward the building of a nuclear power plant in northern Egypt.
It might all be less troubling if Egypt were mainly suffering from economic problems. But, in addition, it remains under assault by radical anti-Western terrorist forces. “The Muslim Brotherhood,” Mazel reports, “is still carrying out low-grade warfare against local infrastructure in the country.” And a branch of Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula has kept up a string of deadly attacks. The most devastating was its downing one year ago of a Russian plane, which, says Mazel, “has brought tourism to a near standstill.” And as the economy keeps struggling and Sisi institutes reforms—some of them, like a VAT increase, widely resented—the potential for popular insurrection, driven by or at least exploited by the Islamist forces, remains. Or as Mazel puts it, “It is now show time for [Sisi]. The next few months will be critical.”
Israel, for its part, is helping Egypt both in the security and economic spheres, but the assistance it can give is limited by ongoing popular hostility to Israel and Jews in Egypt. Another development in the next few months, however, offers the best hope of keeping Sisi’s government on its moderate, constructive course and keeping the jihadists at bay. An AP analysis notes that U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has already praised the “good chemistry” between him and Sisi when they met at the UN in September, suggesting a possibility of “closer ties after the chill between al-Sissi and Obama.” Indeed Egypt’s media cheered Trump’s victory, reflecting widespread resentment at Obama’s support for the short-lived but hated Morsi regime.
It is not that Egypt is an exemplary country or a Western democracy. As mentioned, hatred in the Israeli and Jewish direction is still pervasive decades after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Vigilante attacks on Christians continue. Sisi’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood and other radical forces hardly meets Western judicial standards. But in the real world, the Sisi government—which wants to align with the West, is nonbelligerent toward Israel, and at least aspires to curb Islamic extremism—is vastly preferable to the alternatives. Supporting Sisi would mean a shift to a sane policy.
Jerusalem Post, Oct. 25, 2016
The cold peace that has characterized Israel’s relations with Egypt since the signing of the 1979 peace treaty is warming up on the diplomatic and military levels. But it remains to be seen whether popular opposition among Egyptians to such warming – not to mention outright hostility and antisemitism – will roll back progress. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rightly sees in Israel an important ally in the fight against political Islamism.
Working together, Israeli and Egyptian forces have taken on Islamist terrorist groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula, and have reined in Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The ratcheting up of cooperation in the intelligence and military fields has also had an impact on other aspects of Egyptian-Israeli ties. A number of high-profile visits and meetings have taken place since Sisi ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-ruled government and took control in 2013.
Former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold visited Egypt in June 2015; the Israel Embassy in Cairo was reopened, and a new Egyptian ambassador was dispatched to Tel Aviv. In April, Israel approved the Egyptian transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, a move that entailed reopening the security annex of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Perhaps the most impressive showing of improved relations between Cairo and Jerusalem, however, was Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s July visit to Israel, which included a long meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Unfortunately, these gestures by high-ranking officials on the diplomatic and military level have not trickled down to the Egyptian people. This was apparent from the reactions to rumors that Israel intended to reopen its consulate in Alexandria, as reported by The Jerusalem Post’s Arab Affairs Correspondent Ben Lynfield.
According to the London-based Al-Araby al-Jadeed website, Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, David Govrin, visited Alexandria under heavy security, met with the city’s tiny Jewish community, visited the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, and met with the governor of Alexandria. The website also quoted activists who were angered by the visit, seeing it as a “provocation.” A parliament member from Alexandria was quoted as saying there is “no justification” for closer relations with Israel.
A September 2015 poll by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research indicates that most of the Egyptian public view Israel as hostile. The survey assigned countries a rating ranging from 100 to -100, with the negative figures indicating hostility and the positive figures friendliness. Israel received -88 points in the survey, and is thus considered by Egyptians to be its most hostile nation. The US was ranked a distant second with a -37. China was ranked 41, thus receiving the highest “friendly” rank of any non-Muslim country.
According to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a number of Egyptian books were on sale at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest, with blatantly antisemitic themes. A number of books claim that the Egyptian revolution of 2011 was part of a larger plot instigated by Israel to destabilize Egypt and other Arab countries, and relocate the Palestinian in Gaza to Sinai. Earlier this month, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture honored novelist Sherif Shaban for “enriching Egyptian cultural life” with his novel Daughter of Zion, which revisits claims made in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The miniseries “Horseman Without a Horse,” which is based on the Protocols, has regularly aired on Egyptian television channels in recent years.
Anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments clearly run deep in Egyptian society. This state of affairs generates dissonance. Egypt’s high-ranking officials have advanced policies and made gestures that signal a warming of relations with Israel. The Egyptian people, meanwhile, are largely antagonistic toward Israel and Jews.
As long as Egypt’s leaders do not take steps to prepare their people for improved relations with Israel, this dissonance will remain. Egypt and Israel share many common interests, but Egypt will be limited in its ability to take advantage of cooperation with Israel as long as popular opinion views this cooperation as a form of betrayal. As leaders, Sisi, Shoukry and others have an obligation to fight prejudice and hatred, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it will facilitate the cooperation which Egypt so desperately needs.
Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2016
The usual account of Egypt’s revolution goes like this: In February 2011, Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of protests led by the tweeting revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, ending his nearly 30-year presidency. Then the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the revolution, prevailing in parliamentary elections and installing one of its own as president. A year after the Brotherhood’s win, Egyptians again hit the streets, this time demonstrating against the Brotherhood. The army staged a coup to remove Mohammed Morsi, and Egypt returned to the same condition it has known for six decades: military rule.
In “Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days,” Eric Trager upends this pat narrative. In his telling, the Brotherhood was a powerful, if quiet, presence from the start of the 2011 rallies. It didn’t hijack anything: The Brotherhood was, in fact, the only movement in Egypt organized and disciplined enough to challenge the old regime at the ballots. Finally, he suggests, the military’s move against Mr. Morsi was not the inevitable result of its determination to deny the Brothers their place in the political power structure. Instead, it was the Brotherhood’s own lack of vision and incompetence that drew Egypt’s largest-ever crowds to the streets demanding redress.
“Arab Fall” is based on dozens of author interviews with Brotherhood members and leaders that the author, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, conducted before, during and after the revolution. The book’s wealth of detail may challenge the lay reader, but it is indispensable not just for its account of how the Brothers failed so disastrously at governing Egypt but equally for its analysis of how Washington failed so completely to understand them.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the world’s oldest and largest Islamist organization, founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a schoolteacher in Ismailia. At the time, Egypt was a nominally independent monarchy under de facto British rule, and Ismailia epitomized that reality. The city had been built on the Suez Canal by the Europe-obsessed Khedive Ismail Pasha, and it teemed with foreigners profiting from the British-controlled waterway. In Ismailia, Europe’s political, economic and scientific supremacy over the world of Islam was impossible to ignore.
This state of affairs tormented Banna. Islam, the pious teacher was convinced, offered all that its adherents needed for political, material and moral uplift. His motto—and the Brotherhood’s still today—insisted: “Islam is the solution.” Banna’s program was bottom-up. First would be the “reform of the individual.” These individuals would then foster model Muslim homes, which would collectively form a faith-based, God-fearing society—an “Islamic state,” in Banna’s words—that would eventually link up with similarly Islamized societies to restore the caliphate, the centuries-old Islamic super-state abolished by Turkey’s secularist government in 1924. The Brotherhood would be a vanguard to that end, carefully selecting only those whose commitment to its mission was absolute.
Today becoming a Brother is an arduous five-to-eight-year process of rising through highly stratified ranks. Upon achieving the last of these—akh ‘amal, or “active Brother”—the inductee declares himself a “loyal soldier,” vowing “not to dispute commands” and to expend his “efforts, money and blood in the path of God.” Christian Democrats these are not.
And yet the day before Mr. Mubarak’s resignation, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assured a House committee that “the term Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella term for a variety of movements. In the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular.” The White House too seemed unaware of the kind of movement that might replace Mr. Mubarak. On Feb. 1, 2011, just a week after the protests began, President Obama declared that a change of government in Cairo “must begin now.” (By comparison, it was five months before he said the same about Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.) When Mr. Mubarak stepped aside 10 days later, a U.S. diplomat later recalled that Mr. Obama’s advisers toasted with vodka and beer.
In the months after the revolution, the Brotherhood vowed not to seek the presidency or a majority in Parliament, lest these actions scare off Egyptians wary of its Islamizing mission. Both pledges ultimately faded away. When the group’s first choice for a presidential candidate was disqualified on a technicality, the honor fell to an uncharismatic functionary: Mohammed Morsi.
If the Obama administration knew little about the Brotherhood, it knew even less about Mr. Morsi. Mr. Trager, however, had interviewed him two years before in Cairo and knew him as an enforcer of internal dissent within the Brotherhood and a devotee of Sayyid Qutb, the Brotherhood ideologue who was executed by the nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser and whose message has inspired al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri and Anwar al-Awlaki. “Our program is a long-term one, not a short-term one,” Mr. Morsi told Mr. Trager. “Our goal is not to become governors. Our country should be governed . . . by Islam.” By the time of the summer 2012 elections, it was clear that the Brothers had shunted aside other opposition forces—the non-Islamist “liberals” that so enamored Western observers—who, in any case, were barely organized and enjoyed scant public support. With Mr. Morsi poised to take the election, Mr. Trager writes, U.S. officials began “beating a path to the Brotherhood’s door.” No one was more surprised by Washington’s embrace than the Brothers themselves.
Once elected in June 2012, Mr. Morsi took to governing with an ineptitude that shocked even the author. The Brotherhood, he writes, “had no real policy vision apart from stacking the Egyptian government with Muslim Brothers or like-minded officials.” To lift Egypt’s faltering economy, for example, Mr. Morsi’s government offered the “Renaissance Project,” which promised to cut inflation by half, “protect the dignity of the poor,” and double the number of families getting social security. How it would achieve these seemingly contradictory objectives was never explained. The economy thus neglected, Mr. Morsi proceeded to target the press, charging four times as many journalists with “insulting the president” in his first seven months as Mr. Mubarak had over 30 years. Then, in November 2012, Mr. Morsi made a power grab the likes of which even Mr. Mubarak hadn’t dared, placing his decrees above judicial scrutiny. Weeks later, he rushed through a constitution drafted by Brotherhood and Salafist MPs.
As dissent mounted over the following months, Mr. Morsi turned to the comfort of conspiracy theories: It was foreigners, Mubarak regime remnants or powerful business interests fomenting the unrest. Once the dissent had turned into mass rallies, bigger than anything in 2011, he dismissed them to anxious U.S. officials as inconsequential. In June 2013, when the Brotherhood equipped hundreds of its cadres with helmets, shields and sticks to “protect the revolution,” it foolishly confirmed fears of pro- and anti-Morsi mobs clashing in the streets, thereby bolstering the military’s mandate to intervene…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Egypt Court Overturns Death Sentence for Ousted Leader Morsi: Times of Israel, Nov. 15, 2016—An Egyptian appeals court has overturned a death sentence handed down against ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in one of four trials since his 2013 overthrow, a judicial official said.
Egypt on the Verge of Crisis?: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, Oct. 25, 2016—All is not well in Egypt, as the government implements unpopular austerity measures to shore up its floundering economy. As average citizens feel the pinch, they are increasingly blaming President al-Sisi as calls grow for mass street protests.
Egypt Juggles Its Friendships as Russian Influence Surges: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2016 —Balancing acts are precarious by definition and, as Egypt is finding out, even a small move can have cascading consequences.
Russian-Egyptian Cooperation in the War on Terror: Dr. Shaul Shay, Israel Defense, Nov. 9, 2016— Exercise "Defenders of Friendship 2016," a joint Russian-Egyptian counter-terrorist exercise, took place in the territory of the Arab Republic of Egypt in the area between the city of Alexandria and El Alamein, on October 15-26, 2016.