Egypt closely monitoring developments in Jordan amid Brotherhood fears
CAIRO - Egyptian concerns over the situation in Jordan were manifest in a phone conversation between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
In a statement following the call, the Egyptian presidency said talks between the two leaders concerned developments in the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, those with knowledge about Egypt’s geostrategic interests said Cairo was closely watching the unrest in Jordan and political fallout, given parallels between the two countries.
Popular demonstrations in Jordan against austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) led to the resignation of one government and the quick appointment of a replacement. Cairo has also implemented unpopular austerity measures at the behest of the IMF.
Analysts in Cairo said Sisi called King Abdullah to assess the situation in Jordan, including whether popular demonstrations could reverberate in Egypt amid concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood.
“There are similarities between the situation in Jordan and the situation in Egypt,” said Saad al-Zunt, head of Egyptian think-tank Political and Strategic Studies Centre. “This was why Sisi wanted to check for himself.”
Egypt’s economic reforms, necessitated by a $12 billion IMF loan, resulted in major cuts to subsidies and the flotation of the Egyptian pound, which resulted in the Egyptian currency losing half of its value and increased commodity prices. While the short-term effects have been difficult on millions of Egyptians, economists said the reforms have put the country’s economy on track.
Foreign currency reserves at the Central Bank of Egypt have jumped to $44.2 billion, the highest in history, and exports are rising while imports decrease.
However, high prices for commodities and subsidy cuts mean that millions of Egyptians are facing difficulty putting food on the table. Some economists have called for the government to take urgent steps regarding food prices.
“The reforms have increased inflationary pressures on the public,” said Salah al-Guindy, an economics professor at Mansoura University. “These pressures make it necessary for the government to act to shield the poor and those with limited income against commodity price hikes.”
The Egyptian parliament approved a 15% bonus for more than 6 million civil servants and millions of pensioners. The bonus will cost the state budget $225 million, an expensive outlay as the government is seeking to reduce its budget deficit through cuts in energy and drinking water subsidies.
Egyptians have met the reforms with muted anger. The bonus package was part of Cairo’s efforts to stunt any protest movement.
Egypt is highly susceptible to political contagion. When anti-regime demonstrations erupted in Tunisia in late 2010 and early 2011, Egypt was the first Arab country to show similar signs of unrest.
Reports in local media of a Muslim Brotherhood presence in the Jordanian protests increased concerns in Egypt, which went through political instability between the 2011 revolution and Sisi’s presidency.
Egypt, analysts said, is aware that the Muslim Brotherhood — designated a terrorist group in Egypt in December 2013 — often exploits popular and social unrest to advance its interests.
“The Brotherhood usually waits for an opportune moment to turn the course of events in its own favour,” said Sameh Eid, an expert on the Islamist group. “It is the most organised, which is why it ends up the most victorious after the political catastrophes that befall the states where it has presence.”
While the Brotherhood as an organisation has suffered a major defeat in Egypt, many Egyptians are concerned the group could re-emerge.
While several Arab countries have designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, Jordan’s Brotherhood is part of the political mainstream despite increasing legal curbs on its activities.
There are fears that, should the Brotherhood take advantage of the political situation in Jordan, this could signal a revival of the Islamist movement.
“True, the Brotherhood is politically over in Egypt but there is belief that the group is still present and waiting for a suitable moment to come back to the political stage,” Eid said. “This makes Egypt very sensitive to the potential political rise of the group anywhere in the region.”