Egypt’s unending challenges

Friday 01/01/2016
A sea of challenges. A ship crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea as a holiday-maker poses at Sokhna public beach in Suez, 127 kilometres east of Cairo, last August.

Cairo - The progress Egypt made in 2015 in its fight against ter­rorism in Sinai, stabilising its political system with parliamentary elections and reviving its badly hit economy and tourism sector are important steps on a long road to stability.

Fighting jihadists in Sinai and keeping out those who might sneak into the country from Libya remains a key challenge for Cairo in 2016. Terrorism in Sinai is not separate from the situation in Libya, where militants obtain weapons used in the embattled peninsula.

“This is why Egypt cannot eradi­cate terrorism in Sinai as long as Libya continues to boil in violence,” security expert Khaled Okasha said. “Egypt needs to ensure that Libya’s turmoil comes to an end first.”

Libya’s political rivals have agreed to form a national unity govern­ment, perhaps addressing the secu­rity vacuum created after the down­fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 that allowed radical groups to take root and grow. The Islamic State (ISIS), being one of these groups, is in control of parts of Libya, includ­ing the north-eastern city of Sirte. However, nobody is fighting ISIS, while Libya’s rivals keep on killing each other.

The fight against ISIS, analysts say, will start in 2016 when Libyans are united. Cairo will then face the challenge of further protecting its 1,000km western border to prevent ISIS elements from infiltrating into Egypt.

With this situation coupled with its porous border with Sudan in the south — also a smuggling haven of arms and militants — Egypt has a tough mission to protect its borders in 2016.

On the domestic level, Egypt has a long road in 2016, too, according to Cairo University political science Professor Akram Badr Eddin.

“True, a new parliament is in place but it has a hard job. The par­liament has to revise all laws issued since June 2013,” he said

Egypt’s presidents held legislative power since the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament in June 2013. Since then, interim president Adly Mansour and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued about 400 laws that need parlia­mentary approval.

The parliament, dominated by parties backing Sisi, will likely sup­port the government, Badr Eddin said but that doesn’t mean govern­ing will be easy as Egypt works on the tough transition since the ar­my’s ouster of Muhammad Morsi as president in 2013.

There are calls for protests on the January 25th anniversary of the up­rising. Most of the calls came from Muslim Brotherhood activists pre­tending to be ordinary Egyptians angry at rising prices and shrink­ing freedoms. There are fears that the protests will lead to bloodshed, with the Brotherhood not hiding its confrontational plans for the pro­tests.

Some Egyptians are calling for na­tional reconciliation that includes the Brotherhood. However, Sisi is not ready to risk his popularity by reconciling with a movement linked with much of the country’s violence over the past two years.

While trying to overcome internal rifts, Egypt will face numerous chal­lenges outside its borders in 2016, including the issue of the grandiose dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile to generate electricity. The pro­ject will deprive water-poor Egypt of most of the water it gets from the river. The dam is 50% complete and 2016 is expected to be a decisive year to resolve regional issues relat­ed to the structure.

Egypt’s former irrigation minis­ter Nasr Allam recently warned that Egypt may need to buy water from Ethiopia once the dam is completed.

At the regional level, Egypt is fac­ing a changing world in which con­flicts that have been brewing for years, are opening up for possible political settlements. Political com­mentator Sharif Hafez said whether they are in Libya, Syria, Iraq or Yem­en, Egypt has a role to play helping solve the region’s conflicts

“Egypt was the first regional play­er that tried to unite the Syrian op­position,” Hafez said. “Apart from lobbying for a political resolution to the conflict in Yemen, it supported all efforts to bring Libya’s rivals to­gether.”

However, improving the economy remains the primary concern. True, the economy grew 4.5% in 2015, which was better than the less than 2% of the previous two years but far below what Egypt needs to cre­ate jobs for its unemployed citizens (13% of the workforce) and reduce commodity prices.

Egypt also needs to have enough foreign currency reserves to secure its imports. Reserves are down to $16.3 billion from $36 billion in 2010. With few investments coming in, re­serves are not expected to make a good jump in 2016.

Economist Rashad Abdo pins his hopes on new projects, including the channel dug along the Suez Ca­nal in 2015 that allowed two-way transit in the canal for the first time, to attract investments.

“I think the Suez Canal region will be a magnet of international investments,” Abdo said. “Egypt’s economy is in bad need for such in­vestments.”