Hindering Egypt from the outside

Friday 05/06/2015

Egypt has successfully negotiated a challeng­ing transition from the instability that accompanied the January 25th revolu­tion (which toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011) and the failed experiment in Muslim Brotherhood rule under presi­dent Mohammed Morsi. The internal instability and economic paralysis have begun to recede and Egypt has successfully restored relations with the major global powers.

In spite of this, Egypt continues to be the subject of attempts to breathe new life into old disputes and disagreements as a means of sabotaging relations with its regional partners.

A number of perennial issues have been dusted off by those with an interest in perpetuating uncertainty around the new order in Egypt. The question of hu­man rights along with territorial disputes between Egypt and some of its neighbours have been em­ployed as a means of frustrating the improvements achieved by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt’s external relations.

In terms of human rights, in­tense criticism has been levelled at the judiciary for the number of death sentences passed in the case of Islamist radicals. Media in Qatar and Turkey, in particular, propa­gate a narrative that the Egyptian legal process lacks probity. There has also been a huge exaggera­tion of the scale of opposition and demonstrations condemning the sentences.

Ironically, while the ousted president Muhammad Morsi is un­der a theoretical death sentence, members of the Egyptian judiciary have received a real one, shot to death by terrorists and targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood.

By propagating the issue of human rights, regional powers hope to prevent the upholding of sentences passed and the issuing of new ones as there are hundreds of Islamist extremists await­ing sentence in the courts. The sentencing of Morsi, in particular, caused problems in relations with Germany.

The second issue is that of the Jaghbub oasis in Libya, an oasis the ownership of which is disput­ed by Egypt.

Drawing attention to this long-running issue now is an attempt to turn Libyans against the legitimate government in the east of the country, under whose practical control the oasis falls, by fram­ing its good relations with Egypt as a form of national betrayal. Such a move may well force the Internationally-recognised Libyan government in Tobruk to prove its patriotism by clarifying its position on the oasis and expend­ing political capital on sideshows, increasing tensions with Egypt at a time when the two are invested in cooperation and good relations.

Suddenly, as relations between Egypt and the Sudanese govern­ment of president Omar al-Bashir have begun to improve, the issue of the Hala’ib Triangle has been brought back from the dead.

The triangle is disputed area under Egyptian control on the border between Sudan and Egypt. By bringing attention to this moribund dispute and attack­ing al-Bashir for not responding to “Egyptian provocations” the Sudanese media might run with the issue, sparking a war of words between the two countries.

Sudan is directly involved in a number of regional issues of stra­tegic importance to Egypt, such as the distribution of Nile water. Al-Bashir played a crucial role in a recent detente between Egypt and Ethiopia, which had tested rela­tions by building the huge Renais­sance Dam on the Blue Nile.

Internally, there are two appar­ently incongruous Egyptian fac­tions that stand to benefit from the hindrance of Egypt’s external rela­tions. The first of these is the Mus­lim Brotherhood, which is heav­ily invested in convincing both internal and international public opinion that the Sisi government is unstable. The movement is im­plicated in daily terrorism and the spreading of rumours designed to foster uncertainty and confusion about the government.

For the Brotherhood, talk of ex­ternal failure and internal collapse help to convince the demoralised supporters of the movement to stay the course, whether behind prison bars or in terrorist cells dedicated to committing acts of violence.

The second faction consists of the remnants of the regime of Hosni Mubarak who openly show support for Sisi but, behind closed doors, are deeply suspicious of the president’s intentions.

As a result, they do not want the president to enjoy complete political security. Their interests, however, dictate not going too far in this destabilisation for fear that the Muslim Brotherhood, and not they, will benefit from it.

Attempts to poison the atmos­phere between Egypt and its inter­national partners might succeed in causing anxiety about the future but they cannot lead to the kind of earthquake hoped for by their instigators.

Relations between states are governed to a large extent by mutual interests that go beyond narrow calculation and cannot be derailed by media incitement.