31.05.2014 Author: Stanislav Ivanov

Egypt turns a new page in history

32321The May 26-28, 2014 early Presidential elections in Egypt have once again turned the eyes of the global community to this country. It should be noted that the Arab Republic of Egypt is situated in a fairly important geographic location on the border of Europe, Asia and Africa, is bordered by the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, is a universally recognised leader of the Arab and Muslim world and plays a fairly significant role on the African continent. The country’s population sits at around 88 million people and expands annually by about 600,000-700,000. The main sources of income for the state budget are the Suez Canal, tourism as well as exports of oil and gas. The country has fairly advanced scientific and technical resources, well-developed infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture and advanced armed forces, as the Egyptian army traditionally plays a fairly important role in the country’s political life.

The tragic events of the 2011 Arab Spring did not fail to seize Egypt as well. The country entered a long period of internal instability, chaos and violence. The overthrown president Hosni Mubarak was replaced by the democratically elected leader of the Muslim Brotherhood radical Islam group Mohamed Mursi.

However, the hopes borne by many Egyptians of finally putting an end to widespread government corruption, the clanships in power, bettering their economic circumstances and providing a good future for their children did not bear fruit. Over the three years of Arab Spring, the protests and massive riots claimed the lives of thousands of people, the Islamists infringed on secular rights and human freedoms while the systems of education, popular organisations and the media came under threat. The economy spiralled down into a greater crisis as the budget deficit amounted to 14% of the GDP as the international currency reserves and revenues from tourism decreased two-fold. The attempts at forceful Islamisation amidst a major downturn in living standards once again pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the streets across Egypt, creating a real threat of the conflict boiling over into a civil war.

In these circumstances, on July 3, 2013, the Egyptian Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil El-Sisi announced that President Mursi has been removed from power and to put an end to the massive unrest and Islamist armed provocation, he declared a state of emergency in the country and instituted a curfew for most cities, which stabilised the country in a fairly short amount of time.

Having certain authority in the country and enjoying the trust of most Egyptians, field marshal El-Sisi promised to “bring order”, “conquer terrorists” (who now include the ousted from power Muslim Brotherhood) and “create new jobs” within the next two years. El-Sisi claimed that if he were to be elected president, he would not allow the Muslim Brotherhood radical Islamist group and other similar extremists groups to renew their activities. During his election campaign, El-Sisi fairly harshly criticised the “Arab revolutions” and western politics in the Middle East. It is known that Cairo’s relations with its main ally and sponsor – Washington – became noticeably more strained after the Islamists were removed from power, as they were supported by the U.S. administration soon after their arrival on the Egyptian political arena. It was no accident that the U.S. froze American-Egyptian military and technical cooperation as soon as Mursi was overthrown and when the military came to power in Cairo. “The western countries are responsible before history and humanity for what is currently unfolding in Libya,” El-Sisi stated, warning of a possible repeat of the “Libyan scenario” and “Afghanisation” in their brotherly state of Arab Syria.

According to preliminary information, El-Sisi has 80% of the votes after 25% of the ballots have been counted in the presidential elections, as reported by the pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya. El-Sisi’s campaign headquarters reported that after counting the votes at more than two thousand polling stations, their candidate has earned 93.4% of the votes, whereas his only competition Hamdeen Sabahi has only 2.9%. Egyptian citizens who live abroad also supposedly cast 90% of their votes in favour of El-Sisi. Not many doubted the fact that the military general would win an absolute majority at the polls in a landslide victory over his only opponent Hamdeen Sabahi, who presented himself as a candidate from the civil camp of the revolutionaries. In 2012, he was also a candidate in the presidential elections but he ended up losing, having conceded only around 5% to the other two candidates in a very close election: the professional soldier and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and the candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Mursi. In the end, the latter claimed a close victory in the second round of elections.

The official results for the May 26-28 elections in Egypt should be made public within 5 days. According to official information, around 50 million people in Egypt had the right to vote. El-Sisi supporters are currently only worrying about the fairly low turnout, which could jeopardise the legitimacy of the elections. It should be noted that the turnout for the previous presidential elections was below 50%. Many citizens feared for their safety and did not believe they could radically change something in their country through voting.

This time, influential Egyptian Islamist leaders called on their supporters to “boycott the elections”, while the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis terrorist group (“Supporters of Jerusalem”), which has claimed responsibility for the majority of recent terrorists acts, promised to once again ramp up terrorist acts on the eve of the elections, which also did not aid in the voter turnout. The government, in turn, promised to ensure the safety of its people during the elections and called on the citizens to come to the polling stations to exercise their constitutional right.

The information coming out of Egypt throughout the three-day voting marathon pointed to the fact that the government was able to ensure that the presidential elections were well-organised throughout the country and the voting progressed without any incidents or terrorist acts. The election went rather smoothly and El-Sisi had no reason to worry about his landslide victory.

Egypt is once again opening a new page of history and there is some hope that it will become another important step towards the progressive development of the Egyptian state and society. Egypt has all the necessary resources and pre-requisites to once again lay claim to its rightful position as a regionally important nation and the leader of the Arab world.

There is some evidence to believe that the mutually beneficial relations between Egypt and Russia will once again fully flourish across many different sectors. It is no accident that Russia became the first foreign nation to be visited by the new Egyptian leader El-Sisi in February of 2014. During the meeting with President Putin, the two leaders reached an agreement to expedite the efforts in preparing the documents for the countries’ military and technical cooperation and to expand the range of military ties (fighting terrorism, joint drills and training, port visits, training military personnel, etc.). Both sides confirmed their “complete respect for the sovereignty of Syria and their zero tolerance for any interference with its affairs,” as stated in a joint report on their meeting. If the situation in Egypt completely stabilises, cooperation between Egypt and Russia may even be broadened to include scientific research and joint projects related to space, peaceful nuclear energy, the energy sector, petrochemicals, agriculture, and many others.

Stanislav Ivanov, senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Historical Sciences; exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.