Since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi took leadership of the country, Egypt has been developing its foreign policies, mostly driven by the restoration of international relations in order to boost its economy, which has been dire since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
As soon as he was inaugurated, Al-Sisi started a tour around the world that covered North Africa, the Gulf region, Asia and Europe. In his speeches, Al-Sisi showed that the economy is the pillar of the current Egyptian state policy, and the focus of the upcoming years.
In March 2015, Egypt should conclude those efforts in the Economic Summit of Sharm El-Sheikh, in which 80 countries are participating. “The purpose of this conference is to send a political message to the world that this country is stable,” political sociologist Said Sadek said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
Sadek did not deny that Egypt expects political endorsement from the participant states in the forum. However, some nations, such as the US, have expressed deep concerns over Egypt’s internal political situation and human rights during Al-Sisi’s term. Yet, bilateral relations with Egypt continue.
“The US has also supported the Muslim Brotherhood despite Egypt’s ban of the terrorist organisation,” Sadek said. “However, they are not willing to jeopardise economic relations, being aware of Egypt’s crucial role in the Middle East, especially amid the destruction of Iraq and Syria,” he continued.
On the other hand, Egypt has cut diplomatic relations with Turkey and Qatar, who have openly expressed their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but according to Sadek, cannot afford to fight the US.
“Instead, Egypt’s response is to play along. This is what we are doing with Russia, we need to maintain a balanced situation for us,” Sadek stated.
Egypt’s political agenda put security interests as a top priority. Economics is the other face of counterterrorism, according to Al-Sisi. According to Sadek, economics and politics are not separable, and are now both driven by Egypt’s geo-politics.
“Egypt is mainly driven by its national security interests, given the situation of our neighbours, whether it is terrorism by the ‘Islamic State’ group (IS) in Libya, the threats from Hamas, and the unrest of the region,” Sadek stated.
In his opinion, this is also why the Muslim Brotherhood, and affiliated groups in Egypt and outside are escalating their campaign against the state, whether through direct terrorist attacks or in the media. “They will do whatever they can to see the summit fail,” Sadek said.
Last week, several multinational companies in Egypt were attacked. The name of Shahid King Bolsen has been widely mentioned, and have even inspired such actions according to The Telegraph.
The American Muslim, who has been a strong supporter of the Salafi current and Islamist groups, has called on anti-state campaigns ahead of the summit. His ideas included civil disobedience against multinationals and the obstruction of commercial activity. The purpose, according to a Facebook post he wrote, is to send a message that nobody wants to cooperate with “the coup”, in reference to Egypt’s regime.
“With video clips of these actions posted on the Internet and sent to international news agencies, the pressure against the company would be multiplied. No doubt the security response will be, as always, excessive and violent, and this would expose the fact that these companies are collaborating with a brutal regime. That is negative publicity for a corporation, and this can impact its reputation in the market and impact share values,” Shahid posted on his Facebook account.
Yet, Sadek is positive that the Economic Summit will be successful, mainly because it is strongly supported by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, who would not want to see an unstable Egypt that allows terrorism to infiltrate the region. “Let’s be realistic, most deals have already been signed,” he said, arguing that economic stability will boost political stability.
He admitted though that businessmen are still influential in the political scene; they are in control of the country’s media and they have attempted to establish themselves in the parliament that was supposed to be elected this March. “Economy buys politics, buys the laws that serve business interests,” Sadek stated.
Egyptian politics have been so far managed by the president and the military institution he belongs to, which is believed to have control over the economy reaching 40%, according the research team of the non-governmental Egyptian Center for Public Policies’ Studies (ECPPS).
“The problem in Egypt is that the decision-makers are unable to properly manage the transitional period,” Sadek added. He gave an example saying that despite big talks on reform, there is still no written comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategy on how to address terrorism in the media, the mosques, education, squatter settlements, etc.
But does Egypt have an alternative for the current system? Sadek believes neither the state nor Egyptians themselves will allow that. “They would rather have a corrupt system than no system at all, if this means avoiding chaos.”
Nonetheless, the state realises that the security solution cannot be effective on its own. Perhaps the timing of the cabinet reshuffle that took place just a few days before the forum is evidence of that, especially as it resulted in the replacement of former minister of interior Mohamed Ibrahim.
“Egypt wants to send a specific message to foreign investors: we have new people, we are reforming and we are changing the system to cope with the future situation. Those who were in posts already fulfilled the role they were assigned to,” Sadek said, in reference to the ministry’s role in fighting internal terrorism threats.
While experts believe Egypt is forging its path towards economic development, the third and final step of the roadmap to achieving a full political system is yet to be completed. Parliamentary elections were due right after the Economic Summit but constitutional flaws with the laws organising political life pushed elections towards an uncertain date.