EGYPT MORE STABLE IN SISI’S FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE, AMID HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM

CAIRO, Egypt, June 9 – On June 8, last year – former Egyptian army chief, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, was surrounded by a massive motorcade, while heading to the Supreme Constitutional Court at a Nile River bank in Cairo, to take oath of office as Egypt’s new president.

Sisi led the overthrow of his predecessor, former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, after mass protests against the latter’s controversial one-year rule and his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

During his first year in office, Sisi succeeded in putting the country back on track of security and stability and managed to achieve economic progress and improve Egypt’s foreign policy with Western, African and Asian states, yet his leadership has been facing internal and external criticism regarding conditions of human rights and freedom.

Walking around the streets of the capital Cairo and nationwide, with police checkpoints everywhere, one can easily notice the great security development under Sisi’s rule, compared to the previous three years of chaos and constant protests that followed Jan 2011 uprising that toppled former long-time President, Hosni Mubarak.

It can also be seen in the decline of carjacking, crime rates, robberies and acts of violence and vandalism as the Egyptian police restored their strength, after most police stations and security departments were stormed during the 2011 unrest.

Sisi always vowed moral and financial support for policemen, saying on Police Day in late Jan that, “the policemen pay the price of the stability of Egypt and the security of its people.”

“Policemen believe in Sisi and did not believe in Morsi, so now they work with high spirits and readiness to sacrifice their own souls for the country’s security,” security expert and retired police general, Salah Samak, said.

Since Morsi’s ouster, Sisi announced an “anti-terrorism war” against extremist, self-proclaimed Islamists, who support the ousted president and have been launching deadly terrorist anti-government attacks since his removal, leaving hundreds of police and military men dead.

The Sinai-based, al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) militant group, which has pledged allegiance with the Islamic State (IS) regional militant group, claimed responsibility for most of the anti-government attacks since then.

“Terrorism in Sinai has greatly declined, and there is a big difference between the defensive policy, adopted by the security forces during Mubarak’s and Morsi’s times and the offensive strategy adopted under Sisi,” Samak added, noting that the use of air raids in Sinai and the change of Mubarak’s security chiefs played major roles in security progress over the past year.

Sisi has been working hard on fixing ties with the West and has recently wrapped up a tour of Europe that took him to Germany and Hungary.

“It is a year of Egypt’s rediscovery of its regional role, reestablishment of its international relations, and that is why it included a lot of visits,” said Hassan Abu-Taleb, political expert and researcher at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The United States stopped its annual 1.3 billion U.S. dollar military aid to Egypt, following Morsi’s ouster, but it decided earlier this year to resume it, after a breakthrough in relations between Washington and Cairo.

Experts said that “the United States had a negative position towards Egypt” until it realised that Egypt was achieving positive development despite some problems, restoring its regional and Arab roles and scoring success in fighting terrorism in Sinai, which had its reflection on the regional and international anti-terror wars.

“This convinced the U.S. that maintaining a negative attitude with Egypt will only harm its own interests,” Abu-Taleb said.

Sisi signed a joint agreement with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to elevate Egypt-China bilateral ties to the level of “comprehensive strategic partnership” during his official visit to Beijing in late Dec.

“Sisi’s visit to China was very successful, as it opened new large horizons for partnership with China that reflect on trade, investment and coordination on regional and international issues,” the political researcher explained.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Russia have been cultivating ties since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi came to office in mid-2014, with exchanged visits between leaders of the two countries.

The country is currently holding an eight-day joint naval training with Russia at Alexandria marine base, which is described by the Egyptian armed forces as “one of the strongest and biggest joint exercises between Egypt and Russia.”

Abu-Taleb noted that Egypt kept communication channels open with all Western powers and that its approach with China and Russia is based on mutual respect and common interests without affecting its ties with the West or the United States.

“The good news is that a journey to higher growth is already underway,” chief of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde told an economic conference, attended by Sisi and other Arab and African heads of states in mid-Mar.

She stressed that the recent energy subsidy cuts was among the successful reforms done by the Egyptian government. “We never expected it to be done in a year!”

The economic reforms undertaken by Sisi’s leadership, amid growing security and stability, encouraged foreign investors to cooperate with the most populous Arab country.

The country’s credit rating also improved during Sisi’s rule as testified by main institutions like Fitch and Moody’s, which all add to the country’s credibility worldwide.

During the economic conference in Mar, Egypt signed investment deals and MoUs with several world leading corporations that are worth billions of dollars, including German, British and Chinese firms.

Further, Egypt is almost done with the huge national project of the Suez Canal waterway expansion and is now preparing for its inauguration and opening for ship navigation in Aug, as per Sisi’s instructions. The development of the Suez Canal surrounding corridor is expected to include huge projects like the establishment of an industrial city, along with hundreds of factories.

Despite the progress and development in security, economy and foreign policy, Sisi’s leadership has been facing internal and external criticism from human rights activists, over alleged crackdown on freedom.

The issue started with the approval of last year’s controversial anti-protest law, that led to the imprisonment of youth activists who took part in anti-Mubarak and anti-Morsi protests that paved the way for Sisi’s rule.

Security forces have been launching crackdown on opposition in general and the affiliates of the currently-blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood group in particular.

“Even in universities, there is a new decision by the chancellor that professors cannot travel without his personal permission and activities cannot be held in campus without his personal permission,” said Nourhan al-Sheikh, political science professor at Cairo University.

Egyptian courts are presently holding mass trials for thousands of Morsi’s supporters. The former president, along with more than 100 other defendants have recently been handed appealable death sentences, over their roles in a mass jailbreak during the 2011 protests that toppled Mubarak.

In its annual report released in late May, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights said that, the violence since Morsi’s removal has resulted in the deaths of 2,600 people, including 700 police and army men, 550 civilians and 1,250 Brotherhood members and supporters.

SOURCE: MENA