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El-Sisi one year on: Mohamed Aboul-Ghar

Dina Ezzat , Friday 29 May 2015
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Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) leader and long-time political activist Mohamed Aboul-Ghar was not at the forefront of those who called on Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for president after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Traditionally hesitant about the ability of military men to turn to politics, Aboul-Ghar was one of those who argued that it would be best if then Field Marshal El-Sisi kept his job as head of the military.

But then Aboul-Ghar came round to seeing El-Sisi “as the inevitable president, in view of the lack of other options,” and decided to support him.

This support was never unconditional, but rather related to a realisation that state affairs, at home and abroad, needed to be addressed promptly, at a moment “of serious concern about the very well-being of the country”, he told Ahram Online last week.

A year later, Aboul-Ghar is still not El-Sisi's most enthusiastic supporter, although he would still argue that the current head of the executive remains the only choice there is for the country -- “at least for now”.

Over the past 12 months, El-Sisi has lived up to some of the expectations associated with his presidency, but certainly not those related to domestic issues, Aboul-Ghar said.

Aboul-Ghar unhesistantly qualified foreign policy as “El-Sisi’s strongest point.”

“He managed to remove -- or at least to put aside -- the unease that many countries in Africa, Europe and elsewhere had about the regime formed by the 30 June political coalition.”

But a part of the international community, especially in the West, is still sceptical about the ruling authorities in Cairo, Aboul-Ghar admitted.

He spoke to Ahram Online just hours after the German ambassador to Cairo had expressed unease about El-Sis's planned visit to Berlin in June, after an Egyptian court sentenced Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders to death.

“True, but El-Sisi managed to get them [the international community] to deal with us on, let's say, a pragmatic basis, or at least managed to get them to give him the benefit of the doubt,” he argued.

El-Sisi too managed to successfully recapture old domains with a tradition of good relations with Egypt, especially Russia and China.

“In the final analysis, his rapport with Arab capitals is quite stronger -- maybe much stronger in my opinion -- than the one that [former president Hosni] Mubarak had with the key Arab capitals towards the end of his rule,” Aboul-Ghar said. “The generous financial support that the Arab capitals put forward to support Egypt after Morsi's ouster is not just about their dislike of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also about their good chemistry with the president.”

On the economic front, Aboul-Ghar is willing to argue that El-Sisi established basic stability.

“I think it is fair to say that the times of deep fear over our economic survival have passed,” he said.

This having been said, El-Sisi’s score with regards to the economy is not high, argues the leader of the ESDP.

“We hear of mega projects like the extension of the Suez Canal and we hear that it will cost billions of pounds, but these projects had never been subject to public debate, and no feasibility studies that had been presented for the consultation of public opinion," he said. "These projects are being conducted in the absence of a legislative power, and with no one capable of following up or assessing the projects."

Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012, and El-Sisi holds all legislative powers until new parliamentary polls are held. Elections were delayed earlier this year, after an Egyptian court found two of the laws governing the polls to be unconstitutional.

"This also goes for the so called ‘new capital’ that was put forward out of nowhere,” Aboul-Ghar said, referring to Egypt announcing that it was building a new capital at a widely publicised international economic conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in March.

The adoption of a long series of economic bills, in the absence of parliament and without any public discussion are also worrying signs, said Aboul-Ghar.

The worst part on the economic front, Aboul-Ghar argued, is the adoption of the budget without any public debate and without making sure that it is compatible with the requirements in the constitution.

Equally disturbing for Aboul-Ghar is “the continued lack of a long-term plan to address the wide range of serious economic ailments.”

“Honestly, with the economy, you cannot move without a plan, a long-term plan," he said. "And you cannot expect to deliver, if this plan is not compatible with the priorities of the people, and if it is not supported fully by the people.”

Unlike most critics of El-Sisi’s economic performance, Aboul-Ghar does not include exaggerated expectations from the Sharm El-Sheikh economic conference as part of the president’s failing points.

It was clear that the volume of investments that “the media” promised as a result of the conference were unrealistic, he said, “and again, there is no transparency, so we don’t know exactly what is moving forward on this track.”

The economic conference is essentially a story of political success, he said.

“It's about the international show of willingness to deal with the ruling authorities – whether they liked them or not,” he explained.

The economic conference was also an opportunity for serious deals on energy projects, “and this is the most crucial part, given the country's acute energy problem,” he added.

But Aboul-Ghar scores El-Sisi a very low grade on the home front.

“It is very unfortunate, but the country is being run using the same tools -- and at times by the same people -- as under the regime of [former president Hosni] Mubarak,” Aboul-Ghar argued.

The state is showing the same ailments as during the Mubarak era, he said.

“This is especially the case -- as I have been repeatedly saying -- with the abrasive interference of the interior ministry in political affairs, like the preparations for the legislative elections, and in the aggressive style that police officers are again demonstrating towards the wider public,” he said.

The November 2013 Protest Law is one of the worst signs of “the lack of commitment to freedoms that El-Sisi has demonstrated in his first year in office”, he said.

“El-Sisi has repeatedly promised to have the law amended, and he has promised to pardon the young men and women who were part of the 25 January revolution imprisoned under this law, but he has not," he said. "It is very disturbing that he did not do so, because this was the starting point of a split within the civil forces opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Aboul-Ghar argued.

The split within the “civil camp,” he added, has inevitably eroded the president's power base during his first year in office.

“The president should have demonstrated a firm commitment to freedoms, especially as it is a key demand of the [25] January [2011] revolution, and the 30 June [2013] revolution but he did not,” he added.

To further aggravate his home front performance, Aboul-Ghar added, El-Sisi has all but fully shelved the constitution and allowed repeated delays to the parliamentary elections, in order to continue to hold both executive and legislative powers throughout his first year in office.

Meanwhile, Aboul-Ghar added, El-Sisi has wittingly or unwittingly allowed a freeze in political life that is bound to be reflected on the municipal elections -- “if they even happen, because I hear that there is a call to have members appointed instead. This would be a huge violation of the constitution.”

Aboul-Ghar regrets the absence of credible, serious opinion polls that could have assessed El-Sisi's popularity a year after he was elected president.

“Given that, throughout his first year, El-Sisi was successful in securing a high level of stability, it would be fair to assume that he still has a decent majority, as stability is a key concern for many -- if not most -- Egyptians,” he however conceded.

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