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INTERVIEW: 'Egypt can't tolerate a new failure after 2 transitional periods,' says analyst Al-Sennawy

Ahram Hebdo talks to Egyptian political analyst Abdallah Al-Sennawy, who reflects on the government’s performance, the war against terrorism and Egypt’s regional role

Hana Afifi , Sunday 3 Jan 2016
Abdallah Al-Sennawy
Abdallah Al-Sennawy told Ahram Hebdo that Egypt cannot tolerate another failure after two transitional periods.
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Ahram Hebdo: To what extent do you think the newly-elected parliament will fulfil its legislative and regulatory responsibilities?

Abdallah Al-Sennawy (A. A.-S.): There is no parliament in the world that accurately reflects the society and its interactions, but what is dangerous in the Egyptian case is that following the 30 June 2013 developments in particular [the ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi], the malformations exceeded the tolerated limits.

First, the election law was drafted in a way that excludes political parties, especially the centre-left parties which are almost absent in the parliament. The parties who won are either supported by businessmen or security authorities.

In addition, for the first time in the history of the Egyptian parliament, the security authorities are the main actors in the choice of members, either by excluding, recommending, favouring or even forming certain lists in detriment of others.

All the parties announce their support for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Their disagreements are only over their slice of the cake. The disagreements took a personal form, which slows down the formation of a majority coalition.

A.H.: How do you evaluate the performance of the government since president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi came to power?

A. A.-S.: I think president El-Sisi works a lot and wants to build, but there is a problem with priorities. Many questions have not been answered yet by the president.

How can the war against terrorism and the respect of freedoms and public rights be reconciled? The necessities of economic activity and the requirements of social justice and the war against corruption? The aspirations to a regional role in Africa and the Arab world and the risks of the impact of such commitments on an already critical economy?

There is no political class, consultants around the president. When it comes to the president, even though his popularity has become extremely corroded due to current policies that lead to social inequalities and political frustration because of the limiting of the public domain, the president still has popular support due to fear of complete chaos.

Egypt cannot tolerate a new failure after two transitional periods. The public opinion is not ready to embark on an adventure as the country is starting to retrieve its stability. This is why I think there is no real threat to the current regime.

A.H.: Do you think the question of the Muslim Brotherhood has been closed, or is there still a possibility to integrate them into society?

A. A.-S.: Given that the Muslim Brotherhood has been involved in acts of violence and of terrorism and given the disagreements between the leaders and the younger classes – as is clear from their public statements – it is almost impossible to speak of political settlement with them. 

The Brotherhood does not want to admit that its regime has fallen by popular will due to their attacks against democracy, the revolution and all opposition. I think that no political force, with the exception of some young members of the centre-left, would be ready to compromise its credibility by opening a new page with the Brotherhood.

On the official side, the question of the Muslim Brotherhood has been closed since they were listed as a terrorist organisation. In reality, there is no chance of reconciliation with the Brotherhood in political life.

By all means, I call for dissolving any secret organisation because it hinders democratic transition. However, I think that every person who has not carried a weapon should benefit from his political rights as a citizen.

I believe that those who left the Muslim Brotherhood and want to be integrated into political life should have that chance.

A.H.: What do you think of the Islamic military coalition formed by Saudi Arabia?

A. A.-S.: The Islamic coalition is a bubble. Two days after the announcement, even Saudi newspapers had no news about it.

Most Islamic countries that have strong armies, like Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia, have refused to participate and excused themselves. Egypt has welcomed the project, but without enthusiasm, because it believes it is a strategic bubble.

There is no common denominator because most participants of this coalition almost have no army. Even Saudi Arabia, with all due respect, does not have a strong army. It is not the country that should claim to lead the coalition in the presence of strong armies like those of Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan.

A.H.: How is Egypt in the same military coalition as Turkey and Qatar, two countries with whom it is not on good terms?

A. A.-S.: A coalition of main regional actors does not seem likely. There are fundamental differences in the definition of a terrorist organisation. For instance, Saudi Arabia and Turkey think that Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria can be part of the political settlement if they separate from Al-Qaeda, while Russia, Iran and the United States consider Jabhat Al-Nusra a terrorist organisation.

A.H.: Has Riyadh become the centre of gravity in the region instead of Cairo?

A. A.-S.: Riyadh has a political weight and a presence in all regional questions. It is the opposing face of Iran in several conflicts. But it does not have the necessary qualities for a leadership of the Arab world.

All countries who tried to play this role since the Arab-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979 could not fill the void of Cairo. Egypt, even if its role has retreated, represents [one quarter] of the Arab world, its biggest military and cultural force. Egypt owns the historic and geographic qualities, but what it lacks to fill the position is a strong economy and a strategic vision.

A.H.: How do you view the growing relations between Cairo and Moscow?

A. A.-S.: Egypt has opened up to new world powers, whether on the political or on the military level, which has helped it get out of diplomatic isolation.

But relations with Moscow do not mean breaking ties with Washington, and exchanges with India or China do not undermine relations with Europe.

I think that the diversification of sources of arms and the openness to new powers were a good strategic choice, because it has been proven that putting all the eggs in one basket [the United States] marginalised Egypt’s role in the African and Arab world.

A.H.: In the context of a war against terrorism, Egypt has called several times for an international intervention in Libya. What do you think of the Libyan political settlement and the impact of the conflict on Egypt?

A. A.-S.: Egypt wishes for an end to the conflicts that tear Libya apart, a country it shares a 1,200 kilometre border with. After the fall of [Libyan president Muammar] Qaddafi, 80 percent of the smuggling of arms to Egypt has come from Libya, so the main concern for Egypt is to secure its western borders. [Egypt's concern also ties into Libya's] strategic and economic importance as an Arab country.

The United Nations project involving Libya stipulates installing a national consensus government, but the problem is that there are no real guarantees that this government would enforce security, disarm the militias and direct its weapons at [the militant groups] ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Ansar Al-Sharia. Hence, Egypt’s worries.

*This interview was first published by Ahram Hebdo, Ahram's French-language weekly newspaper.

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Sam Enslow
04-01-2016 08:58am
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Define 'Failure'
Egypt has thrived when personal liberties were valued and its cities were cosmopolitan. The State prospers when individuals prosper. 'The people' is a phrase used that negates the hopes, freedoms, happiness of the individual Egyptian. People judge a government based on how they experience life under that government. The richness of the different threads that make up the Egyptian people has been lost to a silly desire for conformity. Talented, creative people are forced to leave the country to realize their dreams. A great loss to Egypt is it has no counter culture to question established norms. Stability becomes stagnation. Those in power equate questioning with disloyalty rather than helpful suggestions, problems fester unattended. Encouragement, not fear of punishment, will enable Egypt to grow. Slaves do as little as possible. Freemen work to benefit themselves and consequently their nation. Pride becomes real when it is related to accomplishment. Respect comes from acts - not fear.
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Uuta
03-01-2016 11:00pm
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Unity
Egyptians need to work together; think about the common good and not the personal good. Nationalism. You are much stronger if you can work together. I am so proud of Egypt and how Egyptians came together. Egypt is the only country in the ME that made it OUT of the Arab Spring -- all because Egyptians worked together for the common good.
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