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Monday, 23 July 2018

In-Focus: Al-Sisi’s challenges

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s expected second term will see the country reaping economic rewards and continuing the fight against regional challenges

Galal Nassar , Thursday 29 Mar 2018
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Egypt’s National Elections Committee will officially announce the results of the presidential elections on Monday 2 April, and it is virtually certain that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will win a second term until 2022.

In the light of the debate before, during and after the elections, it is important to discuss the goals and challenges facing Al-Sisi during his second term in office, which will officially begin in June.

These include reaping the rewards of the country’s economic reform programme, the major development projects launched during his first term in areas such as housing, roads, construction, factory building, the reclamation of agricultural land and gas and petroleum prospecting, and making Egypt a regional hub for energy.

These things will make everyone feel it is time to reap rewards, giving to all a real and tangible sense of stability, greater productivity, growing resources and exports.

Terrorism remains a major challenge that Al-Sisi will continue to confront in his second term, after the people chose to defend the 30 June 2013 Revolution and the goals subsequently announced on 3 July.

As upheaval in the region continues, the weakness and sometimes complicity of the international community in the war against terrorism has allowed terrorism to continue and remain linked to domestic conditions in some regional countries.

Terrorist groups and their financiers, supporters, trainers and political and logistical backers are still a major threat, with terrorists moving under international cover from one area to the next to play the roles that have been written out for them.

Terrorism is linked with the circumstances of the region as well as the power relations that exist within several influential countries in it and the political and economic projects that are linked to them.

This means that President Al-Sisi and his administration must remain independent and fully engaged on all regional issues, unbiased in conflicts and keep Egypt’s interests in mind irrespective of their acceptance or rejection by regional or international players.

Egypt must take the initiative to put forward moderate proposals for political solutions to issues and conflicts and open communication channels with all sides. This will help it to unify efforts to fight terrorism and those who support terrorism, isolating and weakening them on vital issues.

At the forefront of such challenges is Palestinian reconciliation and the ending of the disputes among factions in the Occupied Territories.

Israel must be forced to shoulder responsibilities that it has been deflecting due to the weakness and inconsistency of the Palestinian front.

The presence of a strong Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip will also better control the border areas and end smuggling to terrorist groups in North Sinai.

Much the same type of challenge faces Egypt on its western border with Libya, where there are major initiatives supporting a political solution that will end the divisions in the country, and bring together multiple seats of power and decision-making around one clear position supporting the national Libyan army in taking control on the ground.

This will halt the armed terrorist groups that are entrenching divisions in the country and using Libya as a launching pad to threaten Egypt’s national security and smuggle people and arms across the border.

The same is true of Syria, Yemen and Iraq, especially in the Kurdish areas, which all intersect with the interests of countries fighting over energy resources.

Because of Egypt’s large gas and energy reserves, it too will likely become party to direct and indirect conflicts until regional understandings are reached on these resources.

Egypt has prepared for this through strong military, bilateral and international agreements to protect its territorial waters.

Such conflicts are likely to continue even beyond Al-Sisi’s second term, and he will need to act strongly to protect Egypt’s interests from regional chaos.

Water is another strategic issue, and Al-Sisi’s next administration must take steps to negotiate with the countries of the Nile Basin, especially Ethiopia, in order to guarantee that Egypt’s quota of water from the Nile is untouched.

This will require using all forms of legitimate pressure during the negotiations and creating understanding among Egypt’s neighbouring countries and within international and regional organisations of Egypt’s position and actions.

There must be guaranteed support for legal or political action if Egypt’s vital interests are ignored or harmed.

However, the greatest challenge in the coming four years may be the next presidential race in 2022.

The political climate cannot remain the same as it has over the past four years, and it must become more encouraging.

We must overcome the challenges placed on us as a society and a country by reviving the role of political parties and political and intellectual currents.

We must examine the political reality in Egypt closely and the obstacles holding us back in order to bring about a conscious movement aware of the type of challenges we are facing and generating appropriate figures to run for parliament, the presidency, and in local elections.

The fate of the country cannot be left to the unknown, which in the past handed us over to dark forces that almost destroyed the country and its people.

In order to face such domestic and regional challenges, the Egyptian state must see the development of a strong and vivacious domestic front moving in many directions and not just one.

This will require the adjustment of the current cultural and media messages in order to revive institutions that shape awareness, making them melting pots for ideas that will propel society towards progress, success and innovation.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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