The geostrategic importance of good governance

Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar
Monday 14 Sep 2015

Amid the current fluidity in the Arab region there is opportunity for Egypt to take back its preeminent regional role, if it can sustain a domestic equation that builds the state not by oppression but consent

The Arab region, among all regions, seems to be like a boiling cauldron. In some countries, the long stability of despotic regimes, which was widespread across the entire Arab map, has dissipated; some were able to relatively regain it, while others couldn't.

This authoritarianism-based stability is about to unravel in other countries unless substantial reform measures are undertaken. Regional and international interference multiplied in a criminal spree against Arab uprisings and revolutions. These international and regional interference aimed at distorting the revolutions, deflecting them from their course, exploiting and making use of them in order to sabotage the region and break up its states, or sustain it under the rule of either the forces of tyranny or forces of religious fascism — as if they were inevitable options with no escape, and no role except foreclosing the future.

The region seems to be in a state of fluidity regarding the relationships among its states and the political-social alliances within each country. This may lead in any direction, according to however each state behaves internally, regionally and internationally. If the state perceives the givens of the moment and moves in an efficient and flexible way on all levels, it can make a breakthrough that will enhance its internal stability and regional and international status. But, if it moves in a bureaucratic manner, or loses its compass in its strategic options and its long term priorities, the cost will be enormous for the state and its future.

He who contemplates what's going on in the Arab world in its entirety will be stunned by the horror of the devastating violence hitting Arab countries, and the roar of cannons that is deafening in this corner of the world. This violence is characterised by infighting that it appears its parties, or at least some of them, lack the wisdom or desire to stop. Such internal wranglings have regional and international extensions, which are the main feeder for the continuance of the horrific fires sweeping the Arab world, destroying the social structure of some of its countries and states.

Such regional and international extensions are not just financial, or via arms given to groups of terrorists wreaking havoc and violence in Arab countries. It even extended to some Arab states entering direct confrontations; some of them for protecting a state from fragmentation, and others for destroying a competing or disputing Arab country over land and rights.

The tragic result is that the big Arab countries became torn, or are on the edge of being torn. The archeological sites of the great civilisations, such as the Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni civilisations, are facing damage and looting in a barbaric manner. Moreover, there are noble, great and civilised peoples whose sons in their millions are wandering in undignified circumstances as internal and external refugees. This along with hundreds of thousands of victims. 

Anyone who contemplates what's going on in the Arab countries will be stunned by the shocking fact that no one has come forward to silence those cannons, or even tried to do so — at least in a serious manner — whether from the region's countries, or from influential international powers in the region.

Perhaps Egypt is the most qualified state to present inspiring and effective initiatives with the aim of silencing the cannons in the region, which is a matter that requires being distant from those cannons in order to play the role of the leader and mediator without provoking the sensitivities of any party. This distance from roaring cannons does not include confronting local terrorism or terrorist Wahhabi herds in the Arab region, and in Egypt itself, wreaking sabotage, slaughter and havoc, from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) to Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda.

What qualifies Egypt to play this role is its being the heart of the Arab region and the real centre weight on the aspects of population, civilisation, culture and politics, giving it a decisive and certain interest in the Arab region's stability. Even on the economic level, Egypt possesses the most diverse economy in the region and is a candidate for regaining its economic lead, and with a wide margin, in the near future.

Away from the necessities of the moment, the Arab circle is the first and nearest circle in Egypt's external relations, and it is the immediate circle in forging the profoundest and strongest political and economic relations, based on foundations of justice, parity and balance, relying on what is actually existing or what can be developed in those relations.

There are a number of big countries on the population, civilisation and culture levels, as well as politically and economically influential on the Arab and regional level, including Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. There are politically influential countries despite their limited economic power, such as Tunisia and Oman, and financially influential countries in spite of their small population, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya, along with states that have significant economic potentials if their resources are utilised effectively, such as Sudan, Mauritania and Yemen. There are also states that enjoy a strategic geographical location, in the light of Arab national security interests, such as Djibouti and Somalia, and states that enjoy a location and economic characteristics that qualify them to play a significant role on the level of regional financial and economic services, such as Lebanon, Bahrain and Jordan.

There is also one occupied Arab state and its cause is the foremost Arab cause: it is Palestine.

Regardless of these states' circumstances, they are the centre's circle, and spheres of action for Egypt which, should be put into consideration, it is an Arab, African and Mediterranean state and part of the global stage.

As for strategic relations in its narrow meaning (ie military), Syria is the partner of the most importance to Egypt in defending Arab national security and addressing the challenges it faces. In all Egypt's wars against the Zionist entity, both countries were in the same trench. Thus, any Arab strategy for Egypt should not allow the tearing apart and destruction of the Syrian state's unity, as the terrorist herds from Al-Nusra Front and ISIL are aiming to do, with the sponsorship some of the region's countries that are taking revenge on its nation states in order to elevate the tribal and sectarian state, and with the sponsorship of the United States and some European states working in this field for the interest of Israel, the partner linked organically with the West.

Balancing international relations

It must be clear and obvious that the strategic relations between states, regionally and internationally, are linked to the strategic interests and visions of the two parties, and the extent of compatibility and consistency with the bases of internal construction. As for the immediate interests being connected, with special circumstances that link countries temporarily it can be possible to arrange immediate interest relations. However, special circumstances cannot create sustainable strategic alliances, unless they cause substantial changes in standpoints, interests and visions of the parties in the long run, and towards compatibility or conformity.

Egypt was able during the last two years — and especially the last year — to make a kind of balance in its international relations. It was able to utilise relative international fluidity to diversify its arms resources in a way that ensured obtaining weapons systems more developed and more capable of addressing the challenges that face Egypt.

Egyptian relations with the US, Europe, Russia, China and developing countries were the most balanced since former President Anwar El-Sadat threw all his cards in the American basket in the mid-1970s.

Moreover, Egyptian-African relations witnessed important developments on the political and economic levels. It is necessary that those developments go beyond the declaration of positive intentioned frameworks to reach effective cooperation, especially on the economic level, including solving some dangling problems, essentially related to Nile water and the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.

However, the balanced path in international relations, and perceiving the immediate and future weight of the great powers and forging relations with them on the basis of just and balanced mutual exchange of interests, is the strategic approach most suitable for Egypt's interests and that allows it freedom of manoeuvre in its international relations. It seems that's what Egypt is moving towards at the present time.

Critical relations with regional powers

There are three big regional powers on the population, civilisation, culture, politics and military levels in the Arab region and neighbouring countries. Each one of them possesses a large and diverse economy that is capable of development. The regime's nature in every one of them, and the state of relations among them, influence the security, stability and development of the region as a whole. These powers are Egypt, Iran and Turkey.

According to World Bank data, the population of these countries are, in order, 82.1, 77.4 and 74.9 million people in 2013, at 234.4 million people combined.

It must be put into consideration that this data does not include every state's expatriates. The Gross National Product of Turkey, Iran and Egypt is respectively $882, $448 and $257 billion in 2013. As for Gross National Product in dollars calculated according to purchasing power parity between the dollar and local currencies, it reached around $885 billion for Egypt in 2013, around $1,207 billion for Iran, and around $1,391 billion for Turkey, with the three combined constituting $3,483 billion — thus more than three percent of Gross World Product, calculated in the same way.

As for the political, cultural, civilisation and historical weight of the three countries, it is gargantuan. In this context, Egypt's holding in civilisation weight surpasses any other. Any Egyptian regional strategy should take into account this reality in forging regional relations, in order to maintain Egypt's capability of undertaking a leading regional role, without undermining Egypt's relations with the rest of the region's countries.

Obviously, even if there are political disputes with the two political regimes in Ankara and Tehran, this does not detract from the importance of these two most important countries in the region, or that of Egypt, of course.

The region is witnessing fast and landmark developments in its interaction with neighbouring countries after the Iranian nuclear deal with the West. With the lifting of sanctions against Tehran, the gates will be opened wide for developing international relations with Iran, including its relations with the region's countries.

The UAE keeps the profoundest economic relations with Iran, for more than half the commodity and service trade between Iran and Arab countries is done with the UAE alone. There are full diplomatic relations between Iran and all Gulf countries. That's what makes the Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic estrangement a matter worthy of reconsideration by both parties. The existence of such relations would allow Egypt the possibility of undertaking a bigger role in mediation and crisis-solving between Iran and any Gulf state.

Egypt's interior: The need for reform

The option of the democratic state based on citizenship, the separation of powers, and striking a balance between them, in respect for the constitution and what it implies on guarantees for freedoms, rights and human dignity, is key to political and security stability based on consent.

In this context is the necessity for respecting the law and applying on an equal footing, so as not to have those who are above the law and those who are beneath it. Discrimination in applying the law in practical reality takes from it its substantial characteristic, which is universality, and creates objective justifications for circumventing and breaking it.

Because the democratic option requires a separation between authorities, and striking a balance between them, the presence of parliament is obligatory. The state did well when it declared it would hold parliamentary elections in order to complete the Egyptian state's institutions, and for sake of the separation between authorities. The absence of parliament as a legislative and monitoring authority is a grave deficiency in any regime.

Moreover, the huge number of laws issued during the absence of parliament must be revised after parliament is elected, for this is an inherent right of parliament, according to the constitution. The constitution dealt with the issuance of laws during the absence of parliament as an exception, adding that the number of such laws should be limited and only issued when absolutely necessary. Thus, the constitution put time restrictions for revising such laws, to within 15 days.

However, what took place in Egypt during the last two years is that the exceptional legislative right of the president, amid the absence of parliament, was used on the largest scale. As a result, hundreds of laws were issued that the House of Representatives must revise within 15 days.

During such an extremely short period makes it impossible to revise even one percent of the laws issued. Thus, it is either the constitution that must be amended to deal with the issue, or it is very likely that many laws will be annulled in order, to revise them without time restrictions.

Protest law as anti-freedom   

Among the laws issued during the period of Interim President Adly Mansour, the protest law is the most controversial. Since its issuance, it was obvious that it was restricting of peaceful demonstration. In reality, the law was transformed into a prohibition on all peaceful opposition demonstrations, closing the door to free expression when opposition arises against authorities. This law resulted in transforming many peaceful actors who confronted Mubarak's despotic regime, and Morsi's fascist regime, in a peaceful way into prisoners.

Moreover, it constituted a main pickaxe in demolishing and breaking up the gigantic coalition that executed the huge revolutionary wave on 30 June 2013. This revolutionary wave, supported by the military and the police, toppled religious fascist rule and saved the state's institutions and sovereign bodies from being devastated at the hands of the same, deforming them into sectarian institutions and erasing their main identity as national institutions for all the nation's sons.

Furthermore, this law is not applied in all cases, for many demonstrations supportive of the regime were neither confronted nor were asked about permits to demonstrate — such as the demonstrations of lower-ranking police officers, despite their storming of the security directorate in Sharqiya.

On the whole, this law constituted a setback in democratic freedoms and was aimed mainly at peaceful demonstrations that use their constitutional right in this respect. As for violence and terrorism advocates, Egypt has an arsenal of laws by which it will confront them, and it was not in need of the protest law.

Historical experience points out that democratic political regimes are more capable of calling on the energies of their peoples to protect them, and the land and future. If these democratic regimes are coupled with social justice, it creates objective bases for political and security stability, established on consent not on mechanisms of command and control.

There are some media personalities and politicians that propagate despotic thoughts, trying to market the idea of an "exceptional moment" that requires despotic oppression to cross. This idea is a kind of inferior and ignorant incitement, trying to drive the state to walk this destructive path.

It is an entirely corrupt idea and cannot be applied in the current reality, locally and internationally, and doesn't create anything but more congestion. The really strong state is the state that respects the freedoms and rights of its citizens, achieves economic and social development, is committed to equality among its people, regardless of gender, religion, sect, colour and ethnicity, and triumphs social justice with all its requirements. Thus, it becomes strong, with its sons rally with her on the bases of citizenship, consent and faith in the state.

We can sum this up by saying that on the internal level there is a necessity to elevate the values of efficiency, science, work, equality, freedom, dignity, saving, investment, development, social justice, integrity and accountability as established bases for building a rising modern state, and achieving stability based on consent and sustainability.

The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.

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