Al-Sisi: The challenges ahead

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 3 Apr 2024

Economic, political, and security challenges await President Al-Sisi in his third six-year term.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi
The Egyptian parliament on Tuesday held one of its most consequential sessions at its new headquarters in the New Administrative Capital, witnessing the inauguration of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for a third presidential term starting 3 April.


When Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was sworn in as president of Egypt on 2 June 2018 he pledged to improve standards of living and restore stability following years of political and security turmoil. Six years later, political and security experts say that while Egypt was able to win its battle against terrorist organisations which threatened to undermine the country’s internal security and stability, Egypt now faces a raft of new security threats, including the spillover from the wars in Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine and attacks on Red Sea shipping.

Before President Al-Sisi began his second term in office in June 2018, North Sinai-based Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a Jihadist terrorist group affiliated with Islamic State (IS), posed a real threat to Egypt’s security, says Gamal Zahran, professor of political science at Suez Canal University. It had killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians in the peninsula. By the end of 2018, however, the organisation had been obliterated and security restored.

Israel’s ferocious assault on Gaza and determination to launch a ground offensive in Rafah has raised new security concerns. “Egyptians fear an Israeli attack on Rafah will force Palestinians to enter Sinai as refugees, posing a big security risk,” says Zahran.

President Al-Sisi has repeatedly voiced Egypt’s rejection of any attempts to force Palestinians onto Egyptian territory and has warned that an Israeli attack on Rafah would violate the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Al-Sisi, says Zahran, takes new security threats very seriously. As well as reinforcing Egypt’s role as a mediator in the conflict, he is coordinating with the United States in an attempt to ensure any military operation in Rafah will not result in a greater humanitarian crisis for Palestinians in Gaza or a new security threat to Egypt.

Zahran believes Egypt’s role as a reliable mediator in the Israel-Hamas war has enhanced its influence in the region and that the “president will pursue policies over the next six years which have already proved effective in enhancing Egypt’s international prestige while bringing economic benefits.”

Security strategist Samir Farag agrees that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah carries a high security risk for Egypt, but says that high-level coordination between Egypt, Israel, and the United States will help ensure any offensive does not negatively affect Egypt’s security.

“Stability and security are the keywords that have characterised Al-Sisi’s presidency since the beginning and even more so now with two crises at Egypt’s borders,” says Farag.

Since Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis began attacking ships in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, many shipping companies have opted to avoid the Suez Canal, a key source of foreign exchange for Egypt.

“The crisis in the Red Sea is both a security and economic challenge. The financial impact will become painful if Houthi attacks continue to impact on traffic volumes through the Suez Canal,” says Zahran.

According to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, Suez Canal transit fees, which generated $9.4 billion in 2023, have fallen by 50 per cent since January. 

So far, President Al-Sisi has opted for diplomacy to address the Red Sea crisis and has refused to join an American military operation against the Houthis, focusing instead on ending the war in Gaza.

In a phone call with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Sunday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri voiced deep concern about spillovers from the Gaza conflict, especially in the southern Red Sea. 

Farag argues that Houthi attacks on ships are not a direct result of the war in Gaza but part of Iran’s wider strategy to use its proxies in the Middle East — the Houthis in Yemen and Hizbullah in Lebanon — to undermine American and Israeli interests. Unfortunately, says Farag, Egypt has been caught in the crosshairs. 

“Egypt will continue to face economic challenges during President Al-Sisi’s new six-year term, including high inflation rates and a shortage of dollars,” says MP Atef Maghawri, parliamentary spokesperson of the Tagammu Party, and Suez Canal revenues are especially important as Egypt wrestles with its ongoing economic crisis.

Following his election victory in December, President Al-Sisi told the nation that “the great Egyptian citizen has stood up to terrorism and violence and endured economic reforms and their impacts.” In a televised speech on 15 March, he said that “economic conditions are improving, and Egypt is on track to solving its problems.” The latter statement came on the heels of an influx of foreign funds.

Last month, Egypt secured pledges of financial support that included an $8 billion loan from the IMF, 7.4 billion euros from the EU, and $6 billion from the World Bank. These sums will supplement the $15 billion Egypt received as part of the $35 billion Ras Al-Hekma deal with the UAE on 23 February. 

Cairo University professor of political science Tarek Fahmi expects the initial focus of President Al-Sisi’s new term to be on combating inflation, attracting investments, reducing unemployment, and doubling agricultural and industrial exports.

“Ordinary citizens need to feel that their income can cover basic needs. This is a big challenge in the new term,” he says.

MP Mustafa Bakri, meanwhile, hopes the president will begin his new term by appointing a new government and prime minister. He also believes the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam represents a major challenge in President Al-Sisi’s new term, noting that “the construction of the dam will be completed next year with expectations that it will reduce Egypt’s share of Nile water.

Many commentators are waiting to see whether President Al-Sisi will introduce democratic reforms in his third six-year term. Following his victory in December, Al-Sisi announced that “the coming stage of Egypt’s political life will see the completion of the National Dialogue process in an effective and practical way.”

Last week, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli met with National Dialogue General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan to discuss economic and political reforms, including changes to the licensing of political parties and reduced pre-trial detention periods. Madbouli also said the government is coordinating with parliament on new election and local council laws. 

Following the meeting, Rashwan said the next round of National Dialogue sessions will focus on media freedoms and a package of economic reforms. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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