During the first quarter of 2019, 80 reports were published by 23 think tanks on issues related to Egypt. This figure shows the increase in the number of publications compared with the first quarter of 2018 with 56 papers by 24 think tanks. It also shows the reduced interest in covering Egypt by some of the international think tanks.
This review presents the most important themes from these papers. The main institutions that contributed to this analysis and commentary as of the end of March 2019 are: Egyptian Institute for Studies (17 papers), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (13 papers), The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (11 papers), Human Rights Watch (6 publications), and the Middle East Institute (5 papers).
More than half of the paper focused on legislative and constitutional affairs, while the rest of the analysis drew attention to several other themes such as the human rights, civil society, and foreign affairs.
Legislative Affairs was the dominant topic during the first quarter of 2019. This may have been due to the ongoing preparations to amend the Constitution. The topic appeared in 38 papers. The Egyptian Institute for Studies argued that there are two main reasons for the ruling regime to believe that this is the best time to proceed with the constitutional amendments. First, the constitution may have been amended to allow Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to remain in power for life. Second, the amendment process was designed to formally invest the military with constitutional authority, increasing its already considerable power (1). Moreover, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace emphasized that the proposed amendments will consolidate the military’s position above the state and increase the autocratic powers of the president and move Egypt closer toward totalitarianism than strongman Hosni Mubarak ever did (2). In the same vein, Arab Center Washington DC doubts that the constitutional amendments will not pass, despite the few obstacles they might face, owing mainly to the continued disagreement in the Egyptian opposition and the lack of a well-defined political plan for democracy (3). Likewise, the amendments would stipulate a twenty-five percent representation quota for women in parliamentary elections. However, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy considered the amendments for female representation to be a ploy to distract the Egyptian public and Western observers from the broader authoritarian motives behind the process (4). In practical terms, the amendments themselves will have little effect on the political representation of women in Egypt.
The topic of civil society in Egypt was most directly discussed in 33 of 74 cited papers. The papers revolved around concerns about repression of civil society, NGOs, media, and academic institutions in Egypt. According to a report by Amnesty international the Egyptian authorities have been targeting civil society and undermining freedom of association and expression (5) through the repressive NGO law (Law 70 of 2017) (6). Egypt’s freedom of press deteriorated further, ranking 161 out of 180 countries according to Reporters Without Borders (7). The Egyptian Institute for Studies has also emphasized that state authorities in Egypt have been controlling and blocking the majority of the country’s satellite channels, advertising agencies, newspapers and social media sites, fearing another revolution over the continuous arrests and court charges against rights and political activists. Furthermore, a new Amnesty International investigation has found a wave of digital attacks or hacking that likely originated from government-backed bodies starting in early January 2019 (8). The hacks involved multiple attempts to gain access to the email accounts of several prominent Egyptian human rights defenders, journalists, and the staff of civil society organizations. In the regard of academic sector, between 2013 and 2016, over 1100 students were arrested, 1000 were expelled or subjected to disciplinary actions, 65 were tried by military courts, and 21 students were extrajudicially killed, according to Carnegie’s report ‘Egypt’s Lost Academic Freedom’ (9). The report stated that the authoritarian regime is obstructing the nation’s university and the foreign academic institutions that are willing to establish branch campuses in Egypt.
There has been significant emphasis on Human rights in this quarter. 31 papers discussed the topic compared to 8 papers on human rights issues in the first quarter of 2018. Most of the papers have focused on the abuses related to exaction, arbitrary arrest, torture and violence. According to Human Rights Watch, Egypt had the sixth highest number of executions and the third largest number of death sentences handed down in the world in 2017 (10). Also, Human Rights Watch has documented that the Egyptian army has destroyed hundreds of hectares of farmland and at least 3,000 homes and commercial buildings, together with 600 buildings destroyed in January 2019 in the Sinai Conflict (10). Human Rights Watch has also referred to the surge of torture in Egypt since the military unseated President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. These tortures have reportedly been carried out in police stations and at unofficial security agency detention sites. They involve beatings, placing detained persons in stress positions, suspending people by their limbs, the administration of electric shocks, and sometimes rape or rape threats. According to Human Rights Watch, the failure by Egyptian authorities to end the human rights violations reinforce an urgent need for an independent international inquiry (11).
The topic of foreign affairs appeared in 24 papers. The papers covered Egypt’s relations with the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Iran, and neighboring countries. The U.S. relation toward Egypt is based on a realist approach with an “America First” mentality according to the Arab Center Washington DC (12). The U.S. has essential security and counterterrorism cooperation with the Egyptian government. However, the U.S. administration has been notably silent about the Egyptian regime human rights abuses, as well as the Egyptian parliament’s passage of the constitutional amendments bill that would potentially allow Sisi to remain in office until 2034 (12). Another paper was published from the same center emphasizing the role of the United States in reorienting the Egyptian government policies and treatment of its citizens. Thus, the failure to bring the bilateral relationship into better political balance does not redound to the benefit of both countries (13). Similarly, as Egypt hosted the first EU-Arab League summit in February, the Middle East Institute described the EU-Egypt relations as a “pragmatic necessity” (14). Egypt needs investment and technical cooperation while the EU needs to tackle the migration problem through the Mediterranean (15). However, the paper raised the question of ُthe EU’s position in relation to Egypt’s human rights records as it was nowhere to be seen in the summit agenda. Likewise, the Middle East Institute explained the recent Turkish-Egyptian tension on a number of ideological, political, and economic reasons (15). As for the Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel’s situational assessment expressed lots of concerns about the Egyptian army performance against the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula. Tel Aviv justified its interventions in Sinai as both national and border security issues according to Egyptian Institute for Studies (16). Although the country was able to develop strategic partnerships with some states, Egypt’s foreign affairs seem to be at their worst since 2012.
In conclusion, the analysis shows a considerable emphasis on judicial and legislative affairs in comparison to the first quarter of 2018. This focus is essentially related to the ongoing constitutional amendments process happening in Egypt. Additionally, civil society and human rights are still prevalent themes with a direct bearing on Egypt’s enduring human rights crisis. Finally, Egypt’s foreign affairs seems to be the focus of various think tanks showing the complexities and tensions of current Egyptian relations with different countries.