At the Middle East Policy Platform (MEPP), our purpose is to monitor what English language-based international think tanks are publishing on the developments in the Middle East region, with Egypt as our main focus. Every quarter, MEPP issues an analysis report capturing the major themes in the published papers by think tanks, comparing trends with the previous quarter and analyzing the juncture’s main topics.
The third quarter witnessed 82 papers by 16 think tanks, a slight decrease in publications from the previous 93 in the second quarter but consistent with the yearly average of 85 publications per quarter. The Egyptian Institute for Studies continues to remain the top publishing think tank with 31 papers in the 3rd quarter, followed by Carnegie Endowment with 12, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy with 8, and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International with 5, respectively.
The topic of Islamic movements and institutions that was prominent in the second quarter overlapped into the third, as think tanks carried on their discussions about the implications of Mohamed Morsi’s death to the current Egyptian regime as well as describing international reactions. Thereafter, think tanks turned their attention to a new topic, civil society (intersecting with judicial affairs), due to the ratification of a repressive NGO law by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Unlike the second quarter, Sinai was not as prominent in third being replaced by the ever-growing influence of the military and the declining sectors such as education, transportation and manufacturing. However, the third quarter witnessed scattered publications about Egypt’s economy and foreign affairs, topics that were covered in the previous quarter. At the end of the juncture, protests broke out in the streets of Egypt after former businessman and military contractor, Mohamed Ali, had exposed corruption in the Sisi regime and the military.
To begin the new quarter, think tanks continued to post their analyses on the death of Mohamed Morsi. With the majority of publications at the end of the second quarter describing what had caused the passing of Morsi, those in the third quarter focused on the implications to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as reactions from neighboring nations. To illustrate, Alison Pargeter, with the School of Security Studies, King’s College London, proposes that the next step for the Muslim Brotherhood will not be to turn to armed struggle rather “Morsi’s death represents the chance for a new start and the opportunity for the Brotherhood to craft a new strategy to get itself out of the corner in which it has boxed itself since 2013.” (1) Further, Morsi’s death had mixed reactions across neighboring countries. In Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan, there was a sentiment of sympathy across supporters. (2) (3) (4) However, in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the news was used to promote their opposing stance on political Islam. (5)
Into the radar came the topic of civil society as the international pressure for Sisi to amend the previous repressive NGO law finally gave way to an updated version, albeit sharing the same principles as the former law. According to TIMEP, two constraining laws were removed: jail time was replaced by fines depending on the violation and the agency that approved, monitored and kept a close eye on foreign organizations was removed. (6) However, Amnesty International’s investigation of the new law, which has 98 articles, points out to “other legislative tools that can and have been used to prosecute and imprison human rights defenders based on vague and overly broad charges, such as the deeply repressive counter-terrorism law.” (7) In addition to close surveillance, the laws will restrict the activities of an organization in terms of human rights and advocacy, making their work “aligned to government priorities and plans.” (8) Thus, the minimal change that has positively affected the law does not outweigh the repressive qualities that were left.
In terms of the economy, Egypt’s performance on the macro level had little effect on the rising poverty levels. According to Gregory Aftandilian, Egypt has reduced its large budget deficit and increased its GDP growth. (9) Yet, recent official figures point that 32 percent of Egyptians live in poverty. The reasons for this are due to high food costs, wages not leveling with inflation rates and increasing unemployment. Sherif Mohyeldeen argues that there’s a general feeling in Egypt that the catalyst for such poverty levels is the regime and military’s growing footprint in economic activities. (10)
The topic of the military coincides with its increasing role in Egyptian affairs. Sisi has maintained his policy of firing military leaders to maintain his dominant control over the armed forces. (11) Despite this strategy, Sisi has gifted the military with various mega-infrastructure projects which have increased the military’s involvement in the Egyptian economy. (12) As Maged Mandour illustrates, in 2014, Sisi commended the military “to deliver mega-infrastructure projects three to four times faster than the private sector”. (13) The consequences of such favoritism prevent the private sector from any real opportunities leading to higher unemployment rates and eventually a pathway to poverty.
The topics of culture, education, and development covered the declining sectors of education, transportation and manufacturing. Amgad Hamdi lists the poor financial allocations, low teacher salaries, high dropout rates, overcrowdedness of classrooms, the limited role of the Minister of Education and the problems of private tuition as the main causes of the deteriorating educational system in Egypt. (14) In terms of railway development, the Cairo train station fire on February 27, raised eyebrows on the policies of the Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA) to prevent repeated train accidents. Amgad Hamdi reports that the ERA has not mitigated against human and technical related factors that are the causes of such accidents and requires major reforms. (15) Cement companies in Egypt have seen losses during the first quarter since supply is outpacing the demand. Ahmed Hafez points out that part of the reason for this decline is due to the reluctance of the Egyptian regime to open up the market. (16) To illustrate, El Arish Cement Co, military-owned, can produce up to 12.6 million tons a year to Egypt’s production capacity of 79 million tons. (17)
Egyptian foreign affairs dealt with various talking points concerning multiple countries. Earlier this quarter, Egypt participated in The Mananma Workshop, an American workshop, whose goal is to increase economic benefits in the region. (18) In European affairs, Timothy E. Kaldas argue that Europe is holding onto Egypt’s commitment to preventing irregular migration flows spreading across their borders, fashioning support to the current regime. (19) In addition to China’s economic model being potentially fit for Egypt’s transition from developing to a major hub, China’s increasing economic activities in Egypt is preventing the two nations to denounce each other’s horrendous human rights records. (20) (21) (22) Lastly, Egypt’s careless handling of its antiquities has continued as a London auction house, Christies, sold a 3000-year-old Egyptian artifact stirring up negative and anti-colonial reactions. (23) (24)
Near the end of the third quarter, scattered protests broke out in Egyptian streets after Mohamed Ali, a former businessman and military contractor, exposed corruption in the Sisi regime and the military. Despite the turnout, these protests have not materialized into the grandiose nature of those in previous years, which perhaps is the reason that the regime is not reacting to it as a threat. To illustrate, Sisi simultaneously left the country for the UN General Assembly as demonstrations were happening. (25) The aftermath of such protests led to the arrests of hundreds, mostly younger people. As Dr. H. A. Hellyer indicates,”these protests, however, confirm that there is dissent beneath the surface that is likely to deepen, not dissipate.” (26)
(12), (13), (17) https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79625