Egypt

To no one’s surprise, Egyptians re-elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on March 29 by an overwhelming majority. However, according to an Atlantic Council analyst, one of Sisi’s priorities in his second term may be securing a third.

“He has one major issue that I think he will go after in the first couple of years,” said Dr H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, “which is to address the existence of a two-term limit article in the constitution.”

Under current laws, Sisi’s second four-year term must be his last. However, said Hellyer, he is likely to consolidate power and work to extend his time in office. The idea has a recent precedent—Chinese President Xi Jinping did away with term limits in China earlier this month.

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Evidenced by low voter turnout in the presidential election, Egypt’s optimism after the 2011 revolution that ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak has been replaced by apathy amid the rule of a new strongman, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In Egypt’s third presidential election since the revolution, Sisi ran for his second term as president in the voting that occurred over three days, from March 26-28. After the 2014 election in which Sisi won close to 97 percent of the vote, his victory this time around is all but guaranteed. Sisi’s sole opponent at the polls is the leader of the centrist Ghad party Moussa Mostafa Moussa. However, even Moussa endorsed Sisi before entering the race at the last minute and was widely viewed as a hollow candidate placed on the ballot so that Sisi would not run unopposed.

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Egyptians are going to the polls to vote in a presidential election for the third time since the uprisings of 2011. The act of voting for a president who could, ostensibly, be voted out was a novelty. Hosni Mubarak served five six-year terms before stepping down in February of 2011, and Egyptians were keen on taking advantage of their new rights. This election, however, is likely to see a low turnout at the polls. 

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We asked several Egypt experts where they think Egypt stands seven years after the January 25, 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. A common takeaway has been that Egypt is continuing to regress to its pre-2011 days.

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After a more than four-year absence, Jund al-Islam (JAI) has returned to the forefront in Sinai, marking a new chapter in the fierce conflict between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh, ISIL, ISIS). The group published an audio recording in which it took credit for an attack targeting ISIS affiliates in Sinai known as Wilayat Sinai (WS). Jund al-Islam deemed them Kharitjites or those that defected from the group, and demanded that WS leaders turn themselves in. This attack raises many questions related to the sudden timing of Jund al-Islam’s emergence, its relationship with al-Qaeda, and the likely impact of the renewal of old hostilities between Wilayat Sinai and Jund al-Islam.

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When President Donald Trump won the US presidential election late last year, Egyptian media coverage praising his stunning rise to power suggested that Egypt was embarking on a new era of much improved relations with its long-time ally. Trump and his Egypt counterpart Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi exchanged words of praise on many occasions, and the media in the North African country, which heavily relies on support from the United States, prematurely rejoiced at what it deemed the end of the Democrats’ “antagonistic policy” towards Egypt under President Barack Obama. But Egypt was stung earlier in August when the US decided to deny it almost $100 million in aid and withhold another $195 million pending improvement in the country’s human rights record.

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Qatar crisis creates a headache for the United States

Nearly two months in, the diplomatic crisis between the Arab Gulf states is growing ever more complicated. The July 16 Washington Post report that cites unnamed US intelligence officials as claiming that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) precipitated the diplomatic row with Qatar by hacking Qatari state-run news outlets and attributing false statements to the tiny emirate’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is, if true, troubling for several reasons.

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The Arab world is in a sorry state. The spat between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Qatar is but the latest symptom of an enduring serious rot in governance and a destructive power struggle in the wake of the Arab Spring. This situation is compounded by a lack of constructive dialogue on addressing the challenges that face most countries of the region.

Qatar’s excommunication from the GCC is the latest schism to hit what has seemed, at least since 2011, to be a stable and unified bloc. On June 5, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with Qatar and cut off air, land, and sea transportation links. On the surface, it appeared that Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism was at the heart of the dispute. Certainly, US President Donald J. Trump’s tweet, sympathizing with the action taken against Qatar, implied that this was his understanding. It took reminders from the Pentagon and the US State Department of US national interests in Qatar and its strategic interest in Gulf stability to get Trump to pull back on his original impulse to take sides and instead advise Saudi King Salman to seek unity and harmony within the GCC rather than allow a dangerous escalation in rancor.

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President’s plan for state of emergency could further reduce space for dissent, said Atlantic Council’s Mirette Mabrouk

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to impose a three-month state of emergency in response to deadly church bombings will likely further shrink the space for freedom of expression and dissent in Egypt, according to Mirette Mabrouk, director of research and programs at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The space for freedom of expression and dissent in Egypt has already shrunk considerably. I can’t imagine that this is to going help,” said Mabrouk. The state of emergency, which must first be approved by parliament, would allow security forces to monitor people's social media and communications without permission, but after the president has issued a verbal or written order.

Sisi’s relationship with the United States grew frosty on US President Barack Obama’s watch amid concerns in Washington about the military coup that brought Sisi, then a general, to power on July 3, 2013, and the bloody crackdown that followed on August 14, 2013, which killed an estimated 817 peaceful demonstrators in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

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Eager to unlock the door to US-Arab cooperation on tackling regional issues following decades of disappointment with Washington’s lack of understanding of their concerns, three Arab leaders are engaging US President Donald Trump’s new administration over the next month.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Trump at the White House on April 3; Jordan’s King Abdullah II will be in Washington on April 5; and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to follow later this month or in May. In their meetings, these leaders hope to discuss a number of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the civil war in Libya, and the threat posed by global terrorist organizations.

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