In late 2010, a series of uprisings against oppressive regimes across the Middle East began in full storm. Also known as the Arab Spring, social media spread this spirit of rebellion to several nations. Beginning in Tunisia, it eventually spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.
Out of all the nations of which the Arab Spring touched, the revolution in Egypt was among the most successful. Egypt has transitioned to a democracy, and just recently celebrated its second democratic electoral cycle as of last year. In this March 2018 election, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won a consecutive four-year-term. el-Sisi has promised investment in African development, procured overseas investments in the Egyptian economy and a helping hand in working towards a two-state solution in Palestine.
In January 2011, as part of the larger Arab Spring movement, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power. During his presidency, he liberalized the economy and remained committed to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel signed in the 1979 Camp David Accords. Despite these positive moves, Mubarak also engineered political censorship, police brutality, arbitrary detentions and torture. These human rights violations eventually led to his downfall. In 2014, the Egyptian military presided over ostensibly democratic elections. Running as an Independent, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected to the highest office in the land.
As a leader, President el-Sisi has maintained strong relations abroad. Shortly after taking office, el-Sisi made a tour across the African continent, seeking support against Islamist militants across the continent and establishing an agency dedicated to Africa’s economic development.
El-Sisi has also maintained a commitment to working across both sides of the aisle in the Israel-Palestine conflict, in an effort to work towards a two-state solution. However, in part for his support of Israel against Hamas in the Israel-Gaza conflict, Turkish-Egyptian relations have worsened. But el-Sisi wants peace in the Middle East and that’s predominantly why relations with Turkey aren’t the best right now.
As for Egypt’s relations within the Arab world, during el-Sisi’s tenure the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have invested over $20 billion into the country’s economy. As for cooperation amongst the Arab states, in 2015 in response to a Shiite insurgency which toppled the Yemeni government, Egypt and Saudi Arabia led a joint military intervention along with a coalition of other Muslim nations which included the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Pakistan to restore the nation to its democratically-elected government.
In the face of so much civil unrest in many parts of the Muslim world, el-Sisi admitted in November 2016 his support for the presidency of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the interest of regional stability. El-Sisi’s support of al-Assad makes political sense, as both nations share a number of common enemies including the Islamic State group, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian economy is also certainly a mixed bag. El-Sisi has revived economic growth while tackling problems in the gas supply industry. While he inherited a tattered economy facing extreme inflation when he first took office, el-Sisi has instituted a policy of aggressive economic reforms which have largely stopped most of the rot. El-Sisi’s most notable economic achievement thus far has been his signing of a three-year deal with the International Monetary Fund, which will devalue the Egyptian pound against the dollar by more than half. A country whose currency is worth hundreds or thousands comparatively to a foreign currency, like the dollar, is a sign of how worthless that nation’s currency is. The more the Egyptian pound is devalued, the more its exports are valued. Thus, the more the Egyptian pound is devalued, the better.
Many say that el-Sisi’s aggressive economic reforms were necessary to stabilize Egypt’s economy as it recovers from chaos and faces an upsurge of Islamist insurgency. Poverty has increased and the currency reform hit the middle class incredibly hard, but amidst the turmoil economists do see some hope. In the past year, GDP grew 5.3 percent. “I think we should see growth continuing to escalate,” says Egyptian Investment Bank economist Mohamed Abu Basha, adding, “tourism has space to recover, and consumption and investment should continue to recover over the next few years.”
Arguments against el-Sisi point to his government’s jailing of thousands of el-Sisi opponents. Among these include three leading political opposition figures including a senior diplomat who called for a referendum against el-Sisi.
But in defence of el-Sisi, he views many of these political prisoners as Islamist militants, who would bring the kind of sectarian violence that we saw in Iraq and Syria upon Egypt if released back out onto the streets. The government has publicly stated that its actions are directed towards terrorists and saboteurs who are trying desperately to undermine the state. El-Sisi supporters say the crackdown on dissent is needed to stabilize Egypt after the 2011 uprising and the unrest which followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula which killed hundreds.
Under trying circumstances, el-Sisi has done a tremendous job. The Arab Spring movement has taken many Muslim nations by storm including Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya among others. While predominantly Western nations have condemned the treatment of Islamist protesters, what these nations fail to realize is that although many of these Arab Spring movements are democratically inspired, Islamist militants have utilized the civil unrest as opportunities to seize power. Thus, President el-Sisi is a man who guides the fate of a nation on the cusp of a new blossoming democracy and has, under the circumstances, performed admirably and deserves the respect of the world.