How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage
Egypt is emerging from a decade of upheaval that began with the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak
From Libya to the Arab-Israeli peace process, Cairo is reasserting its authority on the regional stage
Updated 6 sec ago
KATERYNA KADABASHY AND ROBERT EDWARDS
BOGOTA/ABU DHABI: Egypt has experienced a decade of upheaval since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, contending with two revolutions, environmental pressures, and more recently the economic challenges of COVID-19.
And yet, this most populous of Arab countries, straddling the African and Asian continents, has emerged from the turbulence with a new sense of purpose and a desire for greater engagement with the region and the world.
It has been announced that Egypt is a nominee to host the COP27 UN climate conference for 2022 — a distinction that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.
This October not only marks the 48th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel; 40 years ago on October 6, President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists during the annual victory parade in Cairo.
For many in the Middle East, Sadat’s positive legacy is a work in progress: The Egypt-Israel peace process, Egyptian economic development and political liberalization, the Palestinian peace process, and overcoming the challenge of violent extremism.
“What I have seen recently, in this last year in particular, is that Egypt is much more engaged in trying to determine movement on regional issues,” Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian foreign minister, said during a discussion at the World Policy Conference held earlier in October in Abu Dhabi.
“Egypt faced a couple of hurdles. But (look at) the strength of its system. I doubt very few countries in the region, and some abroad, frankly, could have survived two revolutions in three years and come out standing.”
The latest economic forecasts show that Egypt is now entering the recovery phase following the blows of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s clear evidence of economic progress,” Fahmy said. “Even post-pandemic we’re looking at 4 to 5 percent growth this coming year, which is significant.”
His observations were echoed by Egyptian politician and academic Mona Makram-Ebeid at the same conference.
“Now there is a ray of hope emerging and it comes in the form of natural gas discovery, with a potential to boost Egypt’s limping economy and build a new commercial alliance with eastern Mediterranean countries and Israel.
“Egypt struck the jackpot in 2015 with the discovery of a giant reservoir known as Zohr, which has developed into one of the largest single gas fields in the Middle East.”
To date, Zohr is the biggest gas field discovered in the Mediterranean region, with nearly 30 trillion cubic feet of reserves. The field — which is operated by Italian Eni — started production in December 2017.
From all accounts, there has been marked progress in more than just the economic field. Egypt is also making strides in institutional reform, bolstering the rule of law and addressing international concerns over its rights record.
“Just three weeks ago, we issued a new human rights doctrine,” Fahmy said. “It’s not perfect. Human rights doctrines and applications anywhere in the world are not perfect. But it’s tremendous progress. And it’s a reflection that we want to move forward.
“Short term, it’s going to be a challenge. Medium term, I’m much more confident. But, as Egyptians, given our weight, given the role we have to play, I also want us to be able to look long term and engage with our neighbors.”
Makram-Ebeid praised the new doctrine, saying that it would have a positive impact on several aspects of Egyptian life.
“It will give access to job opportunities, education, healthcare and religious freedoms,” she said.
Egypt’s latest decade of upheaval began on Jan. 25, 2011, when thousands of protesters spilled onto the streets of Cairo to demand change. Aggressive police tactics to quell the protests culminated in calls for Mubarak’s removal.
When he was finally toppled from power, young Egyptians felt their moment had come to create a fairer society. In reality, it was only the beginning of a fresh period of discontent and uncertainty. The country was rocked by new economic calamities and the rise to power of Mohamed Morsi — an Islamist politician affiliated with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
The “second Egyptian revolution” came in 2013, a year after Morsi’s inauguration. The resumption of street protests that summer saw Morsi forced from office and the Muslim Brotherhood designated as a terrorist organization.
The following year, Morsi’s defense minister, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, won the presidential election and was sworn into office.
“The basic challenge between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the Egyptian system was about our identity,” Fahmy told the WPC event.
“Are we Egyptians including some Muslim Brotherhood, or are we the Muslim Brotherhood that has some Egyptians? That’s an existential threat and that’s why the clash happened quickly. Not only political influencers, but also the middle class were actually against the form of government that was being formed by the Muslim Brotherhood when they came into power.”
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan Al-Banna, and later spread throughout the Middle East into Sudan, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon and across North Africa, where its affiliates have had varying degrees of success.
“The Muslim Brotherhood was born in Egypt, so there will be some trends in Egypt. But the reality is, if you try to build for the future, then our youth want to be engaged in the world,” Fahmy said.
“A dogmatic ideology doesn’t fit Egypt. We need to engage with the world, and I think that ideology is a threat to modernity.
“The influence of the Brotherhood today in Egypt is highly diminished and the government, currently — whether one agrees or disagrees with some details of policy is irrelevant — is an activist government trying to respond to the basic, immediate needs of the people.”
Egypt’s greater emphasis on regional and global engagement has been evident in recent months. Besides recent talks with senior Iraqi and Syrian officials, Egypt has also made diplomatic headway with its rivals. “We have engaged in a dialogue with Turkey,” Fahmy said. “It’s slow, (so) don’t be overly optimistic.”
One diplomatic front where Egypt has made noteworthy progress in the last year is Libya, which in the past decade has become a haven for human smugglers and religious extremists.
During the same revolutionary wave that overthrew Mubarak, the Libyan people rose up against their long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi. However, a decade on from his downfall, the oil-rich country remains mired in chaos and political gridlock.
Since the two countries share a porous desert border, the extremists based in Libya have, time and again, succeeded in carrying out attacks against Egyptian security forces and Christians.
In recent months, Egypt has engaged with Libya’s feuding parties to ensure that national elections are held in December as scheduled. Cairo believes a fair and transparent election will help put its war-torn neighbor on the path to stability and recovery.
Fahmy says there has been good progress on the Libya issue, but he doubts the elections scheduled for Dec. 24 by the country’s recently installed Government of National Unity will go ahead as planned. “I would love to be proven wrong,” he said.
Fahmy is well regarded after his years as a career diplomat and academic. He is the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and Distinguished University Professor of Practice in International Diplomacy at the American University in Cairo. He has dedicated many years of study to Arab-Israeli diplomacy, making him a leading authority on the peace process.
Last summer, the UAE became the first Arab country to sign the Abraham Accords, a series of US-brokered diplomatic agreements inked between Israel and Arab states. The Aug. 13, 2020 signing marked the first time an Arab country had publicly established relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Although the agreements have shown potential, critics say they have done little to bring the Palestinians any closer to statehood. And while several governments have embraced the accords, the normalization of ties with Israel has been harder to sell to Arab publics.
“You can’t overemphasize that the Palestinian issue, per se, is a very emotional issue throughout the Arab world and therefore reactions to it tend to be very strong in either way,” Fahmy said.
“My point is the following — and I have said this to my Palestinian colleagues — I understand your concern, I understand your fear, but focus on building your case rather than on criticizing somebody. Because, in the case of those who signed the accords, even if we don’t agree with them, they have all committed to helping establish and support a Palestinian state.
“So, my recommendation to Arabs: Be a bit sensitive in the steps you take. You will have to face that this is sensitive, you will get some criticism.
“I would tell my Arab colleagues, I would tell the Palestinians, come up with ideas on how to move forward politically, and don’t let the political process die.”
Given Egypt’s renewed assertiveness on the regional stage, Fahmy hopes other Arab countries will follow Egypt’s lead and come to the negotiating table to speak frankly about the way forward. “Arabs are lovely in their ability to agree. Our problem is our inability to disagree,” he said.
“Let me seize this occasion to call on Egypt and the Arab countries: We should all speak much more about our vision for the future, for the region, and what we want to see for the Middle East as a whole in concrete terms.
“We don’t have to agree, but we need to engage in a dialogue and let’s see how much agreement and how much disagreement we have. Because allowing others to set the agenda is very dangerous.”
Houthi’s boat attacks pose threat to global trade lines at Red Sea
Updated 25 October 2021
DUBAI: The Houthi militia’s planned attacks using explosive-rigged boats in the Red Sea pose a threat to global maritime trade lines in the area, Yemen’s information, culture and tourism minister Moammar Al-Eryani warned.
The Arab coalition earlier said it destroyed four Houthi boats loaded with explosives during an airstrike in Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah.
The vessels were being prepared to attack ships sailing through the Red Sea.
“The coalition efforts have contributed to protecting shipping lanes and international trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and south of (the) Red Sea,” the coalition said in a statement.
Al-Eryani also called on the international community as well as the UN and US envoys to Yemen to condemn the Houthis’ terroristic actions, which were aimed to destabilize regional and international security and maritime navigation.
Meanwhile, the KSrelief Center’s Demining Project in Yemen (MASAM) has defused 1,500 landmines and unexploded ordnances in the past week.
MASAM’s technical teams managed to remove 6 anti-personnel, 1,067 anti-tanks landmines, 483 unexploded explosive ordnances and one explosive device.
The landmines were rigged by Houthi fighters in different parts of Yemen, the center said.
Sudan general declares state of emergency after military coup
State of emergency declared after military stages coup
Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
RIYADH/KHARTOUM/CAIRO: Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the head of the Sovereign Council, on Monday declared a state of emergency in Sudan and announced the dissolution of the Sovereign Council and the transitional government following a military coup.
In a televised address, Burhan said the ongoing struggle between the transition partners was threatening the country’s safety and security and that the military needed to step in to protect it.
The military will continue with democratic transition until handover to civilian elected government when elections would be held in July 2023, Burhan said.
Injuries were earlier reported during clashes in front of the Sudanese army headquarters after large crowds took to the streets on Monday to protest against a military coup deposing the government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The coup comes despite an earlier agreement Hamdok reached with the head of the country’s ruling council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the presence of US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman, Adam Harik told the Dubai-based channel.
Sudan’s information ministry said joint military forces detained civilian members of the country’s ruling body and a number of ministers within the transitional government.
“Civilian members of the transitional sovereign council and a number of ministers from the transitional government have been detained by joint military forces,” the ministry said in a statement on Facebook. “They have been led to an unidentified location.”
The military action has also sparked international concern, the Arab League warned against any measures that might shake stability in Sudan, TV news channel Al-Arabiya reported.
Sudan’s political leaders should be released and human rights respected, the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement on Monday.
Faki also added talks should be resumed between the military and the civilian wing of the trasnsitional government.
The head of the PM’s office Harik said they knew the coup would take place six weeks ago.
“The military establishment does not want to fulfill its obligations to hand over power,” he told Al-Arabiya during his phone interview.
Feltman met with Sudanese military and civilian leaders Saturday and Sunday in efforts to resolve a growing dispute.
In a video shared on social media, what appears to be gunshots can be heard as protesters continued their demonstrations.
Sudan’s Stat News website highlighted the meetings with military officials.
The British envoy to Sudan voiced Britain’s concern over the arrest of members of the government and the German foreign ministry called for an immediate end to the coup.
Meanwhile a UN official said they were also “deeply concerned” by the ongoing coup.
The US has expressed alarm at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government in Sudan.
On the official Twitter of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, Feltman warned the military takeover would contravene Sudan’s Constitutional Declaration and puts at risk US assistance to the country.
“The US is deeply alarmed at reports of a military take-over of the transitional government,” Feltman said.
“This would contravene the Constitutional Declaration (which outlines the transition) and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people,” he said, according to a statement on Twitter.
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been placed under house arrest and moved to an unidentified location with his wife.
Al Hadath TV earlier reported four cabinet ministers and a member of Sudan’s Sovereign Council were among those arrested.
One of those arrested was Ali Al-Rayh Al-Sanhouri, secretary-general of the Sudanese Baath Party, Al-Sharq reported, quoting unnamed sources.
The report said Council of Sovereignty member Mohammed Al-Jawki was also under arrest, along with Minister of Cabinet Affairs Khaled Omar Yusuf.
Men in military uniform cut off the main roads leading to the capital, and state television was broadcasting patriotic songs.
There was no immediate comment from the military.
The Khartoum airport was shut and international flights were suspended, Al-Arabiya reported.
There was no announcement from the Sudanese government on the status of the airport.
Military forces also stormed Sudanese radio and television headquarters in Omdurman and arrested employees, the information ministry said on its Facebook page.
Reacting to the developments, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, Sudan’s main pro-democratic political group, called on people to take to the streets to counter an apparent military coup.
The association also said there were Internet and phone signal outages in the country.
Since August 2019, the country has been led by a civilian-military administration tasked with overseeing the transition to full civilian rule.
The main civilian bloc – the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) – which led the anti-Bashir protests in 2019, has splintered into two opposing factions.
“The crisis at hand is engineered – and is in the shape of a creeping coup,” mainstream FFC leader Yasser Arman had told the Saturday press conference in Khartoum.
“We renew our confidence in the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and reforming transitional institutions – but without dictations or imposition,” Arman added.
A failed coup attempt in September fractured the country along old lines, pitting more conservative Islamists who want a military government against those who toppled autocratic former ruler Omar Al-Bashir in mass protests. In recent days, both camps have taken to the street in demonstrations.
Last week, several cabinet ministers took part in big protests in several parts of the Khartoum and other cities against the prospect of military rule.
The military head of the Sovereign Council has previously asserted his commitment to the transition.
Dozens of Yemenis feared dead in botched Houthi missile launch
PM urges factions to unify and foil ‘Iranian-led criminal project’
Updated 25 October 2021
AL-MUKALLA: Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed or wounded in Yemen’s northern province of Dhamar on Saturday when a ballistic missile fired by the Iran-backed Houthis failed to reach its target and ripped through a residential area, residents and local media said.
Launched by the Houthis from a military base under their control in Dhamar city, the missile landed in a densely populated area close to the base, triggering a huge explosion that rocked the city.
The Houthis quickly sealed off the streets and banned people from entering or leaving the area.
Al-Sharae newspaper reported that the missile “destroyed many houses” in the Al-Najeda neighborhood as ambulances with blaring sirens were seen rushing to the area.
Images seen on social media showed a large fireball and smoke billowing from the site.
The Houthis have intensified drone and missile strikes on the central city of Marib as their ground forces have aggressively pushed to seize control of the strategic city since February.
During the last several days, Arab coalition jets targeted military sites in Houthi-held Hodeidah and Sanaa, where ballistic missiles, explosive drones and bomb boats are manufactured and stored.
In the southern city of Aden, the interim capital, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed on Saturday urged factions to forge unified ranks for war against the Houthis and to end the Iranian regime’s strategy in the country.
During a virtual meeting with representatives of political parties included in the government, the prime minister warned that the Houthis are “seeking to seize control of Yemen and would target all opponents who challenged their rule,” urging Yemenis to “come together” to defeat the Houthis.
“The Houthi danger and the Iranian project in Yemen will not exclude anyone, and no party is immune. If we don’t fight it together today, no party will find the time and ground to fight this Iranian-led criminal project in the region,” Saeed said, according to the official news agency.
Yemeni political analysts and officials argue that ongoing infighting among the anti-Houthi camp has weakened it politically and militarily, and enabled the militia to expand across Yemen.
Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s information ministry and a political analyst, urged Yemeni parties to “positively respond” to the prime minister’s call, adding that unifying splintered groups and factions would lead to defeat of the Houthis and push them into accepting peace initiatives.
“The only beneficiary of the conflicts and splits within anti-Houthi forces is the Houthis. Unifying factions would place powerful pressure on them,” Ghallab told Arab News.
On the ground, dozens of Houthis and several government troops were killed in fierce clashes over the past day in Juba district, south of Marib province, a Yemeni military official who visited the battlefield told Arab News. The Yemeni army and allied tribesmen foiled consecutive attacks by more than 15 groups of Houthi fighters in Juba who staged a bid to break through Marib defenses.
“The Houthis seized control of a remote village in Juba in the morning and we liberated it by the end of the day,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
Pope: Don’t send migrants back to Libya and ‘inhumane’ camps
Updated 24 October 2021
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday made an impassioned plea to end the practice of returning migrants rescued at sea to Libya and other unsafe countries where they suffer “inhumane violence.”
Francis also waded into a highly contentious political debate in Europe, calling on the international community to find concrete ways to manage the “migratory flows” in the Mediterranean.
“I express my closeness to the thousands of migrants, refugees and others in need of protection in Libya,” Francis said. ”I never forget you, I hear your cries and I pray for you.”
Even as the pontiff appealed for changes of migrant policy and of heart in his remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square, hundreds of migrants were either at sea in the central Mediterranean awaiting a port after rescue or recently coming ashore in Sicily or the Italian mainland after setting sail from Libya or Turkey, according to authorities.
“So many of these men, women and children are subject to inhumane violence,” he added. ”Yet again I ask the international community to keep the promises to search for common, concrete and lasting solutions to manage the migratory flows in Libya and in all the Mediterranean.”
“How they suffer, those who are sent back” after rescue at sea, the pope said. Detention facilities in Libya, he said “are true concentration camps.”
“We need to stop sending back (migrants) to unsafe countries and to give priority to the saving of human lives at sea with protocols of rescue and predictable disembarking, to guarantee them dignified conditions of life, alternatives to detention, regular paths of migration and access to asylum procedures,” Francis said.
UN refugee agency officials and human rights organizations have long denounced the conditions of detention centers for migrants in Libya, citing practices of beatings, rape and other forms of torture and insufficient food. Migrants endure weeks and months of those conditions, awaiting passage in unseaworthy rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats arranged by human traffickers.
Hours after the pope’s appeal, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders said that its rescue ship, Geo Barents, reached a rubber boat that was taking on water, with the sea buffeted by strong winds and waves up to three meters (10 feet) high. It tweeted that “we managed to rescue all the 71 people on board.”
The group thanked the charity group Alarm Phone for signaling that the boat crowded with migrants was in distressed.
Earlier, Geo Barents, then with 296 migrants aboard its rescue ship, was awaiting permission in waters off Malta to disembark. Six migrants tested positive for COVID-19, but because of the crowded conditions aboard, it was difficult to keep them sufficiently distant from the others, Doctors Without Borders said.
In Sicily, a ship operated by the German charity Sea-Watch, with 406 rescued migrants aboard, was granted permission to enter port. But Sea-Watch said that a rescue vessel operated by a Spanish charity, with 105 migrants aboard, has been awaiting a port assignment to disembark them for four days.
While hundreds of thousands of migrants have departed in traffickers’ boats for European shores in recent years and set foot on Sicily or nearby Italian islands, many reach the Italian mainland.
Red Cross officials in Roccella Ionica, a town on the coast of the “toe” of the Italian peninsula said on Sunday that about 700 migrants, some of them from Afghanistan, reached the Calabrian coast in recent days on boats that apparently departed from Turkey.
Authorities said so far this year, about 3,400 migrants had reached Roccella Ionica, a town of 6,000 people, compared to 480 in all of 2019. The migrants who arrived in the last several days were being housed in tent shelters, RAI state television said.
Italy and Malta have come under criticism by human rights advocates for leaving migrants aboard crowded rescue boats before assigning them a safe port.
The Libyan coast guard, which has been trained and equipped by Italy, has also been criticized for rescuing migrants in Libyan waters and then returning them to land where the detention centers awaited them.
On Friday, Doctors Without Borders tweeted that crew aboard the Geo Barents had “witnessed an interception” by the Libyan coast guard and that the migrants “”will be forcibly taken to dangerous detention facilities and exposed to violence and exploitation.”
With rising popularity of right-wing, anti-migrant parties in Italy in recent years, the Italian government has been under increasing domestic political pressure to crack down on illegal immigration.
Italy and Malta have lobbied theirs European Union partner countries, mainly in vain, to take in some of those rescued at sea.