Political changes are taking place in Egypt. President Abdel Fattah al Sisi announced his decision to end the state of emergency, signaling a possible future of political openness and redemocratization. Far beyond a mere change in the structure of the government, ending the state of emergency signifies a consolidation of power by al Sisi. As a result, Egypt appears to be growing stronger in its project to become a regional power with great capacity to influence North Africa.
This Monday, Albel Fatah al Sisi announced that he will not prolong the country’s state of emergency, officially imposed during the past four years. In 2017, after a series of attacks carried out by terrorist groups against the Christian minority of the Egyptian population, al Sisi had declared a state of emergency, which allowed him to implement several exceptional measures to combat illegal groups operating in the country. Now, with the situation reasonably stabilized, there is no longer any need to maintain such measures.
Emphasizing popular participation in the process of combating terrorism, in his speech, al Sisi stated: “Egypt has become, thanks to its great people and loyal men, an oasis for security and stability in the region (…) So, I have decided for the first time in years not to extend the state of emergency nationwide.” More than mere words to the population, the speech serves as an international propaganda of political unity, exporting an image of popular acceptance for al Sisi and efficiency for the country’s security system.
Some international analysts are linking what happened in Egypt this week to a recent leak in the US government regarding annual aid sent to the African country. Cairo and Washington maintain a military cooperation agreement that provides for the transfer of a billion-dollar amount annually by the US for investment in the defense industry in Egypt. In September, the American media released (citing anonymous sources in the US government) a plan to retain a portion of the amount this year. 10% of the sum (about 130 million dollars) would be refused as a way to punish Cairo for the constant reports of human rights violations (many of which were made precisely during the campaign against terrorism implemented with the state of emergency). However, this argument does not seem strong enough to understand al Sisi’s measure.
In fact, despite American pressure on human rights, possible retention is still a mere possibility. The information has only anonymous sources and was not later confirmed by either government. In the same sense, changing the structure of the government to avoid a withholding of only 10% of the annual amount appears to be a measure disproportionate to the severity of the sanction. Also, it is necessary to remember that such a change would hardly imply the cancellation of the sanction, considering that human rights seem to be a very weak justification for the American attitude. There have been allegations of human rights violations in Egypt for decades and both countries have always maintained military ties, with Cairo serving as a mediation point between Israel and Arab nations. It does not seem reasonable that Washington wants to change this situation just now. On the other hand, it is important to note that Egypt has progressively approached Russia in military cooperation, having carried out joint drills in recent months and with both governments signing a bilateral security protocol. So, there are good reasons to believe that the American sanction is, in fact, a punishment against Egypt’s rapprochement with Russia, without any real relation to the domestic policy of combating terrorism.
With that, what seems most reasonable is that al Sisi is in fact seeking a consolidation of power. A state of emergency is an exceptional measure, which gives the government dictatorial powers for a limited period of time in order to facilitate decision-making in a moment of instability. It is a legal mechanism that empowers the executive branch to violate the law itself in the name of order and security. This measure, if prolonged, generates legal uncertainty and popular dissatisfaction, in addition to strong international condemnation. The ideal for any government is that the state of emergency be brief and that it serves to solve the country’s problems in a short period of time, with the constitutional order being restored as quickly as possible.
The situation in Egypt had been serious for a long time. Four years of a state of emergency is very undesirable and it would certainly have negative consequences if continued to be prolonged. There was a precise political calculation on the part of al Sisi. The president has realized that terrorism is under control (although the situation is still a long way from the “oasis” that his propaganda wants to make it look like) and that his political opponents do not have power enough to overthrow him at the moment. The country is reasonably stable. There is no risk of civil war or coup d’état, so democracy should be fully restored. This pleases the people and the world and ensures a positive image for the government.
So, the end of the state of emergency actually appears to be a victory for the Egyptian government and not the result of international pressure. And this is a fundamental step for Cairo to advance in its project of becoming a power with regional hegemonic status in North Africa, considering its image before the UN as the only democracy in the region.