President El-Sisi is a man with numerous problems and few solutions. He is clinging to the military dominated economy that has been one of the major sources of those insolvable problems.
A very interesting question is why President El-Sisi disclosed at the time that he announced his candidacy for president to a journalist the vision revealed in dreams over thirty-five years. He saw himself bearing a sword as he governed the ancient land. Does it mean that having been chosen by some divine power that he has earned his place through a force more important than the voters?
When he declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization that was final. Hundreds have been sentenced to death and thousands of others killed in the streets or imprisoned under the harshest conditions. As he assumed the presidency on July 5th, he said, "Defeating terrorism and achieving security is the top priority in our coming phase.
The president can do all of these things, because he has a “Mandate from heaven” and has fashioned an enemy that a large portion of the population can also hate.
He had been convinced by the crowds cheering him in the squares and the presence of his image on walls and cupcakes that he was the man of the people. When less than half of voters came to approve of him and a large portion of that number were bribed or driven under pressure to vote, the reality that El-Sisi is for many just another dictator changed Egypt from a land of hope to a place of more hardship. Some that supported the revolution that removed Mubarak and some who supported the coup that brought down Morsi say that El-Sisi’s days are numbered, unless he can deliver on his pledges to improve the economy.
He has begun to reduce the food and fuel subsidies that have been consuming thirty percent of the national budget and making difficult any state investments in vital areas of the economy. Electricity is sold for half its cost and the price is expected to double over the coming five years.
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When Anwar Sadat attempted similar reforms in 1977, Bread Riots forced him to reverse the policy. Forty percent of the 84 million people of Egypt are living below the poverty level and dependent for their survival upon the subsidies. So far, El-Sisi has not experience widespread public protests, which may very well be a result of his reputation as a willing user of military force. He simply labels the opposition terrorist and applies whatever force is necessary to destroy it.
He has introduced his version of reforms in other areas of the economy. State enterprises and agencies have had military officers appointed to supervise their operation. The military has become a ubiquitous body with responsibilities to overseeing everything. What has not changed is the military control of vast areas of the economy and their privileges. Indeed, that has become even more entrenched, as Egypt sinks deeper into the status of a military state.
El-Sisi can take comfort in knowing that his actions are approved by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as well as the United States that has resumed all foreign aid. Israel will in a couple of years begin supplying a reliable source of natural gas.
What El-Sisi realizes is what many Egyptians believe. Egypt is too vital to too many other countries to be allowed to fail. Control over an essential waterway and the presence of 84 million people in a geographically strategic region is enough to keep Israelis, Saudis, and Americans alert to the direction of events in the society on the banks of the Nile. The other governments have a choice between a functioning society or chaos on a grand scale.
Two thirds of the population is under thirty-five, and not much is happening to provide employment for them. They are a limitless supply of angry young men to fill the ranks of any number of Islamic movements; and El-Sisi’s practice of branding any opposition terrorist leaves violence the only course for the opposition.
While the military focuses upon the insurgency in the Sinai, the real fear in Cairo is that the sixteen million people in the 1221 slums across the country might rise in force. Forty percent of Cairo residents live in the slums from where the Muslim Brotherhood draws much of its support.
In recognition of the danger, On November 5th, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi launched the slums’ development campaign, entitled “You Can do it.”
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No improvements have appeared. Accustomed to the indifference of the government towards them, the people of the slums have remained quiet. That could change at any time.
Groups in the Sinai and movements within the slums are claiming to be linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that has conquered large areas of
Syria and Iraq. A flow of weapons from Libya into Sinai and the urban centers is providing the means to arm the people to rise against the military government.
El-Sisi says that the Muslim Brotherhood is organizing an army in Libya to invade Egypt and has expressed his willingness to strike first into the Eastern region of Libya to destroy the insurgency. While doing so, he also just might secure the oil fields that would enable production and shipments to resume.
He is attempting to recruit the United States, France, and the Gulf States in aiding in removing the Libyan branch of the Brotherhood before it takes power. He suggests that the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia could finance such an operation.
The French were among the first to support the overthrow of Kaddafi and they have forces based in countries near the Libyan frontier. The move of U.S. Special Forces from Spain to Sicily and the evacuation of American diplomats from the country is thought by some to be an indication that Washington might support El-Sisi’s plan.
The future in the region is as clear as a sand storm. Perhaps, El-Sisi could convince the divine force that directed him to the heights of power in Cairo to provide a few divine solutions.
By Felix Imonti for Oilprice.com