Last Sunday, Egypt’s military leader arrived in New York to participate in the week-long annual debate, alongside country leaders and member state representatives from over 190 countries in an attempt to legalize his shaken reign. This is the third time for Al-Sisi to participate in the debate since his presidency. Al-Sisi is seeking the support of foreign countries to stabilize his regime with economic and military support. Since the military coup backed all western countries, al-Sisi to maintain the country’s economic, social and even security stability. However, the country has fallen into a series of problems that threatens the country’s internal stability.
Al-Sisi’s Speech “Slogans far from Reality “
Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s speech at the United Nations general assembly was a general speech that covered topics on local issues as the economic conditions in Egypt, regional Arab issues and countering terrorism. However, the speech was full of slogans and general words than reality. The speech only carried several messages to foreign donors of the al-Sisi- whether Arab and Western- to renew and enhance their support to the regime. In addition, as expected al-Sisi spoke little on democracy and human rights as his regime launches a massive attack on human rights
- Egypt Vision 2030
Al-Sisi first started addressing local issues on the development plans and the Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030.
Al-Sisi is known for his misleading projects such as the “New Suez Canal” shunt. Many of al-Sisi promises have also proven hyperbolic.
According to al-Ahram, a state-run newspaper, Egypt’s Suez Canal revenues in dollars declined for consecutive months. The Suez Canal revenues recorded EGP 3.48 billion ($396.4 million) in March, based on official figures published by the Suez Canal Authority. In US dollars, the figure represents a 1.2 % decline compared to the $401.4 million in revenues posted for the previous month.
Egypt Vision 2030 mentioned at al-Sisi speech seems hyperbolic as the “New Suez Canal”. An unrealistic dream in a wrecked country seeking foreign loans from the World bank, European Investment Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Last month, Egypt’s finance minister said in a television interview that Egypt’s external debt would reach $53.4 billion if it received an international Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
The Egyptian economy has been suffering – facing one of the harshest downfalls in its history – from shortage of foreign currency due to the withdrawal of tourism and foreign investments which were among the main sources of foreign currency.
Moreover, the shortage of foreign currency has led to unprecedented risein the dollar exchange rate relative to the Egyptian currency. Net international reserves dropped to $15.5 billion in July, the lowest level in 16 months.
The Central bank of Egypt (CBE) has devalued the Egyptian pound last March with amid speculation of another devaluation in the coming period.
- Democratic Transition in Al-Sisi Speech
Al-Sisi spent too little time addressing the democratic transition in Egypt in his speech. This represents in fact al-Sisi’s mainstream regarding democracy and human rights as represented before to US congressional delegation in May 2016 when he said that the issue of human rights and freedoms in Egypt should not be approached from a “Western perspective” due to differences in challenges and domestic and regional conditions. Under the al-Sisi reign, thousands of people were jailed, mainly Islamists, but also leading secular and liberal activists behind January Revolution in 2011.
Rights groups say the current government led by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who was the Defense Minister who led Morsi’s overthrow, is even more repressive than Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
One day before al-Sisi’s arrival to New York, Egyptian court upheld a decision to freeze the assets of several prominent human rights campaigners. This is nearly the latest blow to human rights community that has been largely subjected to a massive crackdown by the Egyptian government since the military coup.
Almost 40,000 Egyptians have been arrested by the regime since the military coup for opposing the regime and their participation in protests. During the first days of the coup between July and August, more than 1,000 people were killed” when the new regime conducted clearing operations to remove Muslim Brotherhood protesters from sit-ins in Cairo.”
- Regional Issues
Regionally, al-Sisi tried in his speech to win the support of his Gulf petrodollars donors when he said that Egypt’s political and military support for Yemen and its Government had taken place at Yemen’s request, and stemmed from Egypt’s commitment to preserving Arab national security.
He also said that international leaders must exert the necessary efforts to resume the transitional peace process, in accordance with the Gulf Initiative and its mechanisms, as well as relevant Security Council resolutions.
This month, al-Sisi said during his meeting with Emirates’ Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed that, “If any Arab country was subjected to any aggression, Egypt won’t hesitate to present any kind of assistance.” Al-Sisi’s words were repeatedly stated throughout the past three years as the Gulf countries were among the major supporters of the military coup in Egypt.
Egypt eyes to secure a new deposit from Saudi Arabia worth $2-3 billion as part of about $6 billion in bilateral financing required to secure an IMF loan, the finance minister said in comments published by Al Borsa newspaper. The executive board of the IMF, the Washington-based lender, will not consider the loan, until Egypt secures up to $6 billion in commitments from bilateral creditors mainly Gulf friends as mentioned before by the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.
Regarding Libya, Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, said that Libya is currently suffering from a deep crisis. He added that the Political Agreement (PA), which was signed in Skhirat last year, is unsurpassed and Egypt “is making a significant effort to help Libya to end the crisis.”
He added, in his speech in front of the UN General Assembly, that Egypt keeps helping Libya in forming a unified government, which must be endorsed by the House of Representatives (HoR).
Al-Sisi called for lifting the arms embargo on Libya to strengthen the army to be able to fight the terrorism in Libya.
It is noteworthy that Al-Sisi supports one of the factions in Libya. He always declares his support to General Khalifa Haftar and Tobruk Government. Weeks ago, Haftar started extending his power in the east with the assistance of the Egyptian Armed Forces.
Egypt’s Armed Forces have been mandated to protect the joint borders from the sea to the Libyan-Sudanese borders.
Haftar requested the Egyptian army to protect Libyan/Egyptian borders from Imsaad, in the north, to the Libyan/Sudanese borders, as well as the maritime boundaries between both countries, “meaning that Haftar has granted Egypt unprecedented authority on Libyan territory.”
Moreover, the oil tankers transporting Libyan petrol from Haftar-controlled regions in the east will be under Egypt’s authority in practice, the oil tankers will only be able to carry the oil and export unless Cairo approves.
With the assistance of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Haftar succeeded in controlling the oil terminals eastern Libya. He was also promoted by Tobruk House of Representative (HoR) as Field Marshall after he controlled the Oil Crescent eastern Libya.
In addition, al-Sisi called on an immediate ceasefire and the eradication of all violence in Syria. He said, “This will pave the way for a political resolution that ensures the rights of Syrians and prevents the nation from sliding into more chaos. “Moreover, in front of the UN Security Council, al-Sisi stated that there is a necessity to work towards reaching a permanent cease-fire between the fighting parties in Syria, while praising the efforts of Moscow and Washington in attempting to resolve the five-year-old civil war.
Moreover, al-Sisi also issued the increasing plight of refugees fleeing destructive armed conflicts reaffirmed the need to work towards confronting the scourge of terrorism, in addition to creating channels for legal immigration. Al-Sisi said that Egypt contributes significantly to the responsibility of hosting refugees.
Al-Sisi then made a controversial claim that Egyptians enjoy quality education and suitable incomes, referring to the government’s subsidy network. The country, however, has been grappling with a hike in the US dollar exchange rate, affecting all sectors. On September, dozens of families protested against the shortage of subsidized baby formula.
According to Al-Sisi, there have also been awareness efforts for young people on the risks of illegal migration.“We agree there are risks associated with this. There is no way to end this except by uprooting its causes; and this will be by reaching political agreements, not by closing borders,” he said.
Recently, Egypt has become one of the dangerous spots used by migrants to sneak to European borders. Bigger boats are increasingly setting out from Egypt for sea voyages of up to 10 days toward Italy, as the EU, NATO and Turkish coast guard tighten controls in the Aegean Sea. The coastline near the port city of Alexandria is a preferred jumping off point.
- Praising “Wonderful “Peace with Israel”
Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi renewed his promise to fulfill warm peace to Israel if the Palestinian Israeli conflict was resolved. Al-Sisi described the Israel-Egypt model as “a real opportunity to write a bright page in the history of our region to move towards peace.” He told delegates he was departing from the written text of his speech to make an appeal that will bring “prosperity and peace to both the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
He also stressed that Egypt is committed to getting the peace process going in different parts of the region, specifically between Israel and the Palestinians.
Moreover, al-Sisi urged Israel and the Palestinians to look to the “wonderful” example set by his country and the Zionist entity and agree on a solution that lets them exist in peace as two neighboring states.
Since the military coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against the first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, the relation between the al-Sisi regime and Israel has developed on the security and intelligence levels in Sinai Peninsula.
Moreover, al-Sisi regime is working on enhancing intimate diplomatic relation to open the way for full normalization. In his latest speech during the official inauguration of the Asyut power plant, al-Sisi promised Israel “warmer” peace adding that Egypt is ready to mediate to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The latest visit by Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry to Israel, which was the first state visit for an Egyptian foreign minister in nine years, yet it looked like the meeting of old friends and partners. They watched football together, exaggeratedly exchanged pleasantries, and met in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.
Al-Sisi Meeting US Presidential Candidates
On the sidelines of his participation in the 71st debate of the UN general assembly, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met with the two United States presidential candidates, Donald Trump from the Republican party and Hillary Clinton from the Democratic party.
During his meeting with Trump, Al-Sisi discussed bilateral relations between Egypt and the US in political, military, and economic fields.
Trump recognized Egypt’s efforts in countering terrorism and extended the partnership between both countries for several decades. If elected, Trump vowed that he will be a “strong ally” that Egypt can rely on for the next few years, saying that Egypt and the US both face a common threat. Trump praised Al-Sisi’s close ties with Israel on countering terrorism as well.
Meanwhile, in his meeting with Clinton, Al-Sisi discussed historic and strategic relations between Egypt and the US and potential ways to collaborate in order to serve the interests of both nations, and maintain peace and security in the Middle East.
Unlike Al-Sisi’s meeting with Trump, Clinton highlighted the deterioration of the human rights situation in Egypt. She called on Al-Sisi to release US citizen Aya Hegazy, who has been detained in Egypt for over two years on charges of inciting protests through a foundation that supports street children. Clinton also shed light on Egypt’s policy that harasses activists and human rights organizations.
Besides also discussing the importance of enhancing bilateral ties with Egypt, Clinton said that it’s rather important for Egypt to cooperate with Israel in combating terrorism.
Clinton further added that the rule of law and respect for human rights is important for Egypt’s “future progress”. In December 2015, when Clinton was debating with former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, she called the Egyptian government “basically an army dictatorship”.
Al-Sisi Bilateral Meetings
- Presidents and leaders
Al-Sisi held several bilateral meetings with his counterparts and other officials. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Al-Sisi’s efforts in achieving stability in Egypt. Ban also praised Egypt’s efforts to reach a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the turmoil in Libya. Al-Sisi also met the French President Francois Hollande where they issued regional issues in Libya , Syria and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Al-Sisi issued also with the French President the recent investigations related to the Egyptian Air Flight MS804, an Airbus A320, plunged into the eastern Mediterranean en route from Paris to Cairo on May 19.
Moreover, Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi said during his bilateral meeting with Al-Sisi that he appreciates Egypt’s stance in supporting the legitimate government in Yemen. The meeting tackled possible solutions to settle the dispute in Yemen. He also held another meeting with the Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern and another with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to discuss means of enhancing of bilateral relations.
In his meeting with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, Al-Sisi emphasized the importance of strong ties with the European Union, not only because it was Egypt’s first partner in trade, but also because of its important role in the international arena. Tusk said that the EU supports Egypt’s social and economic reform plan. Both Al-Sisi and Tusk agreed on the importance of reaching political solutions to the turmoil that has been ongoing in several Arab countries. Al-Sisi pointed out that Egypt receives a huge number of immigrants and they merge into Egyptian society without being separated in shelters or refugee camps.
- Meeting Congressional Delegations
Al-Sisi met the Republican congressman -Dana Rohrabacher and the head of American Friends Service Committee-French Hill-the member of the Financial services in the Congress where they issued several ways to enhance the bilateral relations between both countries. Both congress members ensure their support to Egypt in its” War on Terrorism “and Egypt’s developmental projects.
- Attending meeting with American National Security Council
Al-Sisi held a meeting with the American national security council which is a nongovernmental organization that includes representatives that brings together researchers on issues related to security, politics, and national security. During the meeting, Al-Sisi reviewed Egypt’s developments over the past few years with the council, as well as the progress of the political roadmap which culminated with the parliamentary elections. Al-Sisi said that the Egyptian government’s efforts over the past two years contributed in retaining the peace and stability to Egypt, despite regional unrest. He further highlighted that there should not exceptions for any terrorist organizations, but rather a comprehensive strategy in combating terrorism. Al-Sisi also showcased national projects undertaken by the government, including the Suez Canal Area Development Project and economic reforms. The meeting additionally tackled the religious discourse regulation plans and intended educational reforms, as well as some regional issues, including Egypt’s mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Al-Sisi also met with several current and former military officials in the US, Al-Sisi put an emphasis on the importance of fostering ties between Egypt and the US in order for national security in both countries.
- Al-Sisi Media Interviews
During his visit to New York, Al-Sisi did several interviews with CNN, PBS and the Washington post. There were several issues highlighted by al-Sisi that infers his political stance toward different issues.
In his interview with the CNN, Al-Sisi said that Donald Trump would “no doubt” make a strong leader and he said that candidates during elections can say statements but it will change later after winning elections!
The comments come as part of a sit-down interview with Erin Burnett, during which al-Sisi seemed to downplay a ban on Muslims entering the United States that, at times, served as a centerpiece to the Republican presidential nominee’s political rise.
Al-Sisi noted that “During election campaigns, many statements are made and many things are said.” “However, afterward governing the country would be something different.”
To this end, Burnett inquired as to whether Trump’s oft-outrageous rhetoric should be seen as simply a stump talking point.
“It sounds like you think Donald Trump is saying what he needs to say to be elected, but that he might not follow through with the plan,” said CNN.
In response, al-Sisi, noting the difference between a nominee and, ultimately, a president.
“During election campaigns, there is a perception based on a certain vision and a point of view,” he said. “Then that vision or point of view gets corrected and develops as a result of experience, reports and advice from experts.”
Sarcastically, this is al-Sisi political view on elections. Candidates just made promises and then it would be changed later by experts and experience. “Aren’t there a studied program by experts represented by each candidate before addressing the public opinion?” However, this infers the military leader view on elections, promises and electoral programs.
Moreover, during Burnett’s conversation with al-Sisi, she inquired as to his feelings on Trump’s opponent.
“Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president,” she asked, referencing a woman that el-Sisi has met with on multiple occasions.
“Political parties in the United States would not allow candidates to reach that level unless they are qualified to lead a country the size of the United States of America,” he said of the former secretary of state.
In the past, Clinton has referred to Egypt as “basically an army dictatorship,” comments Burnett asked the nation’s current president to respond to.
“In Egypt, there will not be a chance for any dictatorship because in Egypt there is a Constitution,” al-Sisi said. “There is law, and there the will of the people which will refuse to allow any leader to stay in his position for any period longer than his term, which is four years.
Al-Sisi also made an interview with journalist Charlie Rose on the US-based PBS TV channel, stressing that “there can be no return to dictatorship” in Egypt. He said that Egypt’s new constitution does not allow the president to even stay an extra day after the end of his term. He added, When the presidential elections are held by mid-2018, the president will be either re-elected or the people will elect a new one, which in itself is a big change in Egypt’s political arena, he told Charlie Rose.
Al-Sisi also talked about security adding t that the Egyptian government is trying to achieve security and stability as there is “a faction” in Egypt that routinely resorts to violence against the state and the Egyptian people.
Al-Sisi said that Egypt’s parliament is currently discussing a law regulating NGOs, adding that there are 4,000 such organizations in the country that are providing valuable services to society.
He said, “There is a misunderstanding regarding this case [NGOs] which is giving a negative impression about Egypt,” he said, adding that “friends understand each other, especially at a time when radical groups are working to destabilize the region.”
In addition, al-Sisi made an interview with Washington Post columnist Davis Ignatius. Al-Sisi tackled also domestic and regional issues.
Media Responses to Al-Sisi’s Visit and Statements
Washington Post said that authorities in Egypt are pulling out all the stops to ensure that al-Sisi’s visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly is a diplomatic success despite growing criticism of the country’s human rights record under his rule. In its article titled: “Egypt looks to burnish image with al-Sisi’s UN Visit,”it cited Egypt’s Parliamentarian Nashwa el-Deeb words saying that she and others would be meeting with U.S. officials and congressmen to redress the “wrong perceptions and positions” about Egypt. Another lawmaker, Tareq Radwan, said they would support the president as a “symbol of Egypt.” The WP inferred that al-Sisi seeks to polish his regime as western nations and rights groups have strongly criticized Egypt’s human rights record in the three years since the military coup.
In another article by the the Washington Post, highlighted that it wasn’t surprising that Donald Trump, who spent the past year and a half lionizing al-Sisi, would express his support to al-Sisi as he did in their meeting. But what seems surprising to the WP was that during his final address at the General Assembly US President Obama offered a defense of the liberal world order, spoke out against demagogues and for “human rights and civil society, and independent judiciaries and the rule of law”, however “all things that seem to be under threat in Egypt right now,” said the WP. “There appears to be growing contest between authoritarianism and liberalism right now,” Obama said. “And I want everybody to understand, I am not neutral in that contest.” It’s not quite clear, though, whether Trump would be on his side said the WP.
In addition, Foreign Policy In Focus criticized the current US administration in its support to Egypt’s authoritarian regime during al-Sisi’s visit to New York. It said,”In general, human rights and good governance in Egypt take a back seat in Washington to counter-terrorism, safe passage through the Suez Canal, and peace with Israel. ” It added that the most that can be hoped for in the next administration is the mitigation of the continuing oppressive authoritarianism of al-Sisi, which will, if unabated, lead to increased violence and religious terrorism in the country and potentially beyond.
In the same context, Human Rights Watch said that ,”UN Human Rights Council and member states should condemn the current crackdown on civil society members and demand concrete measures to improve respect for human rights, including the withdrawal of the current draft law on associations.”
According to Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “Egypt, as a state party, to ensure freedom of association and remove any unlawful restrictions.” In addition, Human Rights Council resolution 22/6 on protecting human rights defenders calls upon states to ensure “that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defense of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto.”
Lama Fakih -deputy Middle East and North Africa director said, “Egypt’s international partners and should speak up now to prevent the disappearance of independent human rights groups,” she added, “Members of the UN Human Rights Council should live up to their commitment to defend human rights defenders by demanding reforms from President al-Sisi and the Egyptian government.”
In the same path, a small group of scholars and activists with a focus on Egypt, including some who identify as conservatives, released a letter they had written to both presidential candidates urging them not to meet with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The authors pointed to the thousands of people killed and imprisoned under Sisi’s harsh rule, as reported by Politico.
The letter reads, “Since taking power via a military coup three years ago, President Sisi has overseen not only the complete reversal of Egypt’s nascent democratic transition but also unprecedented human rights abuses.” It adds, “It is not in our interest to embrace him but to use our influence to press for beneficial change in Egypt.”
The letter further states, “Your meeting with Sisi at the UNGA will be taken in Egypt, and around the world, as an endorsement. To meet with him is a policy decision, which should await a later date after much study and assessment of U.S. policy toward Egypt. Therefore, we strongly urge you to readjust your schedule.”
The signatories included:” Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution; Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations; Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Neil Hicks of Human Rights First; and Stephen McInerny of Project on Middle East Democracy.”
The letter writers are part of a non-partisan working group on Egypt that has been meeting since 2010.
Their criticism follows that of others including Human Right Watch’s executive director Ken Roth, who wrote on Twitter: “Why does Hillary again want to meet Sisi? He directed 817+ killed in 12 hours in Rabaa Sq” — a reference to a massacre in a Cairo square under Sisi’s watch in 2013.
Throughout the three years, Al-Sisi didint present anyachievement,however his country has been suffering economic and political instability. Al-Sisi’s main aim by this visit to renew the western countries support to his regime and polish the regime’s bloody records . In the end, al-Sisi’s visit was hunted by his massacres and human rights violations in the western media which questioned their leaders on their ongoing support to al-Sisi regime.