A week is a long time in politics, an old saying that seems to resemble Egypt’s ever changing political spectrum. A week from the Saudi King Salman visit to Egypt, even the most irrational opposition of Egyptian President Al Sisi found it hard to present a convincing argument against the man continuous efforts to revive the country’s economy as well as protect it. Al Sisi for the first time since he was sworn as President in June 2014 , find himself in a defensive position to explain the reasons behind the results of the Egyptian Saudi marine borders negotiations and the secrecy behind conducting them.
The secret negotiations have resulted to the acknowledgment of the Egyptian Government that both the Egyptian controlled strategic Red Sea islands of Sanafeer and Tiran are Saudi territories. The acknowledgment came as a shock even to the most ardent supporters Most Egyptians including the president’s hardliner supporters found themselves bedazzled about the reason and timing of the declaration were stuck between a rock and hard place. They didn’t anticipate that such delicate matters of sovereignty would be discussed behind doors and only would be announced through Saudi media.
Egypt fought 4 wars with Israel last of which was in 1973 followed by a historical peace treaty in 1979, in which it rendered both Islands as demilitarized zones. According to the official Egyptian story, the Saudis demanded that the Egyptian navy would protect these 2 Islands from any Israeli attacks since 1949. In 1967 the 2 Islands has fallen into Israeli hands. After 1973 war victory which paved the way to 1979 Peace Treaty, Egypt and Israel has agreed to keep the Islands as demilitarized which ensures the safe passage of all vessels from gulf of Aqaba to the red sea and vice versa.
During the 5 day official visit by King Salman , Al Sisi crossed the line many times from being a receptive and generous host to taking a backseat and letting the Saudi monarch run the show during his visit. The exaggerated and legendary reception of the Saudi King was unmatched as a reception in comparison to any other reception for a head of state during Egypt’s recent memory. The same cannot be said about the reception of President Al Sisi during his several visits to Saudi Arabia. Yet, despite the President visits did not carry the formal nature that the Saudi Arabian King had but still none of them had the President received such a legendary reception in Saudi Arabia.
The Bridge to nowhere?
The Egyptian president has scored major successes in certain projects and initiatives examples being the Suez Canal mega project inaugurated in a record 1 year. Major achievements in the energy sector along with transportation, housing and land reclamation projects have been accomplished in record time thanks to the hands on policies of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi who always mentioned that Egypt cannot just move steadily to development but has to take long leaps to catch up with world progress.
At the same time, Many Egyptians feel obliged and very grateful to the Late Saudi King Abdulallah and reigning King Salman for the amount of financial and political support after June 2013, but as there is no such thing as a free lunch, certain concessions have been made to the Saudis have been made. These concessions were shown in foreign policies were Egypt have been adopting all Saudi policies regionally and internationally in the past few years.
The most famous of the future projects between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is a bridge connecting the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt with Saudi Arabia crossing through the Gulf of Aqaba. The two Islands of Sanafeer and Tiran are expected to hold the concrete basis of the gigantic bridge, which will be the longest and biggest in the world. The Bridge was called “King Salaman Bridge” by the Egyptian President as a gesture of gratitude towards the Saudi king.
This bridge is plagued by multiple controversies including its environmental, economical and even security impacts. Many environmentalists are wary about the construction of the bridge which will destroy the rich marine life and coral reefs situated on the coasts of South Sinai which are considered to be among the finest wonders of marine life worldwide. Tourist experts are wary about the economic impacts of this bridge despite the promised increase in trade between the two countries. The reason for that, the area is considered the biggest tourist attraction for surfers and tourists who enjoy the marine life and beauty provided by this natural wonder. The security concerns for the bridge are also numerous since the bridge will be considered as a big open target for terrorists and will require incredible efforts to secure it by the Egyptian and Saudi authorities. It is noteworthy to mention that the above-mentioned concerns are among the reasons that former President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly refused the construction of that bridge during his presidency. However, it seems that President Al Sisi is completely convinced about the purpose of its construction.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions:
The early successes of his reign made Al Sisi grew overly confident that his decisions will be widely met with acceptance regardless of what they are. Indeed, he did manage success to take harsh economic measurements that former presidents of Egypt never dared to take to avoid an outcry from the public. These early successes have to led the president as of the past few months to start creating layers of “Yes Men” surrounding him and approving every decision he takes.
Despite attempting to reach out to all sectors of Egyptian society, Al Sisi overconfidence has led him to believe that his vision is the only viable one for Egypt’s progress. It is commendable to have a President with a great vision and the confidence to apply it but Al Sisi usually fails to choose his aides and advisors carefully to apply these visions on the ground. The results are usually mixed packages of successes and failures especially in the economic agendas.
Moreover, President Al Sisi recent interviews and public speeches has displayed his nervousness in tackling many issues and usually citing what he labels “Evil People“, Conspiracy and 4th Generation wars as being some of the reasons in hindering development in Egypt . While he is truthful about the terrorists’ plots and activities orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, he never mentioned for once who are exactly these “Evil People” and which countries are conspiring against Egypt and how Egypt will tackle them. Instead the president remains cryptic about such details which are crucial to prepare the Egyptian public for the challenges ahead and how to address them.
Instead, Al Sisi continues to burn bridges with the Egyptian nation while feeling he is doing the exact opposite. He thinks that best intentions are good enough to cover his tracks or convince people he is always making the correct decision based on the trust they have in him. It is normal for any leader taking a political decision to believe it is the correct one and from there stems all the problems. Even in traditional democracies like the United States and United Kingdom, the temptation for the President or Prime Minister to take unilateral decisions or shocking ones are always there. Accordingly, in growing democracies such as Egypt, the temptation is even stronger especially with a longer heritage of undemocratic practices. Therefore, in controversial cases such as the marine border agreement, openness with the public is strongly advised to garner support instead of shocking the public with surprising resolutions.
The Egyptian media mostly sought after supporting Al Sisi and defending his surprise decision more than they cared about the Egyptian soil or the Islands. To the extent that for weeks after the announcement they kept publishing articles and presumed historical documents proving that these Islands are Saudi and not Egyptian. Actually if any neutral reader who would read these published material without the knowledge of the nationality of the Newspapers or periodical , the reader would certainly assert that these publications are Saudi and not Egyptian.
The fact that the Islands are originally Saudi as many documents prove or Egyptian as many other documents does is not the only issue here, it is the media rally to support a decision by the president regardless of how it is made and its controversy with blind trust that comprises the main issue.
A few independent publications such as Al Maqal and Al Badeel newspapers along with fewer TV anchors such as prominent Journalist/Anchor Ibrahim Eissa and TV Anchor Youssef Al Hosiny criticized the decision publicly and demanded that such critical border and sovereign issues should be discussed in public and a national poll should take place to vote for its approval according to the constitution. Also, Political expert and former Military officer and current Parliament member Dr. Samir Ghattas has argued ferociously that the Islands are 100% Egyptian and was shunned by media and even was escorted out of the Parliament by the head of the parliament for discussing the matter in the parliament. Then he was sent to a ethics committee when he protested the Speaker of the Parliament harsh criticism against the freedom of Egyptian media.
Surprisingly, Both TV anchors, political expert and newspapers along with others that carried the same opposition opinion have suffered a barrage of criticism from Egyptian media in general despite arguing that the Islands are Egyptian originally and even if they are not a National Poll should take place to respect the terms of the constitution. It was a bizarre atmosphere where those in favor of the Islands being Saudis are labeled to be the patriotic and caring Egyptians and those in favour of them being Egyptians have been labeled as foreign agents and anarchists.
It goes without saying that the abysmal performance of the Egyptian cabinet and Al Sisi administration during the crisis have fueled the controversy and allowed real anarchists like Extreme leftists groups such April 6th and the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood to surface again and falsely claim to be patriotic despite they as well their allies were the cause of most of the violence and terrorism Egypt suffered from since 2011.
Al Sisi reaction to criticism:
“If you can keep your head when all about you , are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too. “ If- Rudyard Kipling
Instead of delivering a historical speech to end all speeches in order explain to the Egyptian nation the reasons behind the secret negotiation and handing over the two Islands, the Egyptian President took a defensive stance against the opposition’s voices which he eventually turned into a counteroffensive one as his weakly prepared improvised speech went on.
The President mentioned the great stress and dangers that surrounds Egypt from all sides and that his decision to hide the negotiation with the Saudis in order not to pressure the Egyptian Negotiators. One couldn’t imagine what sort of pressure negotiators from Egypt would have while negotiating with Saudis since there is no ongoing war with Saudi Arabai or any major stressful political situation that may invoke pressures from the Egyptian public during a negotiation. However, it seems that deep inside the Egyptian President realized very well that Egyptians loathe the entire concept of giving up the two Islands to the Saudis generally regardless of the cause or benefits incurred by such deal.
Moreover, None in Egypt knew that the two Red Sea Islands were up for negotiations. So claiming that the reason for their secrecy is to prevent any pressure over the Egyptian negotiators is one of Al Sisi strangest statements thus far. Despite that and without any pressure the Egyptian negotiators conceded that the two Islands are Saudis. In such case, the pressure from the Egyptian public would have been a positive factor on the negotiator since the public opinion in a free society such as Egypt would have helped the negotiator to acquire the best terms from the Saudis who would have risked the anger of the average Egyptian and a strained relation with the Egyptian people.
The result of the negotiations is that the Egyptian negotiators failed miserably in their job since the result was accepting the sovereignty of the Saudis over the two Egyptian Islands.
During his meeting with Egyptian political and media figures for which was labeled “The Egyptian Family” meeting, Al Sisi attempted to pin this entire affair on former President Mubarak by mentioning that the decision to accept the Saudi sovereignty dated back to a 1990 presidential decree. What Al Sisi failed to explain is why did Mubarak who ruled for another 21 years after 1990 didn’t execute that decision and hand over the Islands to the Saudis despite having a great relation with them.
Also, the President didn’t explain why he accepted handing these Islands in the manner that appeared demeaning during the presence of the Saudi monarch in Egypt who was providing Egypt with a new Economic package that included investments and loans. He also at the height of his anger disallowed any counter views from the attendees.
The end result the Saudis appeared as if that they bought the Islands back from the Egyptian and that Egyptians are willing to sell their own home soil which is a fallacy of course. But What is unfathomable that Al Sisi still fails to understand the anger and frustration of a huge sector of Egyptians as a result of this marine border agreement?
Al Sisi signed over a dozen agreements and many cooperation protocols that some believe are estimated to reach 25 Billion USD during the Saudi King visit in April 2016 and including the agreement to construct a bridge that connects both countries. Nevertheless, the media and many Egyptians didn’t bother about these significant investments and economic deals with the package and only focused on the most important agreement for them which was the marine borders. The significance of this is astounding and represents a growing rift that Al Sisi may have developed between him and a sector of once supportive extremely Egyptian public who felt that the president that they entrusted doesn’t trust or respect them well enough to reveal the entire truth to them.
Many in Egypt cannot understand why the president seems so surprised at the reaction of many Egyptians towards the result of the border deal. Al Sisi as a former head of Egyptian Military Intelligence should have anticipated at least an uproar against such a hasty move to hand over the Islands. Yet, it seems that the stress he has been facing lately and the layers of out of touch aides he has been surrounding himself lately with has created a barrier between him and the real feelings of many Egyptians. It goes without saying that the President’s popularity is still soaring high but it is not the same as it was for example in 2014 when he was elected. A simple test of that could be call for donation that was labelled “Say Good morning to Egypt” or “Sabbah ala Misr” through which was met with very little success in comparison to his call for donations to dig a parallel Suez canal in 2014 which garnered over 8 billion USD in just one week. The same president and a nearly similar call yielding completely different results.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to accept, to recognize one’s own mistakes, but one must do it. I was guilty of overconfidence and arrogance, and I was punished for that.” Former President of the Soviet union Mikhail Gorbachev
A similar warning could be addressed to Al Sisi as he nosedives into an abyss that has ruined most Egyptian rulers in Egypt’s long history and particularly post 1952. Al Sisi may have the combined the popularity of both late president Nasser and Sadat but unfortunately he totally blundered when addressing a sensitive issue such as borders and land of Egypt and its neighbours. Former President Mubarak has gone through a 6 year dispute with Israel that ended in international arbitration over the 1 Square Km of Tabba. Accordingly, Al Sisi expectations that the Egyptians will easily swallow up the handing over of approx 103 Square Km of Islands to Saudis is completely miscalculated.
The surreal atmosphere that was propagated by Egyptian Media that the real patriotic action is to give up the two Islands for the Saudis or risk some internal disputes and affairs was too much for any logical human being to fathom. The questions were what internal disputes or unity has to do with conceding two Islands for the Saudis? Also, why it is very patriotic to give up the Islands without discussions with the political leadership and the Egyptian public in general and more importantly? Why the same leadership have kept 10 months long negotiations as a secret?
Throughout the entire crisis, the president seems to be hiding more information than he cares to divulge from public opinion. This assumption is supported by the fact the news that were published in Saudi publications and news networks during King Salman visit to Egypt.
Al Sisi hardliner supporters rallied to defend to the President’s decision and marine border agreement mercilessly and many whether on Egyptian media or social media have attempted to discredit and demean any opposing view.
On the other hand, the disappointment and anger against Al Sisi handing of the negotiations is warranted but it cannot be allowed to spin out of control because it is exactly what terrorists groups such as Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist/ anarchist allies are hoping for. It will be the worst mistake for opposition of this decision and marine borders negotiations to allow them to be manipulated by such groups.
Nevertheless, the opposition of the decision should use their constitutional rights within the parliament to disapprove the decision or at least demand the necessary evidence from the Parliament to prove that the islands are truly Saudi and thus warrants handing them over to the Saudi administration. The reason is most of the documents provided to the public about the ownership along with the long history of the Islands as well as common sense indicate that these strategic Islands can hardly be Saudi.
Moreover, equating the President with the country is nothing new in Egypt, ever since 1952 the media always equated the leader with the nation which is one of the worst fallacies that they ever fostered and became a norm in the Egyptian political and media spectrum through the years. The media and political used to equate Nasser, Sadat , Mubarak with Egypt which usually spins out of control to the extent of creating idols who are all extremely patriotic without a doubt but had their drawbacks and great faults that affected Egypt’s history.
Al Sisi now seems to more comfortable to listen to the same types of hypocrites who sent Mubarak to his demise such as Mostafa Bakry and an assortment of media vultures who aligned themselves for the past 3 decades with whoever is residing in the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace. Al Sisi may need to reconsider his method of addressing the nation because what worked in 2013-2015 may not work in 2016 and onward. The Egyptian nation has suffered for decades from being kept out of the loop in matters that concerns the nation’s fate. The Egyptians who are the world’s oldest nation cannot be kept away from what’s cooking in the political kitchen as they are not toddlers.
Furthermore, The president is urged to abide with the constitution and cease using rhetoric and statements that include that “God is watching me and he will judge me” which he repeats on several occasions during public speeches when addressing some criticisms directed towards him. As much as it is appealing for some Egyptians to have a president who is God-fearing and pious, God’s judgment of Al Sisi or any other politician is none of the concern of any Egyptian citizen since matters of the afterlife have no real weight or place in political feuds.
Therefore, President Al Sisi is urged to provide a form of apology to the Egyptian public on how he mishandled this entire Red Sea Islands issues with the Saudis which resulted in an unnecessary public controversy and allowed the Muslims brotherhood terrorist leaders to rise again and claim fake patriotism along with their allies from leftist anarchist misfits.
Without a doubt Al Sisi lack of proper public relations and political sense opened the door for such nonsense. He maybe a fine visionary leader in many aspects but his choices for aides and assistants are appalling to say the least. President Al Sisi is in desperate need for a high profile political and economic team to match his high profile economic and political vision and ambitions. He resembles a great football coach who instead of leading an A class team is left to train some school boys and expected to achieve great trophies which is literally impossible.
It is not enough that the president would say that I stood against dangers with an open chest and then refuses to discuss the matter of the Egyptian Islands ever again. The Egyptian soil is not for any president to tamper with regardless of the reasons. If these Islands status were in negotiations for over 10 months before they were declared Saudis , then the Egyptian public had to be notified that these negotiations are taking place and for what reason.
A total political and public relations blunder has marred the sincere efforts of the President to alleviate the Egyptian economy by forging more deals and agreements with neighbouring countries. The only logical move now for the President is to ask the Egyptian parliament not only to vote for approving or disapproving the marine borders agreement but also to abide with the constitution and call for a public poll on whether Egyptians accept this treaty or not.
The limited protest of April 25th delivers a message to many including the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood group and their anarchist allies that the majority of Egyptian are not interested in any change of leadership in the foreseeable future. The price paid by Egyptians going through two grueling revolutions of 2011 and 2013 is still lingering in the minds of the average Egyptians who are seeking some stability and progress. While it is quite understandable to protest against the marine borders deal , it is unfathomable that with every demand the same anarchist groups with their Islamist/Terrorist allies demand the fall of the entire regime including the army, police, judiciary system. These were the demands of most of the protest of April 25th which displays a great degree of extreme form of social isolation, naiveté’ and lack of political responsibility. Accordingly, despite the legitimacy of the cause which is demanding the 2 Islands remain in Egyptian administration, the demands of regime change with every protest regardless of consequences ditches the opposition into an endless abyss and loses the respect and compassion of the Egyptian public towards them.
The truth remains that Egypt is still under the influence of yesteryears policies and attitudes towards the opinion of the President. The majority Egyptian media and political circles still apply the old retail slogan “The Customer is Always right” on the President regardless of his affiliation, tendencies or political resolution. They created their own slogan which is ” The President is Always right” . The very political and media spectrum would have reversed their rhetoric 180 degrees and would have stipulated that the 2 Islands are Egyptian and not Saudi.
Theoretically, the same group would have gone further to call Saudi cities like Jeddah, Mecca and Riyadh as Egyptian should the president have claimed them to be. They would diligently contribute to the president claim by digging up old maps dating back from the early 18th century when the Egyptian army led by Ibrahim Pasha crushed the Wahhabi movement and the first Saudi state in 1818 and claim the Saudi cities as Egyptian. In short, they are willing to present whatever documents necessary to back the political leadership at any cost for they will always be truly and hopefully devoted to whoever runs Egypt from the Itihadiya Palace. Once again the “The President is always right”
President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is a great Egyptian who saved Egypt from a dark fate that was prepared for the great nation by the Muslim Brotherhood and their terrorist Islamist allies. He is a visionary with great hopes to restore Egypt’s historical leadership and stance in the world as well as being the catalyst for an Economic, social and political revival that is taking place in Egypt at the moment.
Nevertheless, treating the president as an infallible figure and investing in a new Cult of Personality for Al Sisi is a bumpy road which Egypt went through before for many decades and it has battered the nation with horrible consequences that will take generations to recover from. It is not befitting for a nation striving for progress and development and founding new basis for a democratic life. Also it is not befitting for the Egyptian constitution that will have Al Sisi ruling Egypt for no more than 2 presidential terms. The President himself mentioned repeatedly that he or anyone should ever nominate themselves for more terms than stated in the Constitution.
The president has sent the agreement to the parliament to approve it which is expected to be a heated debate despite the chances that it gets approved is highly likely due to pressures. The parliament must invoke article 151 that stipulates that any agreements concerning the status of the Egyptian borders must be subjected to a National poll upon the parliament approval. Though some argue that the case with the Saudi agreement doesn’t apply , it certainly does and it certainly will quell the anger of many Egyptians and puts this unnecessary argument and controversy to bed.
Finally, The only support that the media, political circles and society would do is make sure that the President is backed when he is on the right track and abiding by the constitution. Let it be known that in politics, the holy book is not The Quran, The Bible or The Torah but the only valid holy book is the Egyptian Constitution that was voted for in 2014. Any breach to that constitution regardless of the reason represents a “Political Blasphemy” that cannot or should not be ever tolerated or accepted in a nation like Egypt which attempting to establish a stable democracy for future generations. One bridge built will not make up for others burning.