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Egypt’s President Sisi is Consolidating His Regime, say Western Diplomats

After his first 100 days in office, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen by world capitals to be in control, but with some work still to do, diplomats say.

When President al-Sisi arrives to New York UN General Assembly this week he will be met mostly with an audience that know he is here to stay as president of Egypt.

World leaders who will flock to the Big Apple, no matter how enthusiastic or unenthusiastic they were last year about the intervention of the head of the army to execute public demands to end the rule of president Mohamed Morsi, will be dealing with the former general as the president who was elected.

They will have to “even if not in a very fair political context,” and who “enjoys considerable public support” despite “all the violations of human rights and the question marks on the path of democracy,” say Cairo and New York-based diplomats.

“He has clearly managed to consolidate his regime. He did this despite no small challenges,” said one Cairo-based Western diplomat.

According to several of Western diplomats who witnessed the fall of Morsi and the rise of al-Sisi to power, there were moments when the regime of al-Sisi seemed uncertain. This, they firmly said this week, is no longer the case.

“He is not challenged; there is no political power that could remove him from office now, either through peaceful or violent means. His opposition is unmasked, but has no wide public base. His popularity might be less than the time last year when jubilant Egyptians were celebrating the ouster of Morsi, but it is still there,” the same diplomat added.

According to another Western diplomat in Cairo, “it has become very clear to all of us —and we do look thoroughly at the situation and we do talk to all parties — that there is nothing that the Muslim Brotherhood could do to shake the stability of the regime of al-Sisi. They cannot even pull off demonstrations that are wide enough.”

“The fiery claims of their leaders to cause havoc across the country have proven to be mere words, and for sure the volume of popularity that the Muslim Brotherhood as a group used to long enjoy has decline,” added the diplomat.

al-Sisi, the same diplomat added, is also enjoying the support of considerable quarters of the “so-called liberal” political parties who remain obsessed with the fear of a possible return of the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

“When I talk to them they all tell me that without al-Sisi it would have been impossible to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power,“ said the same diplomat.

“al-Sisi is also perceived by many within other non-Islamist political groups as the only figure who would be accepted not just by the masses who perceived him as “the savior” of Egypt from the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also by state institutions, particularly the intelligence and the police, that would not have bowed to the authority of any non-military head of state, at least at this point.”

But the reasons that al-Sisi is seen today by most key world capitals to be consolidating his regime go beyond the weak and limited opposition and public support, despite no small signs of discontent over poor public services, especially electricity, and overall institutional support despite what some sources qualify as “spots of unease.”

“There is the very obvious fact that nobody could deny that he is able to keep Egypt stable at a time of considerable regional unrest. This is for sure,” said one New York-based European diplomat.

“I am not suggesting that Egypt could have been another Libya or another Syria, as our colleagues in Cairo report that the Egyptian media is always saying, but it could have been unstable for sure after the ouster of Morsi,” he argued.

He added: “For us in the West, especially for us in southern Europe, where we are facing endless waves of illegal immigration from unstable countries to the south of the Mediterranean, this is important. It is something that we would like to support.”

Support from key Arab Gulf countries is another crucial factor in why the world sees al-Sisi as “the hands-on president.”

“Of course, every time we speak to our counterparts from Saudi Arabia or the UAE they are telling us that without al-Sisi Islamic fundamentalism could have taken over the entire Middle East,” he said.

He added: “it is interesting that we hear the same things from our friends in Israel, too.”

In New York this week, al-Sisi will be meeting with several world leaders, even if he will not get a one-on-one encounter with US President Barack Obama.

US sources in Washington say that the matter of a meeting with al-Sisi was considered and was decided against following the decision of Egyptian authorities last month to deport a delegation from Human Rights Watch from Cairo airport as they attempted to announce the findings of a report on the forced dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in August 2013.

The US administration then decided that it would like to spare itself the headache of being criticised for meeting al-Sisi. This criticism would not have come, as the same sources indicate, on the basis that al-Sisi was seen in some Western quarters last year as the “head of a military intervention to ouster an elected president,” but rather because he is seen as an undemocratic president whose rule is compromising human rights.

In Cairo, some Western diplomats acknowledge the fact that democracy and human rights do not seem to be number one priorities of the vast majority of Egyptians nowadays.

This was the reason why the head of the European Union delegation this week advised his counterpart in Geneva, according to informed sources, to avoid giving accentuated attention to the situation of human rights in Egypt in his statement before the Human Rights Council.

The decision to criticise the human rights situation in the statement of the EU before the Geneva-based UN human rights body was prompted, Geneva-based sources say, by the influence of human rights groups and European parliamentarians.

In New York later this week, al-Sisi will surely hear appeals from Western interlocutors to be more observant of human rights standards and of inclusive democracy. He will likely respond that all violations are being punished and that Egypt is walking the path of “development and democracy.”

However, Egyptian and Western diplomats both argue this will not be top the agenda of talks in which al-Sisi will participate in New York. Rather, the war against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is expected to grab greater time and attention, with the focus so far as Egypt is concerned being the potential of expanding cooperation with the West on the security and intelligence fronts.

Cairo-based Western diplomats argue that if stability continues to be consolidated in Egypt, “then you would for sure be getting more tourism and more investment, and for sure more cooperation. It might be slow at first, but it will pick up.”

Source: Ahram Online

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