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Egypt’s participation in the annual Munich Security Conference, which concluded early this week, was an important opportunity to present the vision of its leadership on major political, economic and security challenges facing the Middle East region and the world.
Egypt is a country that dynamically interacts with its Arab and African surroundings, and effectively plays a pivotal role in the pursuit of security, stability and development in both the Middle East and Africa. Earlier in February, Egypt was handed the one-year rotating presidency of the African Union, which added to its responsibilities highlighting the concerns of the African peoples who yearn to achieve stability, progress and development.
The Munich conference was held this year amid growing challenges and dangers, including the continued existence of hotbeds of conflict, prevalence of terrorism and extremism, and escalating rates of organised crime. All these challenges not only put intense pressure on the core concept of the nation-state, but also augur collapse of its institutions in a way that endangers the peoples’ resources, security and stability. These challenges have been compounded by polarisation and the intensification of political confrontations engulfing the international order, not to mention the impact of natural hazards, namely climate change, desertification and water scarcity, among others. This requires strengthening international efforts in view of the fact that present-day challenges are beyond the capacities of any state to confront or contain alone, while geographical boundaries are rendered irrelevant by many of them.
These challenges are manifested clearly in the Middle East as well as the African continent. We witness nowadays armed conflicts, civil wars, ethnic clashes and terrorist attacks, not to mention the problems of poverty, unemployment, low productivity and the declining standard of services. Added to that are economic crises, financial market instability, capital inflow conditionality and exacerbating debt problems. Therefore, handling such problems requires genuine international cooperation with the primary aim of ending armed conflicts.
No other conflict in the Middle East region, if not in the world, has consumed so many years, wars, and caused such tremendous suffering for millions of human beings as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The core reason behind this conflict is Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories. Thus, the formula Palestinians, and Arab countries, have insisted on for decades is simple: land for peace. Indeed, in recent years, namely following the “Arab Spring” in 2011, many new problems and conflicts surfaced, particularly the disintegration of several nation states and the rise of regional powers that sought to exploit the security vacuum. Both Turkey and Iran have sought to benefit from the current chaos in several Arab countries. Nevertheless, the fact that the Palestinian conflict remained unresolved provides more sources for instability in the region, and allows both regional powers to add to the chaos, particularly along sectarian and religious lines that became prominent over recent years.
Finding a just solution for the Palestinian plight, based mainly on the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and to have their own independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, has been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy for decades, and will continue to be so. Domestically, there are other fields of priority, namely entrenching the concepts of good governance, protecting human rights in their comprehensive meaning, empowering women who make up half of society, upgrading education and health, developing infrastructure and agriculture, boosting rural development, creating job opportunities, increasing investment, promoting trade and strengthening regional integration and incorporation.
Finally, Egypt has been involved in a relentless war against terrorism. There is no doubt that terrorism has become an international phenomenon with increasing risks that lead to the destabilisation of societies. This requires everyone to make genuine efforts to uproot this abhorrent phenomenon, which is the first threat to the pursuit of development, including tightening the noose around terrorist groups and organisations, or the countries that either turn a blind eye to it, or even flagrantly support terror as a means to achieve political goals and regional ambitions.
Egypt needed no reminders on the dangers terrorist groups pose to security, both domestically, regionally and internationally. However, the terrorist attack that took place in northern Sinai earlier this week, leading to the martyrdom of one army officer and 14 soldiers, confirmed that we still have a long way to go in confronting the plague of terrorism. What is required is not only security solutions, but more regional and international cooperation, as well as genuine effort towards religious reform that would drain these terrorist groups and prevent more young people from joining their ranks.
That’s the ambitious vision Egypt presented in Munich, and will continue working hard to put it into practice.
By: Laila Takla
Many years ago, we used to sing a song in school that went “The waters of the Nile flow not through two lands but one / The Nile brings us together with its glistening waters.”
We believed heart and soul that Egypt and Sudan were one country, and so they were until they were separated. After a period of British colonisation, Sudan won its independence, and some decades after that, in accordance with what had been British colonialist plans, the north and south of the country split apart.
The British aim was to secure control of the Sudan in order to exploit its wealth and resources. It was an aim shared by other colonisers in Africa, such as the French, the Italians, the Portuguese, the Dutch and eventually the Americans who turned the continent into a chief source of slaves with which to build their new state.
A British official once claimed in my hearing that Sudan owed its development to Britain. The anger this remark made me feel drove me to consult studies of what the British had done for Sudan during the colonial period compared to what Egypt had done for Sudan as part of the same nation neighbouring the Nile. What I found is summarised below.
The Egyptians regarded Sudan as part of the same country and as having the same rights and duties. There were no distinctions between the south and the north of the Nile Valley. In 1886, the Sudanese sent freely elected representatives to parliament, and the Egyptians worked together with the Sudanese to abolish the slave trade and emancipate slaves in Sudan. Egypt also exempted the Sudanese from taxes.
The British, on the other hand, levied a Sudanese force to defend British interests in the south and levied a tax to collect a war fund. They created their notorious Advisory Council, one of the façades they used to separate the north from the south of Sudan. Supreme military and civil command was vested in a British governor-general who could veto all the decisions taken by the council. True testimony to the “free” elections the British held in Sudan can be found in the lives of those who fought against them.
Meanwhile, Egypt did all it could to keep the south and the north of Sudan together. It sent missions to explore the upper reaches of the Nile. Whereas Egypt divided the Nile Valley into provinces having equal rights, the British worked behind a veil of secrecy to divide the north from the south and to create two states, a nominally independent one in the north and a colony in the south. In the process, they sowed the seeds of the strife and civil warfare that would follow.
In 1822, Egypt founded the city of Khartoum and built government buildings, mosques, a hospital, a shipyard and other facilities. By the end of the Mohamed Ali period, it had a population of 30,000. Egypt also founded Kassala, the capital of the Al-Taka district of Sudan, and Famka, the capital of what was formerly known as Fazogli in the Sennar province.
British development efforts, in contrast, focused on the Gezira Scheme, a purely capitalist venture meant to fill British coffers and fund the grand villas of British settlers. The company running the Scheme rented the land from its original owners who had no say in how it was used and whose only option was to work as labourers in return for 40 per cent of the value of the crop. If a farmer refused such unfair conditions, he would be punished and pressed into corvée labour.
It was Egyptians who drew the first modern map of the Nile Valley, proceeding southwards from Wadi Halfa. They produced the world’s first study of the geography of Sudan, the first meteorological tables, and the first map of the Kordofan province. In the Mohamed Ali era, they discovered the sources of the White Nile.
Egypt also established the first modern school in Sudan administered by the famous 19th-century Egyptian intellectual and educationalist Rifaa Al-Tahtawi. Egypt founded the first primary school in Berber. In 1875, Amin Pasha founded the first school, hospital and mosque in the capital of the Egyptian province of Equitoria on the Upper Nile. Ismail Pasha founded five schools in Khartoum, Berber, Dongola, Kordofan and Al-Taka and, in 1879 the khedive Tawfik established a medical school. After the turn of the century, the Egyptian University in Cairo, now Cairo University, and Khartoum University opened their doors to seekers of higher education.
By contrast, British educational efforts in Sudan were limited to developing schools intended to teach the English language and the smattering of knowledge necessary to staff the lower echelons of government bureaucracy or the army. They founded one vocational college to produce individuals having the skills they needed. As a result, in 1944 only 0.0016 of the entire population of Sudan was enrolled in government schools.
The British ignored the educational needs of south Sudan entirely, and according to a book published by the Sudanese government called A Glimpse of Sudan they showed little interest in the educational development of the country as a whole.
With regard to agriculture, Egypt introduced cotton cultivation to Sudan. Ismail Pasha sent down irrigation equipment for this purpose, founded ginning mills in Khartoum and Kassala, and developed a network of irrigation canals in Gezira, Wadi Kassala and Kordofan. The British wanted to transform Sudan into a vast plantation for cash crops and livestock, and their government in Sudan, represented by the Gezira Land Company, retained 50 per cent of the proceeds.
The Egyptians built 563km of railways as well as roads, river transport and caravan routes in Sudan. In 1873, they extended the Egyptian Railways to the administrative borders with Sudan, and by 1899 the railways had reached Khartoum, where the Egyptians built the Blue Nile Road and the Railway Bridge linking Khartoum with Khartoum North.
They founded the Sudanese Postal Administration in 1873 and set up post offices in 12 towns while at the same time installing some 2,500km of telegraph cables. The British paved roads they were for their own use, while the Sudanese people (according to a British source) used other roads for transport by foot or beasts of burden.
As for the accomplishments of the Egyptian army in Sudan, this is a subject that merits separate discussion.
The point of such comparisons is not to boast of Egyptian achievements, but rather to present some facts in order to counter attempts to glamorise European colonialism in Africa, a process that exploited and plundered African land, that worked to divide it and keep it mired in internecine strife, and that sowed the seeds of religious extremism. Colonialism gave Africa arms and the tools of destruction instead of knowledge and technology for construction.
Such comparisons are also meant to caution the African countries regarding the true intentions of the powers that are involved in the scramble to exploit them today. The facts here were once presented in the enlightening spirit of that true son of Egypt, former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who at one phase in his career counted four future African heads-of-state among his students.
Today, I feel certain that with Egypt as chair of the African Union and a person with the vision and ability of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as its elected chairman, Africa will be able to move resolutely towards the realisation of the goals and aspirations of its peoples.
By Gérard Lafont
The meeting between the Egyptian Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi and the African Union enjoys a favorable alignment of the planets. The first is the natural candidate to lead the second towards its transformation into a supranational organization able to meet the challenges of the continent.
Last Sunday, Rwandan President Paul Kagame passed the torch of the presidency of the African Union to his Egyptian counterpart – Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi – during the 32nd ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union. is held in Addis Ababa. A passage of witness which is in the continuity and which will be focused on the security and the economic integration of the continent. Dynamic president, Paul Kagame, initially controversial within the “AU”, knew in the space of one year to convince the cadors of the organization by its rational management and its political coups.
Leadership by example which should also be the strategy of his successor. The Egyptian head of state has, to do this, solid cards in hand.
The Sissi method, from Cairo to Addis Ababa
The stars seem to have aligned themselves for Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi. With nearly five years of experience leading the second African economy, the strong man of Egypt is above all the architect of successful economic reforms that should propel his country to the 7th world economy in 2030. After years of turmoil following the 2011 revolution, Egypt has returned to the path of an economically strong state, with spectacular economic growth in 2018 (5.6% against about 2% during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi) . Added to this are the notable successes in the fight against Islamist terrorist groups in Sinai. The terrorist organizations that sat in Sinai suffered defeat after defeat, and should be routed in the year according to the projections of the army.
Haloed by this double success, the Egyptian intends to apply the “Sissi method” to a continent that suffers the same evils as those affecting his native country when he came to power: a real security risk on the one hand, and an unequal economic situation on the other hand.
Security: Libya as a priority issue
Often criticized for its powerlessness in the face of the continent’s worsening conflicts, the African Union (AU) intends no longer to leave the United Nations, the United States and other Western countries on the front line on the security issue. It is in this logic that Paul Kagame had already created a “fund for peace” whose objective was to give the necessary means to the AU to facilitate the process of conflict resolution.
A fund that will be useful to the Egyptian presidency, the latter wishing to accompany the Libyans in the political process aimed at ending the crisis in a country torn apart by the civil war since 2011. On this subject, Egypt wishes moreover that the AU takes the hand again. “Africa has decided to support Libya in its efforts to get out of the war and terrorism,” President Sissi told reporters.
The organization intends to renew the success of the Bangui agreements, the name of this successful mediation in the Central African Republic under the leadership of Paul Kagame. As part of the continuity, the Egyptian president insisted on the importance of finding “African solutions to African problems”. A downside criticism of the overly preponderant role of foreign powers in the Libyan case – one of the most serious crises that the region has known for a long time.
In the African diplomatic circles, this voluntarism of the new head of the AU reassures. “Egypt will solve the problem,” said a confident Libyan official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Express, on the sidelines of the summit.
Economy: developing the integration of the continent
Another major axis of President Sissi, the economic future of Africa was also on everyone’s lips. “We will support the free trade area to promote the economic integration of the continent,” said Ehab Badawy, Egypt’s ambassador to Paris, for Jeune Afrique.
The creation of this continental free trade zone was one of Paul Kagame’s greatest achievements, although some of the largest and most influential countries – such as Nigeria – have not yet signed the agreement. Instructs then President Al-Sissi to transform the essay, the latter wishing to achieve during its mandate the 22 signatures necessary for the entry into force of the agreement. The objective is to create an economic zone strong enough to allow internal trade whose virtuous repercussions are no longer to prove. More generally, Africa is still sorely lacking in regional trade.
Long-desired, Africa’s economic integration, through intra-continental financing, is the only way to achieve sustainable growth.
It is undeniable that President Sissi wants to take this opportunity to restore the image of Egypt to its African neighbors. These had been durably affected by the Mubarak and Morsi presidencies, with a look almost exclusively focused on the European continent. In three years, the Egyptian head of state has set out to turn the tide. He traveled to Africa 21 times – out of 69 visits abroad – and organized 112 meetings with senior African officials, including on economic issues. “He wants to strengthen his position on the African continent and [that Egypt is not] considered a country turned only to the Arab world”, confirms, quoted by AFP, Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Institute for security studies.
It should be remembered, however, that Sissi’s term of office, like any rotating presidency, will last one year. Just long enough to strengthen or put in place the milestones of good security and economic cooperation. Too short to be able, as some hear it, to serve as a political tool or relay of lasting influence. As for Paul Kagame, Sissi’s presidency will be judged rather by tactical and diplomatic strokes, risk-taking and successes, which will allow the AU to continue its transformation towards a supranational organization capable of coordinating economic and security action of all countries.