Connect with us

Middle East

Egypt’s Return to Authoritarianism

Published

on

The existing political scenario of Egypt shows how the government has established absolute authority over every affair in the state, curbing any independent work. The government has successfully centralized the power imposing new constitutional reforms that limit any political opposition and increased the role of the military in domestic affairs. The armed forces are used to terrorize the citizens into subjugation, strict control over media, censorship of news, arresting activists, journalists, lawyers over falsified cases, passing new laws making working of NGOs impossible and legalizing massive state violence in the nation by securitization the ‘terrorist’ narrative characterizes the authoritarian rule in Egypt.

The recent power grab by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is authoritarian in nature yet on paper is a semi-presidential system as he previously served as a general in the army and led a military coup in 2012 against President Mohammad Morsi. He has recently made constitutional amendments that have extended his term until 2030. In order to maintain power and control, he has tightened his grip over branches of power in several ways: creating an office of vice president, changed the political structure of the parliament by creating an Upper House (Senate) in which one-third of members will be directly appointed by the president, overseeing of judicial selections and increased the role of the military in state affairs.

Along with the constitutional changes, the military role has expanded in the political and domestic sphere. Recently, a military force has started terrorizing the citizens in North Sinai as the government conflicts with the extremist groups of ISIS in Sinai province. The armed forces have conducted several human rights violations such as demolishing houses, arresting, torturing, and executing the residents. In response, the ISIS militants also committed gross abuses including kidnapping, torturing, and killings of residents and armed forces. It is observed that the crackdown is focused and directed towards the citizens of the state to spread terror from both sides.

Human rights watch declared the actions of the Egyptian army in Sinai province as unlawful air and ground attacks that targeted innocent civilians. Human rights watch reported at least 20 judicial killings of residents by the government. Moreover, the armed forces have forcibly abducted children and tried them in military courts. The Egyptians have yet to release any reports on the causalities and death of the citizens in the province. HRW has declared that armed forces have arrested 12,000 citizens and have detained them in concentration camps where they are interrogated. Around 100,000 civilians were forced to leave their homes as well.

To legalize the brutal crackdown in Sinai Province, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency which gives the armed forces unchecked power. They disregard the law and conduct enforced disappearance, systematic torture, and so on. Since the actions of armed forces are unchecked, they exercise their power unjustly and have thrown children in jail and awarded them with the death penalty through military courts. A 4-year-old was awarded the death penalty as he was accused of being a part of riots in 2014. Later, an army spokesman acknowledged some child detentions and justified them as a part of the counterterrorism operations conducted by the army.

These crackdowns have been conducted under the ‘disinformation campaign’ propagated by President Sisi. Regarding the spike in the death penalties in Egypt, European leaders’ criticized the Egyptian at the Arab-EU summit in Sharm el-Sheikh to which he replied that executing detainees is part of “our humanity”, which is different from “your [European] humanity”. As a part of his disinformation campaign, Sisi is trying to propagate human rights value as something ‘Western’ and ‘foreign’ to Egypt. Even though many Egyptian lawyers, such as Nasser Amin were advocating against the death penalties.

To further control the human rights situation in the country, he has passed a new law that has imposed restrictions on the workings of NGOs that have made it nearly impossible for these organizations to work in the country. These Draconian restrictions suppress the independently working groups and forbid the conduction of any opinion polls and the publication of results without the government approval and also ban any political work that might undermine national security. Consequently, NGOs are left crippled and 2,000 charity groups shunt down by the government and the rest pulling out. The most famous case of 2011, the ‘foreign funding case’ was filed against 31 Egyptian human rights activists. Even though the court acquitted them, the government didn’t remove the travel ban or unfreeze their assets. 

Likewise, the security forces of the state are guilty of conducting enforced disappearances of human rights activists and subjecting them to extreme torture and degradation practices. According to a report published by Amnesty International, activists Alaa Abdal Fattah and Israa Abdal Fattah were wrongly accused and abducted during the biggest crackdown on journalists, lawyers, and activists. Abdal Fattah was transferred to Tora extreme security prison and was stripped and beaten by the guards regularly and was locked in a room with hardly any air circulation. He was abused verbally as well and was forbidden to access fresh drinking water or food for days.

Similarly, President Al-Sisi has restricted any anti-government protests and has ordered the security forces to arrest and detain more than 4,400 people to suppress any voice. Prominent figures such as political science professor Hazem Hosni, a journalist and politician Khaled Dawood, and human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baker was arrested in this massive crackdown. Furthermore, 160 activists were picked up for criticizing the current government. The homes of these activists were searched as they were accused of funding ‘terrorist groups’. A notable case ‘Hope Coalition’ made the headlines as it involved activists such as Ziad al-Elaimy and Hossam Mo’nis who were forming a political party to contest in the 2020 elections. They were illegally detained, banned from traveling abroad and all their assets were sealed.

The government has suppressed freedom of expression along with freedom of speech. In 2018, Anti-Cyber And Information Technology Crimes Law was passed to control and monitor media and the internet. Under the law, insulting or criticizing the government is forbidden. Any news channel or website that did not follow the laws would be subjected to penalties without judicial oversight and has strictly punished bloggers, journalists, and even social media users for criticizing the government. They were charged with spreading ‘false news’ and Egypt was termed as the top 3 worst jailers of journalists. Moreover, the government has censored newspaper, websites, and TV shows as well and blocked 600 newspapers.

Egypt does not support women’s rights and has avoided passing legislation on increasing cases of domestic violence in the country. UN Women reported that almost one-third of all Egyptian women face physical or sexual violence at the hands of intimate partners. Moreover, many women are killed in name of honor false allegations of being in a relationship with men outside marriage. The criminal practice of female genital mutilation is still practiced in Egypt, and 87% of women and girls have undergone FGM in Egypt. A survey conducted showed that 98% of foreign women and 83% of native women have been sexually harassed, and two-thirds of men admit that they have harassed women..

This demonstrates that Egypt only exists as a semi-presidential system on paper and is authoritarian in nature. The current government has exercised strict control and monopoly over legislation, judicial proceedings, and state enforcement agencies. The President tackled international criticism by creating a disinformation campaign that human rights are western and foreign ideas, not Egyptian values.

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

Published

on

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

Published

on

Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

Published

on

Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

South Asia2 hours ago

S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to...

Finance6 hours ago

PM Kishida Outlines Vision for a New Form of Capitalism

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio called for a new form of liberal democratic capitalism, balancing economic growth and distribution, in...

Science & Technology8 hours ago

First Quantum Computing Guidelines Launched as Investment Booms

National governments have invested over $25 billion into quantum computing research and over $1 billion in venture capital deals have...

Environment10 hours ago

In Jamaica, farmers struggle to contend with a changing climate

It’s 9 am and the rural district of Mount Airy in central Jamaica is already sweltering. As cars trundle along...

Science & Technology12 hours ago

Closing the Cyber Gap: Business and Security Leaders at Crossroads as Cybercrime Spikes

The global digital economy has surged off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, but so has cybercrime – ransomware attacks...

New Social Compact14 hours ago

The Social Innovators of the Year 2022

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced today 15 awardees for social innovation in 2022. From a Brazilian entrepreneur using...

Africa Today16 hours ago

FAO launches $138 million plan to avert hunger crisis in Horn of Africa

More than $138 million is needed to assist rural communities affected by extended drought in the Horn of Africa, the...

Trending