Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was elected by a sweeping majority, in recognition of his role in turning the page on the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of governance. His election reflected the country’s desire to change the Egyptian social and political identity, the people’s aspiration to restore stability, security, and safety.
As presidential candidate, Field Marshall El-Sisi had spoken about the grave dangers that threaten the country internally as well as from across the region. He gave multiple indicators of his social convictions, especially the urgent necessity for paying more attention to simpler Egyptian citizens. Once elected, he proceeded to start giant economic projects, which convinced him that economic development is the real guarantee for a country’s independence as well as the citizens’ freedom and respect for their rights. The president became engaged with Arab and African countries. He began to communicate his foreign policy with a visit to Russia, continuing with the plan and program that was placed at the formation of Hazem El-Biblawi’s cabinet in July 2013.
Through this interaction, he launched specific and important messages to the Egyptian public, about the importance of diligent work and continuous production, taking into account the circumstances of the weaker economic classes, the gravity of the danger Egypt is exposed to. El-Sisi emphasized the importance of adopting foreign policies that guarantee multiple options for the country.
Egyptian citizens look forward to having more clarity in long-term economic policies to attract major national and foreign investments. Citizens also aspire, especially the youth which accounts today for more than half of the society, to be assured by forming a new Egyptian social contract and the clarification of the president’s vision for a stable system of governance. The two revolutions, of January 25, 2011, and June 30, 2013, did not aim to destroy the country or the state’s regime; rather the uprisings were a reflection of the Egyptians’ true desire to enjoy a stable regime in which every honest patriotic citizen participates.
I teamed up for about nine months with President El-Sisi when he was deputy prime minister and minister of defense; I was minister of foreign affairs in both cabinets of. Hazem El-Biblawi and Ibrahim Mahleb. I was surprised to find a military man dedicated to communicating with the public and explaining current events. At the very beginning, I assumed this just a superficial stance, until he repetitively insisted on the request, even after he was elected as the president of the country. It was a request with which I was happy.
The impetus for writing this article is to communicate to the international community. After a decade of political ineffectiveness, this great country returned to a position of central international importance, since the January 25 revolution, first as a source of exaggerated optimism and then as a sign of frustration and pessimism in fear of the outbreak of a civil war resulting from instability. Before Egypt’s conditions become comparable to unstable neighboring countries, such as Libya, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, there must a central national project that can determine the destiny of the Middle East as one of two fates. The first fate is that it will collapse irreversibly. The second is for the region to regain its prestige and to join the march of civilization and progress in the world after a long delay of falling behind—this is an improvement we have long awaited.
Indeed, we are facing huge challenges and immense danger in the Middle East, most important of which is the national identity of our country while others around us are in danger. The national identity is the factor that shapes the regional map and is considered the foundation of the contemporary national system and relationships. After the collapse of national foundations from East to West and their failure to respond to the aspirations of our societies, the stability of the whole Middle East has become on the verge of collapsing. Polarization and sectarianism are growing far too quickly.
From the lens of security, the summer of 2014 was politically turbulent. The events in Libya, Gaza, and Syria are indicators of insecure future of the Arab World and the Middle East. We will witness effective this September political initiatives in the region and internationally to deal with events in the area from different angles. While some countries would like to avoid danger, others aim to exploit instability. I trust that Egypt is preparing for all of that.
For all these regions and for the importance of Egypt, the world aspires to be introduced to President El-Sisi and his philosophy on the governance of Egypt and ruling Egyptians—all Egyptians. The world appreciates his readiness to use all his authorized power without hesitation, his military bravery in facing any danger exposed to Egypt and his readiness to sacrifice. They hope to be assured of his political prudence with his opponents as well as his supporters. They also would like to see his acceptance of the other opinions regardless of how much he dislikes it. They would like to see if he, as a man of peace in Africa and the Middle East, is capable of making difficult decisions. They are following with great interest the re-centralization of the international, foreign, and regional Egyptian policies. The world waits for an Egyptian vision for the Arab World and Africa.
One of the best methods to counter what we are facing is early planning to deal with expected dangers and challenges. And the initiative of offering an Egyptian vision for the country, the world, and Africa. In addition, the president’s vision will engage with the international community so that Egypt becomes an active member in forming the regional and international agenda, before we are faced with the ambitions of others. The beginning of political work in the Arab League at the minister’s level, African meetings, and on the international level through the United Nations all provide opportunities that must be used to communicate with regional and international society in this regard.
The starting point and initial messages must be directed toward the public opinion of the Arab World (as long as we have asserted our Arab identity and our pioneering role in the Arab World).
As an Egyptian citizen, I suggest that these Egyptian messages concentrate on the pressing dangers and future demands and the absolute necessity of collaborative efforts, especially for safeguarding the Arab identity via launching a presidential message to all the Arab peoples or by the delivery of a presidential speech in the opening meeting for the Arab ministers in September, the first such meeting since President El-Sisi assumed office. An unofficial Arab summit should be held for consultation for some Arab leaders. The president also started an Arab tour to assert the Egyptian message repeatedly due to the special circumstances. This exceptional situation requires new methods for conveying our message regionally and internationally.
In addition, the international community is looking forward to the attendance of President El-Sisi at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. I remember attending the speeches of both the Russian President Gorbachev and the leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, when each delivered a historic speech that described his vision clearly and confidently. They answered also bravely, candidly, and positively, all questions that the international community posed. They also addressed all suspicions that were circulating about the abilities of their countries (under the dire circumstances they were facing) to integrate into an international system if compared to communists or others who had just emerged out of the horrors of an apartheid regime. I remember the image of both of them in front of the audience of the General Assembly, proud of the journey and their accomplishments, each holding his chin up in dignity and patriotism as commander and with the prudence of a leader.
I invite President El-Sisi to deliver a similar historic speech in front of the General Assembly appropriate for the magnitude of the challenges and the occasion—and Egyptian prestige. In this speech he should explain the Egyptian circumstances and difficulties with confidence and determination. He should not stop there, but should go further, explaining candidly and clearly the guiding principles of his political philosophy for the establishment of a governing system in Egypt as an embracing country for its patriotic people. These are the most important questions that circulate in the minds of the international community.
We also have before us an opportunity to inform the international community of the president’s vision for the necessary principles for organizing the African and Arab world including their aspirations and goals. This should attract the interest of the international community and guarantee its understanding and cooperation for building a better future, on a sound foundation. After reviewing the dangers of the factional polarization and the denominational extremism threatening our Arab World and poverty and imprudent governance throughout Africa, it is beneficial that we have ideas about the way to succeed. We must adhere to the national identity of the Arab countries and respect the character of minorities, their cultures, and ethnic roots. The president might consider the following:
- Inviting all of the presidents of stable Arab countries to hold national dialogues for their peoples.
- The countries would then present the results of those dialogues to the Arab League to identify these groups, record them, and coordinate them.
- The Arab League should issue a document or an announcement about the Arab citizenship to assert its respect for the national state and the unity and sovereignty of its territories, including compatible principles for the protection of cultural and social persona for the minorities within the context of the national state.
- Inviting the Arab World to review this document every ten years (so that progress doesn’t stop).
Discussions about the Middle East cannot take place without thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially with the events of Gaza and the collapse of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts. It is a new opportunity to reclaim the position at the forefront of the Egyptian initiative in leading the efforts for a comprehensive solution to the dispute, completing the efforts that have been exerted to reach a ceasefire in Gaza via offering different ideas and a specific program to change the method of dealing with this case. How can we see dead people in the thousands and countless victims without punishment and accountability? And how can we lean on the fairness of the law while the law is implemented according to double standards in the area? How can we discuss the peace process and peaceful solutions while witnessing excessive use of force and illogical and irresponsible debates and theatrical negotiations that lack seriousness and credibility? We must candidly tell the world that Arab life is precious and that national rights are legitimate and must be accomplished. The time is now for accountability, decisiveness, and insistence that the international community make difficult and brave decisions.
The goal must be to build on the feeble hope to solve the dispute peacefully and comprehensively, in a way that guarantees that the Arab World regains its territories. The establishment of a Palestinian state will be in exchange for guarantees for Israeli security. This can be done through the continuation of efforts toward a ceasefire by working with the Palestinian Authority on an international level, while demanding that the United Nations provide protection for the occupied Palestinian people. The international community should place a limited timetable for conducting direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the next two months at most, efforts under the auspices of the Quartet countries. They must urgently work toward a comprehensive deal for solving this dispute completely for the two parties, Palestinian and Israeli, and presenting the results to the Security Council in February.
Finally as much as the international community is interested in hearing the president’s national vision there is also a strong international desire to hear his international vision and the principles that he sees governs Egyptian foreign policies in the future. The most important of these principles are:
- Egypt is a modern patriotic state that does not discriminate against its citizens.
- Egypt is a state that adheres to international law, without any discrimination or exception
- Egypt is an independent state that secures its needs by having diverse relationships with different countries of the world, befriending all of them as much as they show respect for the country’s rights and best interest.
- Egypt is effective and interactive within the international system and is concerned with its development to become fairer, more just , and more inclusive. Most importantly, the Security Council and economic organizations must guarantee the rights of developing countries.
- Egypt is a prudent and mature country that safeguards the national resources of our contemporary world, with innovative tasks and initiatives regarding energy and climate issues.
- Egypt is a humane state that respects the rights of minorities, women, and youth.
- Egypt is a sovereign state that will not hesitate to defend itself to guarantee national security. At the same time it is a country that believes in collective security and the danger of the spreading of weapons of mass destruction internationally and in the Middle East. Egypt challenges the international community to de-arm from such weapons before the year 2020.
These are important messages from Egypt to the Arab World and the international community. President El-Sisi’s speech is a precious opportunity to regain Egyptian political leadership.
Nabil Fahmy is the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. From 2013 to 2014, he served as Foreign Minister.
This article was originally published in Arabic in Al-Ahram newspaper.