13 February 2018

Egypt: Is the Tension Real or Existent Only in the Media?


Egypt's presidential elections will be held between 26 and 28 March 2018. The incumbent President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi would run for a second term. The other candidate is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, chairman of Ghad Party. Moussa is said to have been a pro-Sisi politician who had actually been playing an active role in gathering nomination pledges for President Sisi himself. He declared his own intention only a day before the deadline of the national elections commission.

Actually, Moussa's nomination pledges and other formalities to the commission were submitted just 15 minutes before the registration time expired. Be that as it may, Mussa told Egypt Today that he's not a "phony" candidate and he has "a vision that can be achieved by being part of the system."

With the above reality in the electoral process taking place in Egypt, one thing appears to be very clear: saber-rattling and extremist groups are out of the game. Major political parties have either declined or withdrawn from the elections. Even some of the major international media say, any candidate representing genuine opposition to President Sisi "has either been arrested or intimidated into dropping out".

And hence, accordingly, the incumbent president is most likely the winner, and will stay for second term in office. In any case, that is up to the Egyptian people. The writer of this article is only concerned about the effects of the Egyptian elections particularly at a time when the incumbent president claimed building strong ties with Ethiopia, or a strong army along the Sudan boarder, as some international media reports.

At the backdrop of what the Muslim Brotherhood leaders once said about Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Electric Dam during their short-lived power, the election's effects can not been undermined. It should also be kept in mind that electoral campaigns usually offer good opportunity for extremists and populists to run their hostile agendas and strive hard to align the public behind. I hope none of the kind would be this time around in Egypt. And pretty-sure, Al Sisi would sustain his power. So, the question iwill be whether he would continue constructive engagement with Ethiopia and Sudan, as he often claims or not.

Words of hate and bravado coming out of a few Egyptian scholars and politicians against Ethiopia's natural right to use its Nile River are still unabated in the Egyptian media; though by no means they represent Egyptian people or government. In an interview with the London based Asharq Al-Awsat, as reported by Arab News on 15 December 2017, the Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour had blamed the media, particularly those of Egypt for fabricating tension over the Grand Renaissance Dam.

"Egyptian media is trying to point to Sudan as if it was not a party to this equation, which also includes Ethiopia and Egypt. We always reiterate that Sudan is neither an intermediary nor a biased party, but an inherent part in this trilateral equation," he said. "For us, the most important principle is to preserve our interests without compromising the interests of our fellow brothers," the Sudanese foreign minister had stressed.

The deliberation of the tripartite summit held in Addis on January 29, 2018 attested to Ibrahim Ghandour's claims. The three heads of the governments, who happened to gather in a mini-summit on the sideline of the 30th summit of the African Union (AU), Addis Ababa, declared their unity and solidarity with the spirit of "working as one, and not as three," to use the words of President Al-Sisi. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi posed in front of the camera all hand-in- hand as a demonstration of their unity and solidarity.

Egypt's President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's words in a press conference after the summit appeared to have highlighted the interests of the peoples and the governments. "People should be assured. None of [us three] countries - Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia - will be harmed... Egypt's interests are one with Ethiopia's and also one with Sudan's. We are speaking as one voice." What a soothing words of Al-Sisi! More surprisingly, the three leaders have come up with a novel idea of setting up an infrastructural fund, which they pledged to make equal contributions in order to boost infrastructural development among them. That was tantamount to punching the extremists on the nose!

Prior to that, on January 18, 2018, Al Sisi and the then visiting Prime Minister Hailemariam, have expressed more or less similar messages. The Nile basin enjoys great resources and capabilities that make it a source of interconnection, building and development, not a source of conflict said Al-Sisi. PM Hailemariam on his part said, we must make sure that this great river never becomes an object of competition, mistrust and conflict.

The events that followed PM Hailemariam visit to Egypt have unfolded a series of good news at least in terms of diplomacy. As has been disclosed later, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan decided to form a trilateral leaders summit to be held annually and agreed to establish a joint infrastructure fund that will focus on railway and road connectivity as well as projects that enhance trade and business among the three countries.

The two sides have agreed to work in trade, investment, peace and stability as well as exchange experiences in various fields. They have particularly given a special emphasis to upgrade their cooperation in the area of investment. While, some Egyptian investors have already been engaged in investment in Ethiopia a lot more have expressed similar interest. At least 25 Egyptian owners of huge companies had expressed their interest to PM Hailemariam to have access to the investment opportunity in Ethiopia at a time of his official visit last January.

PM Hailemariam had also recommended to some Egyptians to work with Ethiopia in the area of tourism, given the great potential Ethiopia has and the excellent experience and expertise Egypt has in exploiting the sector. He also promised to do his level best to support particularly those Egyptian investors who can potentially coordinate visits of foreign tourists to Ethiopia once they complete their tours in Egypt.

"I have seen the desire of Egyptian investors to invest in Ethiopia. They have tried hard to construct their own industrial park and invest. This work has been going on, but there was foot dragging on our part. What we have now decided is to stop this and strengthen economic relation so as to develop mutualism", Hailemariam said after arrival at home. In the area of trade relations, the two countries have concluded various agreements.

Egypt could be a good destination for Ethiopian products, and vice versa. Of course, trade relations between the two are not a new one. Ethiopia has been exporting live animals to Egypt. But the export level is too low compared to the huge potential Ethiopia can supply to Egypt; a country with 100 million people and potential buyers, the middle class is big. The same is true with flower exports.

Egypt imports flower from the Netherlands. But, Netherland is the major importer of Ethiopian floricultural products. According to PM Hailemariam, the two countries have discussed the possibility of sending the flowers directly to Egypt's market. He is even optimistic that Egyptian suppliers can boost Ethiopian exports through their trade ties with Gulf States.

The Ethio-Egyptian agreement made in the area of education, and particularly those of in the water and health fields provide ample opportunity to cement the country's solidarity. Egyptian scholars who are fairly reputed for excellence in the health and water science can genuinely contribute for the development of Ethiopia, boldly demonstrating their fraternity, intertwined by the age of River Nile.

Above all, the agreement of the two countries to fight global terrorism is worth noting, since the two countries are virtually in a war with terrorists. It is also highly commendable that the two countries have come to an agreement to work jointly for the prevalence of peace and stability in the region.

In sum, the recent visit of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn to Cairo was a major step forward in boosting the relationship between the two countries. The discussion between the two leaders set important milestone in promoting diplomatic and political relations. The discussion has also led to the conclusion of agreements to cooperate in various areas including trade and tourism, the establishment of an agricultural fund in Ethiopia, and Egyptian industrial zone.


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