The revolution and foreign policy

Por • 7 mar, 2011 • Sección: Internacionales

Abdel-Moneim Said

It is hard for a revolution to have a foreign policy. This especially applies to one that is still in progress and that is being tugged between two poles.

The first of these poles is trying draw it towards concrete legitimisation. There are certain measured steps that need to be taken within a certain timeframe in order to transform a centralised form of government revolving around the powers of the executive into a fully- fledged democratic system based on the peaceful and periodic rotation of authority and the preservation of civil liberties and human rights. Developments on this front are embodied in the measures introduced by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces, which is acting on the basis of the current constitution and has taken steps to modify some of its articles so as to pave the way for a civil authority. The task of that authority, then, will be to complete the constitutional work, either by continuing with the process of amending and rectifying the current constitution (which I personally do not favour) or by drawing up a new constitution that meets the needs of Egypt and that is in tune with the spirit of the age (which alternative that I have always advocated). The Higher Council of Armed Forces has not been operating alone in this drive to normalise political life in Egypt; other political forces are working in the same direction. Certainly, the recent cabinet reshuffle that brought several representatives of opposition parties and forces into the new government will make the first imprints on how the opposition will manage the government and public affairs.

Two years ago I hosted a television programme called «With the opposition». I dedicated it solely to the opponents of the regime in order to give them a platform to air their views. I was amazed, at the time, by the huge gulf between the political and economic realities and the perceptions of this elite that reiterated the ideas and rumours that were then circulating among the spheres of opposition and protest activists. Today, the situation has changed. Now it will be up to Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour to demonstrate the superiority of the Wafd Party’s political and economic imagination by increasing the number of tourists who visit us from 14 million a year — the rate the former regime attained — to 20 million — the rate we dreamed of at that time. The eminent economist Gouda Abdel-Khaleq, now in charge of the poverty portfolio, will have to show that he can boost the aid and subsidy allocations to the poor above the LE166 billion levels under the previous regime and that he can ensure that the money is spent more efficiently. In other words, this long-term opponent of a regime said to have made the poor poorer and the rich richer, and representative of the Tagammu Party, which is a dogged champion of social justice, will have the chance to prove his principles in concrete terms.

However, the most significant development along this pole is the legal and political normalisation of the Islamist trend in Egypt, which began when the Wasat (Centre) Party finally received official approval and entered the political party system in Egypt. The greater step forward occurred when the Muslim Brotherhood responded to the appeal of many — myself among them — to form a civil political party that could be held accountable and interact with the public, supporters and critics alike, on political and legal bases. Although the proposed Freedom and Justice Party has yet to publicise a platform, the choice of Saad El-Katatni as the deputy founder of the party and his statements expressing his admiration for the Turkish experience have inspired considerable hope that Egypt and its diverse civil forces will be able to transcend the tensions between its political factions and movements, which had long stood in the way of democratic development in the country.

The second pole that is tugging at the revolution subscribes to the concept of permanent revolution, if our imagination can stretch so far as to draw a comparison with the Bolshevik revolution, albeit after it crushed the democratic revolution. There, the revolutionaries split between the supporters of Lenin, who believed that the creation of a socialist order in a single country would serve as a utopian beacon to the world, and the Trotskyists, who wanted to sustain the revolution until justice was established throughout the entire world. In Egypt, the equivalent of the latter is the view that while the revolution toppled the head of the former regime, the regime itself did not fall and remains entrenched in many locations. Therefore, this theory goes, the revolution has to be kept alive through weekly or periodic millions-strong demonstrations in order to deliver the message to those whom it may concern that it will not rest until all its demands are met and the old regime is totally uprooted. However, the proponents of the ongoing revolution are not just pressing their demands. They have added a new bogeyman to take the place of the former regime’s Muslim Brotherhood bogeyman. This one warns of a secret alliance between the National Democratic Party (NDP) and State Security officials, contrary to the previous notion that the NDP was no more than a paper party abandoned by its leaders, some of whom are currently trying to regroup, and in spite of the fact that State Security is currently under immense pressure and facing legal investigations. However, the crux of the issue here is not so much truth or the law, but rather revolutionary legitimacy. For this pole, this means persisting until all forms of corruption are eliminated and a corrupt regime is thoroughly dismantled so that the Egyptian state can rise anew and become a beacon for revolutionaries elsewhere in the region and — who knows — perhaps in the rest of the world?

The two poles of the Egyptian revolution are operating in the political arena and presenting themselves to the public in different ways. What concerns me here, however, is that this is not unfolding in a regional vacuum. The world does not come to a halt and the earth does not stop turning because some country ousted an old order and is working to build a new one. Moreover, that country continues to remain captive of its geography, which houses the sources of threat to its national security in moments of weakness and the sources of support for its historical ambitions in moments of power and strength. Therefore, Egypt must have a foreign policy at all times, even if it is passing through a transitional period, and even if its revolutionary forces are split between the road to concretion and the path of permanent revolution. The problem is difficult, to be sure; however, there is no avoiding it, especially if the sources of threat to our national security outweigh the sources of hope and support that, believe it or not, exist as well.

Since the revolution erupted on 25 January 2011, several developments abroad raise concerns of no less importance to Egypt’s higher interests and national security than recent domestic developments. Particularly crucial is the unfolding situation in our southern neighbour, Sudan, where the results of the referendum on the status of the south were officially announced on 7 February. Of the 3,839,406 valid votes that were cast, 98.83 per cent favoured secession whereas only 1.17 per cent, or 44,888, voted for continued unity. The government of southern Sudan has since taken a number of preparatory measures for laying the foundations of a new state and declared 9 July as Independence Day. The date coincides with the end of the interim period stipulated under the Naivasha Peace Agreement signed between the north and south in January 2005. The government also announced that the name of the new country will be the Republic of South Sudan, as opposed to Southern Sudan, on the grounds that the latter term is more in the nature of a geographic description whereas the former follows the pattern of the names of existing states, such as South Korea.

Regardless of the date and the name, the secession of the south would not mark an end, but rather a beginning. Moreover, it could be a beginning of a wave of problems and crises that could pose the severest threats to Egyptian interests. For one, the secession fever could spread to other parts of Sudan, notably Darfur, which has been the scene of violent confrontations between government forces and armed opposition movements. Also, the secession of the south could have serious repercussions on Egypt’s water security, especially in light of the likelihood that the new state will draw close to the Upper Nile Basin countries that signed the Entebbe sharing agreement that had been rejected by both Egypt and Sudan.

However, more immediately worrisome are indications that Khartoum might try to compensate for its loss of the south at the expense of Egyptian territory; specifically, by reopening the question of the Halayeb Triangle. According to some Sudanese press reports, the Sudanese parliament has asked Foreign Minister Ali Karti to address its members on this issue, while Foreign Ministry Spokesman Khaled Moussa stated that Halayeb has long remained on the discussion agenda with successive Egyptian governments and that Sudan has not relinquished its historic and legal right to that territory. On top of this, there are numerous indications pointing to the likelihood of the north adopting a total theocracy. On 5 February 2011, President Omar Al-Bashir announced that the second republic that will be established in the north of Sudan will be ruled by Islamic law, adding that the secession of the south had settled the question of the identity of the north. In this regard, he proclaimed, «We call to others to unite with us and we will open our doors to all but those who refuse.» That is no moderate Islamist trend that holds the reins of power in Khartoum. It is a staunch fanaticism that is scrambling to avoid its historic responsibility for having lost the south by generating a religious hysteria to brandish in the face of all opponents.

The chances of this happening quite frequently are quite high given the likelihood of renewed tensions between the north and south. Already, the government in Juba has suggested that if it cannot reach an agreement with Khartoum over the use of Sudanese ports to export South Sudan’s oil, it will turn to the ports of other neighbours, such as Kenya and Djibouti. The two sides are also exchanging angry accusations. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has charged that Khartoum is dragging its feet on the implementation of major provisions of the Naivasha Agreement, especially those pertaining to Abyei and finalising the borders between the north and south. It further accused the north of supporting the George Athor breakaway faction in order to mount armed attacks against the south, to which Khartoum countered that the SPLA was supporting rebel forces in Darfur.

A second foreign policy/national security concern is located to our northeast, where several incidents suggest the spectre of a security breakdown and chaos. First, there was the assault against central security forces in Rafah, using machine guns, RPGs and other heavy weaponry, followed by rampages of theft and plundering in various parts of the border city. Then there was the bombing of the feeding station to the natural gas pipeline to Jordan and the industrial zone located in central Sinai. The explosions triggered by remote control occurred on 5 February 2011. Thirdly, during the wave of vandalism, which had swept many parts of the country, one of the neighbourhood vigilante committees that had formed to prevent a security breakdown apprehended five hand grenades and three machine guns bearing the label «Hamas-Qassam Brigades». The weapons were seized from a Mercedes among whose passengers were two Palestinians who were handed over to the armed forces and then to the prosecutor’s office. Meanwhile, as all this was occurring in Sinai, tensions escalated between Gaza, under Hamas, and Israel after a Grad missile was fired at Birsheba, raising the spectre of renewed military confrontation to the northeast and their attendant consequences and repercussions.

Then, to our west, the violent confrontation between the Libyan regime and protesters continues to escalate. On Internet sites, such as Facebook, there are appeals for solidarity marches to commemorate the events of 17 February in Benghazi when Libyan security forces shot and killed demonstrators who had been trying to storm the Italian Embassy there. The Libyan authorities’ brutal clampdown on the demonstrators has so far led to hundreds of dead and wounded, and mass arrests of political activists, as well as to the shutdown of the Internet and attempts to scramble satellite television broadcasts. The escalating violence has prompted several members of the Libyan Revolutionary Command Council to resign in protest. Libyan Minister of Justice Mustafa Abdel-Jalil also resigned in protest against instructions to fire live ammunition at protesters. The same applies to Libya’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Abdel-Moneim Al-Houni, who then moved to join the people’s revolution. Meanwhile, at the regional level, in a remarkable emergency session held in Cairo on 22 February, the Arab League voted to suspend Libya’s membership.

However, what is perhaps most alarming about the Libyan situation is the uncertainty that shrouds it, leaving it open to any number of possibilities. One possible scenario is a consensual solution leading to the creation of a new political regime responsible for overseeing the implementation of a package of reforms that would hopefully alleviate the anger and discontent that has swept the country. Another is the partition of Libya into several autonomous or even independent regions ruled by different tribes, a scenario that could have grave security and strategic repercussions. Already reports suggest that some parts of the country, such as the oil-rich east, are now outside of the control of Tripoli.

So, Egypt’s immediate vicinity — to the south, east and west — is fraught with geostrategic problems that have a direct bearing on Egyptian national security. Fortunately, Egypt’s armed forces have maintained their strategic defence capacities while relying on reserves to handle the internal situation. Even so, not everything is reassuring. Some political forces believe that the question of the peace treaty with Israel should be put back on the national agenda. At the same time, we have yet to formulate a strategy with regards to Sudan, with respect to which the questions of territory, ideology and water security intersect. Nor do we have a clear perception on how to deal with the blood-steeped Libyan morass in which a million and a half Egyptian expatriates are at risk. Indeed, some of our Egyptian revolutionary forces find themselves at a loss at how to react towards the Libyan regime, which had once lifted their Arab nationalist hopes to triumphant heights but has since decayed with age and is currently bombarding its people with planes, tanks and mercenary forces.

How are we supposed to act on all these fronts? In a country that has set its heart on a democratic order, whether by the process of concrete legitimisation or by ongoing revolution, such a question must be put to all political forces to answer on the basis of the higher national interest. At that time, I’ll be ready with my contribution, complete with argumentation and proof.

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