The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Too soon to embrace Sisi

Some wise words from the FT's Roula Khalaf about the rush to embrace Sisi:

Mr Sisi’s election will give western governments a necessary justification to turn the page on the July coup and all the bloodshed and repression that followed. Since the military intervention that the US could not bring itself to call a coup, western policy towards Egypt has been on hold. Essentially it was outsourced to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which loathe the Muslim Brotherhood and have deployed their petrodollars to keep Cairo financially afloat.
In western capitals we have heard very little public criticism of the Egyptian authorities, even if officials privately acknowledge the country is headed on the wrong path. The most notable reaction in recent weeks has been in the UK where, to the delight of the Egyptian regime, the government in London announced an inquiry into Muslim Brotherhood activities in Britain. The EU, meanwhile, is sending observers to monitor the presidential vote, as if it were a real contest.
True, Egypt is too important to be ignored and, for western governments, the return of the old order after three years of confusion carries a certain appeal. Democracy in the Arab world has proved too messy. That autocracy provided only a veneer of stability that eventually shattered under the weight of festering grievances has already been forgotten.
Mr Sisi might have staying power because the military and security state that helped to eliminate Mr Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, are firmly on his side. His oil-rich backers, too, are determined to see him succeed. But a word of caution against a rush to embrace him: over the past three years Egypt has proved unpredictable, its popular mood fickle and its people unforgiving. Egyptians have turned against everyone who has tried to rule them.
With time, the limits of Mr Sisi’s ability to improve Egypt’s faltering economy will become apparent. As will the flaws in his policy of eradication of Islamists. Political Islam can be countered only with a combination of inclusion of mainstream Islamists and promotion of more liberal-leaning political alternatives – a pluralism that Mr Sisi has been unwilling to countenance. Nothing suggests that, once “elected”, he will transform into a democrat.

That message should be hammered in, particularly with some ambassadors in Egypt who are already talking of Sisi as a promising democrat.