The decision by the United States on 22 August to withhold approximately US$95.7 million in aid to Egypt – and delay a further US$195m – seemed to take officials in Cairo by surprise. US officials expressed concern over an Egyptian law passed in May regulating the work of non-governmental organisations, which was seen as a crackdown on political opposition; human-rights NGOs said that the law effectively banned their work. US officials said that the US$195m would be withheld until the Egyptian government made improvements to human rights and democracy. On 23 August, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met with US presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Cairo for a pre-scheduled visit. Neither side mentioned the aid issue, but Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that the decision reflected ‘poor judgement’ and stressed the importance of the US supporting Egypt’s stability.
Egypt’s tense relations with Qatar continued this quarter, after it joined a Saudi-led drive to isolate the Gulf state for its alleged support of terror groups. Egypt has long accused Qatar of backing the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. On 11 July, Egypt called for Qatar to be kicked out of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said ‘it is unacceptable for the coalition to have amongst its members states that support terrorism or advocate for it in their media’. On 17 July, Egypt announced that it would end visa-free entry for Qatari nationals. The foreign ministry said ‘it does not make sense to keep making exceptions for Qatar and giving it privileges in light of its current positions’, referring to its alleged support of terrorism.
Egypt has also used the situation with Qatar in its crackdown on political opponents. On 17 August, a governmental committee responsible for appraising funds for the Muslim Brotherhood announced it had confiscated the assets of 16 suspected Brotherhood members including businessmen, media figures and the children of Qatar-based religious leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Furthermore, on 16 September, a court sentenced former president Muhammad Morsi to 25 years in prison in a final ruling on charges of spying for Qatar. Morsi was previously sentenced to 40 years in June 2016 in the same case, which was reduced following his appeal.
Tensions between Egypt and Sudan also re-emerged this quarter, revolving around the Halayeb triangle – a disputed area controlled by Egypt but claimed by Sudan. On 30 July, Egyptian police arrested 221 Sudanese nationals in the town of Shalateen, part of the Halayeb triangle, and accused them of illegally residing in the town. On 2 August, the governor of the Red Sea province, Ahmed Abdallah, announced the allocation of around US$56.2m for the construction of housing units in the towns of Halayeb, Shalateen and Abu Ramad, located in the Halayeb triangle. He also mentioned plans to build ports in Shalateen and Abu Ramad for around US$15m. The two moves could have been seen as a way of increasing Egypt’s presence in the area. Abdallah’s announcement came on the same day that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was due to meet his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour in Khartoum to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, there were signs of improving relations with Italy and Israel. On 14 August, Italy said it would return its ambassador to Cairo – more than a year after recalling him in April 2016 in a bid to put pressure on Cairo to share evidence of the investigation into the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said that returning an ambassador to Cairo would help to reinforce judicial cooperation between Cairo and Rome. Meanwhile, on 29 August, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, David Govrin, resumed his role in Cairo eight months after Tel Aviv’s diplomatic team returned home for unspecified security reasons. The ambassador returned with eight staff members, and was expected to resume work from his Cairo-based home since the Israeli embassy in central Cairo had been closed since protesters stormed it in 2011.
There were also signs of improving relations with the Palestinian Hamas group, which Egypt had accused of smuggling arms into the country through the Gaza-Sinai tunnels and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. On 5 July, the new Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group had ‘launched a new chapter with Egypt and the relations have witnessed a big move’, following several rounds of talks between Hamas and Egyptian officials in Cairo. Hamas also began work on preparing a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border at the end of June. Haniyeh himself later visited Cairo for talks on 9 September, mostly regarding intra-Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Egypt worked on brokering. The Cairo talks were thought to be facilitated by Mohammad Dahlan, a former PA senior official and rival to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt has considered security in the Gaza Strip as paramount to its own national security, and likely used Dahlan to pressure the PA into entering into talks with Hamas to reach a reconciliation deal.
Domestically, a misdemeanours court in Giza province sentenced prominent human-rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali to three months in prison, on charges of offending public decency, on 25 September. Ali was accused of making a rude hand gesture outside a Cairo courthouse in January. However, the case was criticised by opposition figures as being politically driven, since Ali led the appeal against a controversial government decision to cede sovereignty over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and was also discussed as a potential presidential candidate for the 2018 elections.
Despite widespread criticism, Egypt pushed ahead with a controversial plan to cede sovereignty over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. On 2 April, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters annulled a January ruling by the High Administrative Court, which stated that Tiran and Sanafir islands could not be transferred to Riyadh. An appeal against the ruling was submitted on 3 April by lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, but the plan was referred to the legislative and constitutional committee in parliament for approval on 10 April. Parliament approved the planned island transfer on 14 June in a rushed voting process, ignoring both the judicial appeal and popular discontent with the move. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ratified the deal on 24 June. Protests and legal challenges had significantly delayed the deal, which Saudi Arabia interpreted as Egypt backtracking from the agreement.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government used the deteriorating security situation to further crack down on opposition. On 11 April, two days after two bombings at churches killed more than 40 people, parliament hastily approved a three-month state of emergency and amendments to the emergency law. The changes to the law would allow for detainees to be held for seven days without being required to stand before prosecutors, who could then submit a request from state security officials for a 30-day detention. This could be renewed indefinitely. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said that the changes granted authorities ‘greater ability, flexibility and speed’ to confront militant groups, but human-rights groups said the amendments granted wider and more extensive powers to security services. The state of emergency was extended for a further three months on 22 June.
On 23 May, security forces detained prominent lawyer and politician Khaled Ali on charges of ‘violating public morals’ after photographs reportedly appeared to show him making a rude hand gesture outside a Cairo courthouse. However, both Ali’s lawyer and human-rights groups said his detention was related to his work with the socialist Bread and Freedom Party, and his reported intention to run as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections. Ali previously ran for president in the 2012 elections, and had recently been considered a potential popular candidate by opposition figures hoping to challenge Sisi. He had especially gained popularity for challenging the Red Sea islands transfer.
Tensions between Egypt and Sudan continued despite attempts in April to quell them. On 23 May, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accused Egypt of supporting anti-government rebels. Bashir said Sudan’s military had seized Egyptian armoured vehicles from rebel forces in the Darfur region. Sisi rejected the accusations, but on 30 May Sudan approved a ban on the import of agricultural and animal products from Egypt. No official reason was given for the ban, but Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said the decision was because of ‘a technical procedure’.
In a final ruling on 2 March, Egypt's Court of Cassation acquitted deposed president Hosni Mubarak of charges of killing protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended his rule. Mubarak returned home on 24 March, having been detained for six years in the Maadi Military Hospital in south Cairo. A Cairo court also acquitted Zakaria Azmi, one of Mubarak's closest aides, of corruption charges on 25 February. Azmi had previously been handed a seven-year prison sentence on corruption charges in 2012.
Legal battles over the deal to grant sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia continued. On 16 January, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected the government's appeal, upholding a previous court ruling from June 2016 which annulled the agreement to transfer Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia. The deal was highly controversial, sparking protests in major Egyptian cities and multiple arrests.
There were, however, signs of improvement in Egypt–Saudi Arabia relations following months of tensions. On 29 March, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and King Salman exchanged invitations to visit their respective countries, although it was not announced when such visits would take place. This was preceded, on 15 March, by Saudi oil company Aramco's decision to resume oil exports to Egypt following their suspension in October 2016. On 22 January Egypt also extended its military participation in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which has been limited to deployment at the Bab al-Mandeb strait.
Tensions emerged between Egypt and Sudan after reports of a plan by Khartoum to evict Egyptians from the disputed Halayeb triangle on the Egypt–Sudan border. The Egyptian military occupied the area in 1995 and has rejected international arbitration. The head of Sudan's technical committee for border demarcation said on 19 March that officials from the foreign, justice and interior ministries met to discuss proposals for the plan. However, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Sudan agreed to hold talks in April and issued a joint statement expressing their 'full rejection of unacceptable transgressions or insults between the two brotherly countries.'
Domestically, Egypt's economic position remained unsteady, but international financial institutions were highly supportive of the government's policies, particularly the decision to float the currency last November to qualify for a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, on 20 March the World Bank disbursed US$1 billion in financial assistance as part of Egypt's US$3bn loan programme. On 29 March, the cabinet approved a proposed budget for 2017–18 with a target GDP growth of 4.6% in the coming financial year (beginning 1 July). The budget must gain parliamentary approval.
The Egyptian pound lost nearly half of its value after it was floated in November, which resulted in rapid inflation. On 11 February, the country's official statistics agency CAPMAS said Egypt's urban consumer price inflation reached 28.1% in January, the highest levels since central bank records began in 2005 and a rise from 23.3% in December 2016. The following day, finance minister Amr El-Garhy said he expected the inflation rate to continue to rise before reaching a peak at the end of March, and to ease by November or December.
Garhy was one of the ministers to keep his position after parliament approved a cabinet reshuffle on 14 February. The reshuffle, which President Sisi announced on 17 January, involved nine ministers, most notably the education and transport posts.
A potential point of contention between the presidency and the judiciary emerged in late March after parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee approved a law granting the president the power to appoint Egypt's highest judicial posts. The law, which still requires approval by the State Council and a second parliamentary vote, would change the judiciary's current seniority-based promotion system. Senior judges have criticised the law as an interference into judicial affairs.
Egypt’s relations with Saudi Arabia declined significantly over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, a deal for the handover of which had been announced in April. In June, the Higher Administrative Court had annulled the agreement stipulating the transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia, leading the government to lodge an appeal. In early December, a state advisory body issued a recommendation that the Court’s decision should be upheld. The court will issue its final verdict in mid-January. Despite the ongoing legal dispute, in late December the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters upheld a previous ruling in favour of proceeding with the demarcation agreement, and the government sent it to parliament for ratification. The announcement was viewed as an attempt to appease Saudi Arabia, after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had appeared to backtrack from the decision.
In addition to tensions over the two islands, Saudi Arabia and Egypt drifted further apart due to their conflicting stances on regional issues, particularly Syria, as Sisi made explicit statements in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to whom Saudi is opposed. In an interview with a Portuguese television network on 23 November, Sisi declared that his government’s policy is to support ‘national armies to impose control over the territory, deal with the extremists and impose the necessary stability’.
In early November, Saudi Arabia informed Egypt that oil shipments from Riyadh’s Aramco were indefinitely suspended. Egypt’s oil minister, Tarek el-Molla, said that Riyadh did not provide a reason for the suspension, and added that there were planned visits to other petroleum-exporting countries to strike new deals. Many have speculated that the Egyptian government will turn to Iran, Saudi’s regional rival, which seems eager to fill the gap. However, an oil deal is most likely to be struck with Iraq: both countries signed a memorandum of understanding in late October to develop oil cooperation. This includes imports of Iraqi oil and potential Egyptian investment in 12 Iraqi oilfields.
On 3 November, the government issued a decree raising the price of fuel by 30–47%. The decision was part of an overall economic restructuring announced by Egypt’s Central Bank to allow the Egyptian pound to float. The Central Bank set an initial guidance rate of EGP 13 to 1 US dollar, but an auction subsequently took place to set the currency rate at market price, which devalued it by almost 50%. This decision was an attempt by authorities to counter a growing black market for foreign currency, which had continued to spiral beyond their control. The move was also a pre-requisite for Egypt to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which was approved on 11 November. The package is for US$12 billion over three years. In late December, the World Bank also announced a US$1bn loan to Egypt in support of its economic reforms. The loan focuses on job creation and attracting investment.
Although the decision to float the Egyptian pound makes the currency more competitive abroad, it triggered inflation as well as large-scale shortages in basic commodities. Food prices have skyrocketed, as importers faced the risk of bankruptcy. The government accused traders of hoarding vital commodities such as medicines, including cancer treatments, and basic items such as insulin, tetanus shots and contraceptive pills, which were no longer available. Grocers and factories reported that the authorities were accusing them of hoarding, and were therefore confiscating supplies of sugar. In one case, the authorities seized 2,000 tonnes of sugar from a confectionery maker. Traders, however, accused the government of hoarding the stocks.
Riot police and armoured vehicles filled the streets of central Cairo in anticipation of planned anti-government protests on 11 November. A group called the Revolution of the Poor had called for protests over the country’s economic conditions. There are reports that the group is supported by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian authorities arrested 45 people during anti-austerity protests in various provinces outside Cairo, including Alexandria, Behira and Suez.
The Court of Cassation revoked a life sentence for former president Mohammed Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures over the 2011 prison break, and it cancelled 21 life sentences in the same case. The court ordered a retrial on charges of conspiring to commit terrorist acts with a foreign organisation. One week earlier, the same court had overturned a death sentence for Morsi over accusations that he shared state secrets with foreign governments, namely Qatar, and it also ordered a retrial. This was the only death sentence that had been issued against Morsi, who is still being tried in three other cases. So far, he has only received one final verdict, which is a 20-year jail sentence pertaining to his role in clashes in Ittihadiya. Furthermore, authorities removed the name of Ahmed Shafiq, a former presidential candidate, from airport watch lists, allowing him to return to the country. He faced numerous corruption charges following his election defeat in 2012.
After a large public backlash over the maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia, Egypt appeared to slowly backtrack from the decision. New developments on the agreement were hardly discussed, while Egyptian–Saudi relations deteriorated significantly. On 8 October, Egypt voted in favour of a Russia-backed UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution on Syria, leading Saudi oil company Aramco to halt shipments to Egypt. This decision amounted to a termination of a US$23 billion deal between the two countries for a monthly delivery of 700,000 tonnes of petroleum.
Egypt’s petroleum ministry said it received alternative oil imports from other international contractors, and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi insisted that Egyptian foreign policy remains ‘independent’ despite close historical ties to the Gulf states. The widening rift between Egypt and Saudi Arabia resulted in the Saudi ambassador to Egypt returning to Riyadh for three days on 12 October.
Relations with Italy remained strained following the murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni earlier this year. During a meeting between Egypt’s public prosecutor and his Italian counterpart, Egyptian prosecutors revealed that security services had questioned Regeni in early January, a few weeks before his disappearance. However, no actual progress was made on the investigation into his death. After the Italian Senate voted to halt the supply of military parts to Cairo, following frustration with its lack of cooperation, Egyptian parliamentary committees met to discuss Rome’s ‘hostility’ towards Cairo. Officials argued in favour of a ‘soft diplomacy’ towards Italy, after stating earlier that they were considering measures that may undermine cooperation with Italy.
Meanwhile, the US State Department announced on 19 October that it was ‘re-directing’ away from Egypt US$108 million of US$150m in unspent economic support funds, citing obstacles to effectiveness. This shift does not involve security assistance to Egypt.
Due to increasing economic distress, Egypt entered into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a three-year loan worth US$12 billion. Finance Minister Amr El-Garhy said the loan is needed to address the country’s debt deficit and to instil in foreign investors confidence in the economy. According to figures released by the Central Bank, foreign debt reached US$55.8bn at the end of 2015/16, marking a US$7.7bn rise from last year. This was accompanied by an increase in annual inflation.
Inflation rates are likely to remain elevated as the country’s central bank prepares to introduce fuel subsidy reforms and devalue the Egyptian pound in order to fulfil requirements for the IMF loan. Egypt is also expected to reduce subsidies, a decision that risks sparking unrest. Social media users scheduled mass demonstrations on 11 November to protest against the deteriorating economic conditions and the government’s economic policies. Furthermore, in Port Said riot police arrested at least 15 people who were demonstrating against an increase in prices in a government-sponsored social housing project in Sharq neighbourhood.
Policemen continued to face controversy over violence towards civilians. There were at least four incidents of police shootings due to quarrels and disagreements, three of which resulted in the death of civilians. Another three police officers in Helwan, southern Cairo, reportedly kidnapped and tortured a civilian man to death. Furthermore, in a highly symbolic ruling, Egypt’s Appeals Court upheld a decision to acquit a police officer who was charged with killing protesters on 28 January 2011 in northeast Cairo—the only police officer ever convicted of killing protesters during the 25 January uprising.
The legislative and constitutional committee in Egypt’s parliament approved ‘in principle’ a draft transitional justice law on 24 August. The constitution requires parliament to pass such a law, but rights groups are concerned with the lack of a political will to embark on a meaningful transitional process. Human Rights Watch had urged the parliament to pass a transitional justice law to investigate the killings of August 2013, which resulted in the death of around 1,000 people during the Rabaa and Nahda protest dispersals.
On the third anniversary of the deaths on 14 August, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said it will not compromise on the legitimacy of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi. The group called for the international community to prosecute the ‘perpetrators of the massacre’, referring to the Sisi government.
The Court of Cassation rejected an appeal against a 20-year prison sentence for 15 leading Muslim Brotherhood figures, including Morsi. It concurrently upheld the life sentence against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, along with 36 others. The court’s decision is final, and no further appeal is possible.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his first official visit to Cairo in April, a visit that aimed to demonstrate the close ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. During the visit, Egypt’s cabinet announced that it would hand over two islands near the Sinai Peninsula, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi control. Ownership of the islands had been disputed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia since their return to Egypt from Israel in 1982.
The deal proved highly controversial. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to demonstrate against what they viewed as the ‘selling’ of Egyptian national territory to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been one of the largest sources of funding for Egypt since the rise of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. In April alone, the two countries signed four funding accords worth US$22bn, including a US$1.5bn deal for 12 development projects in the Sinai Peninsula.
Egyptian security forces dispersed crowds using tear gas and proceeded to detain hundreds of people throughout April, especially the large groups that congregated on 25 April, a national holiday called Sinai Liberation Day. A gag order prevented the media from reporting on any arrests, but many protesters are thought to have received prison sentences ranging from between two and eight years. Some were later overturned, but the court upheld an US$11,000 fine per defendant. Several political parties began a week-long sit-in on 22 May at the headquarters of the Social Popular Alliance Party to protest at the islands deal. They demanded the annulment of the transfer of the islands and the release of those arrested on 25 April.
At least 46 journalists were arrested while covering the protests on 25 April. Families of imprisoned journalists began an open-ended sit-in at the headquarters of the Syndicate of Journalists, which claimed to have documented 782 violations against journalists last year. The press syndicate filed an official complaint on 26 April against the interior ministry, accusing it of assaulting journalists.
Tensions escalated when Egyptian police stormed the press syndicate on 1 May and arrested two journalists who had been staging a sit-in, leading the syndicate to announce an indefinite strike until the dismissal of the interior minister from his post. The chairman of the press syndicate and two syndicate board members went on trial in late May for publishing false news and harbouring two ‘wanted’ journalists at the headquarters. They were reportedly questioned for more than 14 hours on 30 May and released on bail ahead of the trial, which began on 4 June.
Meanwhile, the former head of Egypt’s auditing authority, Hisham Geneina, appealed against his dismissal from office. He was dismissed via executive decree in late March and was subsequently placed under house arrest. In the appeal to an administrative court, his lawyers argued that the dismissal contravened the constitution. He was referred to trial on charges of ‘spreading false news’ with assistance from ‘foreign bodies’, in reference to his remarks that the extent of corruption in Egypt exceeded US$67bn. He refused to pay his bail, saying the charges against him are political.
Officials affiliated to the disbanded Muslim Brotherhood continued to face harsh prison sentences. Former president Mohammed Morsi, his secretary and office manager were sentenced to life in prison on 18 June on charges of spying on behalf of foreign militant groups. Six other defendants, including three journalists, were sentenced to death in the same case, confirming a preliminary verdict from 7 May. A court sentenced Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, and 35 others, to life in prison. The sentences relate to clashes that took place in Ismailia province in 2013, which killed three people. A criminal court sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera journalists, to death on charges of espionage with Qatar. A military court in Minya sentenced 187 supporters of Morsi to life in prison for allegedly assaulting a police station in August 2013.
Finally, Egypt continued to face widespread international criticism for its lack of cooperation on the death of Italian researcher and PhD student Giulio Regeni. Regeni’s parents called on the European Parliament to declare Egypt an unsafe country to visit and to suspend ongoing economic and military accords. The Italian ambassador to Cairo was recalled in April due to lack of progress, and Italy’s foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni announced that Italy would not send him back to Cairo over Egypt’s handling of the case.
Fearing large demonstrations on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January revolution, Egypt launched heavy crackdowns against activists. It shut down online groups and arrested their members over accusations of incitement against the state. Tens of thousands of security forces deployed to Tahrir Square, outnumbering the few hundred protesters who congregated there.
On the same day, Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD student who was conducting research on labour unions in Egypt, disappeared. His body was found nine days later, shortly after Italian government officials pressed President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi over the issue. Regeni’s body bore signs of torture and abuse, and a post-mortem examination revealed that he had been interrogated for up to seven days at 10–14 hour intervals, consistent with methods used by the Egyptian interior ministry.
The government denied that security forces were involved in the attack and has done everything possible to deflect responsibility. It initially suggested that Regeni had died in a car accident, and then later insisted that it was a criminal act. It also suggested that the attack was perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, with Sisi stating that his ‘enemies’ killed Regeni to destabilise Egyptian relations with Italy. Although Sisi promised an investigation, Egyptian sources have reported that no such investigation was seriously carried out, and Italian investigators accused Egypt of not being cooperative.
The parliament of the European Union subsequently passed a resolution calling for the suspension of any security cooperation with the Egyptian authorities. The resolution is not binding, however, and Egypt has proceeded with a US$3.76bn loan from France to purchase military equipment. In an attempt to bring an end to Regeni’s case, Egypt announced in late March that it had found that a criminal gang had killed Regeni, all of whom had been killed in a shoot-out in a police raid on their home. The story is largely seen as a cover-up.
There were several other incidents of police brutality, triggering civil unrest. After policemen assaulted two doctors in a hospital in late January, thousands of doctors held a large demonstration, and the medical syndicate threatened to impose partial strikes around the country. There was another demonstration outside the headquarters of Cairo’s security directorate on 18 February after a policeman shot dead the driver of an auto-rickshaw in Darb al-Ahmar district.
Instability in Egypt has been aggravated by rising economic pressures. Facing a severe shortage in foreign currency reserves that has triggered a booming black market in dollars, the Central Bank adopted a more flexible exchange rate and devalued the Egyptian pound by almost 13% in mid-March. A cabinet reshuffle in late March brought in new finance and investment ministers to tackle the crisis, although ministers holding the key foreign, defence and interior posts remained unchanged.
Earlier in March, justice minister Ahmed el-Zend was dismissed for stating in a televised interview that he would jail the Prophet Muhammad himself if he broke the law. Zend made this statement in the context of a defence of the imprisonment of journalists, asking ‘why else prisons are made’. Zend had previously made controversial statements that could be seen to amount to hate speech, including saying that he will not be content until 10,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood are killed in exchange for every death from the armed forces.
Continuing with the government’s hardline policy towards the Brotherhood, Sisi dismissed the possibility of dialogue with the group. He stated that the ‘conflict’ is not between the state and the Brotherhood, but between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people. Although the judiciary has been largely supportive of crackdowns against the Brotherhood, some 50 judges were reportedly sent into retirement in March for allegedly supporting the group. This was part of a larger attempt by the government to shape the state’s branches. The foremost example is the parliament, which convened for the first time in four years on 10 January and which comprises figures who are overwhelmingly aligned with the Sisi government. An investigative report revealed in mid-March that the state actively intervened in the elections in order to engineer a parliament that is amenable to its interests.
In March, Egypt arrested 14 people from a Brotherhood ‘cell’ that allegedly killed Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat last year. The interior ministry broadcast clips of the alleged perpetrators confessing to being Brotherhood operatives and receiving military training from Hamas. However, many believe the confessions were forced, or extracted under torture.
A Hamas delegation visited Cairo on 12 March for an attempted reconciliation. Hamas reportedly requested that Egypt open the Rafah border crossing, while Egypt called on Hamas to sever ties with the Brotherhood. Although a complete reconciliation is unlikely, the meeting represents a significant development in Egyptian attitudes towards Hamas, and it may potentially ease tensions and boost security at the border area. At about the same time as the meeting, Egyptian forces reported that they had uncovered a 3-km tunnel from Gaza into Sinai, large enough to accommodate a truck.
After multiple delays since mid-2013, this quarter Egypt finally held parliamentary elections. Figures who are aligned with the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, such as a large electoral alliance called For The Love Of Egypt, won the majority of seats. The elections were largely without controversy – despite allegations of vote-buying and the assassination of a Salafi candidate from the pro-government al-Nour party in al-Arish, North Sinai. Election results revealed a low turnout, an average of around 25%, even after the government threatened to levy fines against non-voting citizens.
Several groups that are opposed to Sisi, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Revolutionary Socialists, boycotted the election and called for Sisi to step down. Youth activists sought to build momentum ahead of the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January uprising, accusing Sisi of failing to address the demands of the revolution. They launched online campaigns calling for large-scale mobilisation ‘back to Tahrir’ to protest widespread restrictions on civil liberties. Sisi criticised calls for a new revolution, saying it would ‘destroy the country’ and emphasising that he was ‘popularly elected’.
However, there seemed to be a resurgence of several unresolved grievances that had contributed to the uprising in 2011, such as police brutality. After a civilian died in police custody in Luxor in late November, hundreds of people marched to the Luxor security directorate, chanting slogans against the police. Similar protests broke out in Kafr al-Sheikh in December after a policeman killed a civilian over a traffic altercation. Although the interior ministry insisted that such cases were ‘individual acts’ of misconduct, demonstrators argued that security personnel have perpetrated acts of violence with impunity.
In the few cases in which policemen were convicted for acts of murder, they tended to receive shorter sentences. For example, two policemen who tortured a Brotherhood-affiliated lawyer to death each received a five-year imprisonment. Many viewed the sentence as disproportionate, particularly compared to the death sentences given to Brotherhood supporters and other individuals accused of murdering policemen. In December, the Court of Cassation upheld the death penalty in its final verdict against five people who killed a policeman in January 2014. However, such irrevocable sentences are rare, and most of the death sentences have been reduced or retracted. The court unexpectedly invalidated the death penalty for several Brotherhood leaders, including the Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, and ordered a retrial for the defendants.
Another controversial case was a secret military trial of 26 officers accused of conspiring with the Brotherhood to overthrow the Sisi government. There has been no official information about the investigation, charges or trial, and the military dismissed the news reports as false, insisting that the army remains both cohesive and supportive of Sisi. There have been other incidents suggesting a rising internal fragmentation within the army, including evidence of defections by army officers to non-state armed groups.
Militant activity significantly destabilised the country this quarter. A deadly attack by Sinai Province against a Russian plane departing from Sharm el-Sheikh killed 224 people and severely undermined the government’s attempts to revitalise the economy by boosting tourism. The number of visitors to tourist areas such as Sharm el-Sheikh reportedly declined by around 85%.
To address this, Egypt hired a London-based consultancy to provide a ‘comprehensive assessment’ of security in Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh airports, with other airports due to be investigated at a later date. The firm plans to provide airport personnel with training and recommendations for enhancing airport safety, in an attempt to quell concerns over lax security; the attacks fuelled global scrutiny of measures in the country’s airports.
Tourism to Sinai suffered another blow when the UK reported that a Thomson Airways flight had dodged a projectile while traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh earlier in the year. The plane reportedly came within 300m of the missile, which was not thought to be targeting the plane, but was rather attributed to the army’s operations in North Sinai.
Egypt denied that the incident took place, and its official inquiry of the Russian plane crash ruled out terrorism. The government concurrently criticised ‘external’ and ‘premature’ reports in the UK, US and Russia that declared that the plane crash was an act of terror, and state-owned newspapers described their conclusions as a conspiracy.
Adding to Egypt’s financial troubles, an international arbitrator ordered it to pay US$1.76bn for halting its gas supplies to Israel in 2012, following attacks by militants in Sinai. Egypt’s General Petroleum Corporation and the Holding Company for Natural Gas vowed to appeal the ruling.
The government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab unexpectedly resigned on 12 September. The sudden resignation followed investigations into corruption within the government, which had led to the resignation of Agriculture Minister Salah Helal a week earlier. Helal is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for land licenses. A new government was sworn in on 19 September, led by Sharif Ismail, the former petroleum minister. Most of key posts remained unchanged, with the defence, foreign, interior, finance and justice ministers keeping their positions.
A date has finally been set for the long-delayed parliamentary election: the first stage is due to commence on 17-18 October. New laws for the parliamentary election were passed throughout July and August, defining voting districts and the distribution of seats between individuals and parties. A law in early August allocated 448 seats in parliament to individuals, 120 seats to parties and set quotas for women, youth and Christians. The 120 seats for parties are expected to go to the ‘For the Love of Egypt’ list, which includes many of the largest political parties.
On 18 September, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections. The leadership of the Brotherhood insisted that it is committed to nonviolence and urged peaceful protests and various civil disobedience campaigns. However, it also made several statements inflaming the existing insurgency by some of its ‘revolutionary’ youth. After 13 of its members were killed in a raid in early July, the Brotherhood called for a ‘revolt’ by its members—the most explicit endorsement of violence yet. Former president Mohammed Morsi also told his supporters in mid-July to take action to save the country from the ‘oppressive junta’, signing his message as the ‘president of the Arab Republic of Egypt’.
Morsi’s defence team filed an appeal against his imprisonment and death sentence, but it is unlikely to be successful, as the government has continued to crack down on any activity by the Brotherhood. The group held several rallies, marking the two-year anniversary of the events in the summer of 2013. These rallies were dispersed by security forces, often violently. At least seven people were killed while attempting to demonstrate on behalf of the Brotherhood.
Furthermore, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, was handed down his sixth life sentence on 22 August. Badie and other leaders are also facing a new trial, which commenced on 11 August, over the events of Rabaa al-Adawiya. They are accused of armed assembly, murder, assault of police officers, blocking traffic, possessing arms and sabotaging and threatening security.
Meanwhile, Egypt has come under the international spotlight after its security forces mistakenly killed 12 civilians, including eight Mexican tourists, in the Western Desert on 13 September. The incident resulted in widespread international condemnation and became a source of embarrassment for the state, affecting the military’s credibility in its counter-insurgency efforts. The Mexican foreign minister flew to Cairo in the days following the incident demanding answers and her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, promised a transparent investigation.
The next day the chief prosecutor banned news coverage of the attack. The ban followed new counter-terrorism laws passed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on 17 August, granting security forces protection from prosecution and giving prosecutors wide surveillance and detention powers. The laws enabled expedited trials in special courts for those accused of terrorism and banned contradictions to official accounts on attacks with hefty fines. The fines, ranging from US$25,000 to US$65,000, are an amendment to an earlier draft to jail journalists for up to two years.
Finally, Egypt opened its ‘New Suez Canal’ on 6 August – the centrepiece of Sisi’s ambition to revitalise the economy. The project, which involved enlarging the Canal, cost US$8.2bn and is expected to generate US$12.23bn per year in revenues by 2023. It has, however, been criticised as unnecessary and is viewed as a political endeavour, which will not bring in the aforementioned returns. The Egyptian economy nevertheless received a boost after Italian energy company Eni discovered a ‘supergiant’ gas field off Egypt’s shore on 30 August. Potentially amounting to 30trn cubic feet of gas, it is described as the largest gas field that has been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea to date. The discovery may ease Egypt’s long-standing fuel shortage.
The assassination of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s chief prosecutor, on 29 June in Cairo, was widely viewed as the culmination of brewing resentment towards the judiciary and government. Barakat was a controversial figure known for handing down mass death sentences to hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. An obscure group calling itself Popular Resistance in Giza – thought to be composed of radicalised, pro-Brotherhood militants – said that it had carried out the assassination, which drew pledges of revenge from President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Barakat’s killing came after more than 250 members of the Brotherhood were sentenced to death in the quarter, including on 16 May former president Muhammad Morsi on charges relating to a jailbreak in 2011. More than 100 others were also sentenced to death in the same trial, including the Brotherhood’s supreme guide and other high-level figures. Morsi received two more sentences: a 20-year sentence on 21 April over allegations relating to violence and incitement, and a 25-year sentence in mid-June over allegations of espionage. Morsi is reportedly seeking to appeal against all of his sentences.
With the arrest and deaths of many of the Brotherhood’s senior leaders, youth cadres have advocated a ‘revolutionary’ direction, as described by a prominent member of the Brotherhood’s youth movement, Amr Darrag, on 21 April. The new direction has called for bolder confrontation with the Sisi government and resulted in fissures within the Brotherhood. The near-explicit endorsement of violence by this younger generation, particularly towards state infrastructure, has given way to a low-level insurgency. However, many senior members, particularly those in exile, have continued to preach non-violence and sought to internationalise their struggle. The government does not tolerate either faction, even in an unofficial capacity. A visit by individuals affiliated to the Brotherhood’s dissolved Freedom and Justice Party to Washington DC drew ire from Egyptian officials, who summoned the United States’ ambassador to Cairo in early June to express their displeasure.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian high court approved the retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak over the killing of demonstrators during the 2011 uprising, overturning an earlier acquittal by a lower court. The high court, however, upheld the acquittals of the other seven defendants, including former interior minister Habib al-Adli. It concurrently upheld a separate three-year sentence for Mubarak, along with his sons, on charges of embezzlement. On 11 June a criminal court sentenced a policeman to 15 years in prison for the killing of activist Shaima al-Sabbagh. Sabbagh’s death, during a demonstration on the fourth anniversary of the 25 January uprising, elicited widespread outrage, which explains the rare prosecution of a member of the security forces.
The government faced rising criticism over slow progress towards parliamentary elections, which were indefinitely delayed in March. The Cabinet promulgated three new electoral laws in June, which were described as giving disproportionate space to individual candidates relative to parties. Political parties feared that this would further weaken them, especially after the government rejected amendments to the electoral law that the 32 main political parties had suggested. Many parties, even those that support the government, complained that they were being sidelined. Sisi called on large parties to run in the parliamentary elections under one joint electoral list, but many expressed strong scepticism towards the suggestion. The elections are likely to face further delay, though Sisi pledged on 29 April that they would be held before the end of the year.
Finally, Mahfouz Saber resigned on 12 May as justice minister, following a backlash that ensued when he stated on live television that the sons of rubbish collectors could not become judges. A new justice minister, Ahmad al-Zend, was sworn in on 20 May.
Parliamentary elections due to take place on 21 March were delayed indefinitely after the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) declared the law defining electoral districts unconstitutional. The elections, which represent the final step of Egypt’s ‘roadmap’ to democracy, had already been delayed multiple times, enabling the president to pass laws by decree in the meantime. Opponents of the government feared that this was part of an effort to dilute the powers of parliament and consequently concentrate power into the hands of the executive.
Furthermore, the government has significantly restricted the activity of opposition groups, as indicated by increasing crackdowns on demonstrations. Around the four-year anniversary of the 25 January uprising, security forces breaking up protests killed 20 people in two days, including a liberal-socialist activist who was shot dead while carrying flowers. Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s death resulted in widespread condemnation, but it was not an isolated incident. Just a few days earlier, a student was killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
Egypt held an economic conference at the tourist city of Sharm el-Sheikh in South Sinai in mid-March, bringing together more than 1,700 foreign officials as well as global CEOs and investors. An opportunity for the government to showcase a series of fiscal and legal reforms considered to be ‘business-friendly’, the conference sought to strengthen investor confidence in the Egyptian economy and support its development. Egypt reportedly signed US$138 billion in investment deals during the three-day event, and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to support the economy with an additional US$12bn. However, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi suggested that Egypt requires at least US$300bn over the next few years to revitalise its economy.
Prior to the conference, Sisi announced plans to build an industrial zone and a new airport in South Sinai. This is the latest in a string of ambitious projects, including building a second city east of Cairo at a cost of US$45bn, as well as enlarging the Suez Canal to double its profits. The economic summit was viewed as a political endorsement for Sisi and his neoliberal economic vision, which critics say is reminiscent of the economic policies pursued by former president Hosni Mubarak that predominantly benefitted the wealth regime-aligned elite.
After a string of acquittals for former officials in the Mubarak government, his two sons were released from prison on 26 January pending their retrial on corruption charges. Similarly, on 19 March, Mubarak’s last interior minister, Habib al-Adly was released from prison after facing four different trials. He was acquitted in March on charges of illicit financials gains, after previously being quitted of killing demonstrators. Also in March, Mubarak’s former oil minister was acquitted of corruption charges that included selling gas to Israel below market price and squandering public funds.
However, the multiple trials of former president Mohammed Morsi proceeded, with the espionage trial potentially carrying the death penalty. On 11 February, the Court of Cassation overturned the death sentence handed down to the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and 34 others, ordering a retrial for all 136 defendants accused of murder.
Crackdowns against the ousted and now-illegal Muslim Brotherhood continued throughout this quarter. One of the few senior leaders of the movement who had not been imprisoned, Mohamed Ali Bishr, was arrested on 20 November. He is accused of incitement to violence and calling for unauthorised demonstrations. The government previously considered Bishr to be one of the ‘moderate’ voices within the Muslim Brotherhood because he was its main channel of communication with the group. His arrest reinforces the view that the government is not interested in a national dialogue. Egyptian officials have sought to brand the Muslim Brotherhood as an insurgent group. On 3 November Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry accused the Brotherhood of having ‘clear ties’ to terrorist attacks throughout the country.
Former President Mohamed Morsi currently faces four simultaneous trials: inciting the murder of demonstrators during clashes at Ittihadiya Palace in December 2012; escaping from Wadi Natroun prison on 28 January 2011; revealing national security secrets to foreign groups (amounting to espionage); and insulting the judiciary. Also accused in the Ittihadiya Palace trial are 14 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood including Mohamed Badie and Mohamed al-Beltagy. In the espionage trial, 34 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood are also accused, including senior figures such as Mohamed Badie, Khairat al-Shater, Saad al-Katatny, Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam el-Arian. Morsi has not yet received a verdict in any of the trials.
Anti-government demonstrations have become less frequent but increasingly bloody. A pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration on 4 October triggered clashes with police officers and led to the death of four demonstrators. An estimated 1,400 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been killed since Morsi was deposed, while 15,000 have been jailed. Another demonstration led by the Salafist Front in late November resulted in the death of four people and the arrest of more than 100. Liberal activists also faced crackdowns. Dissident blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested again on 27 October along with 22 others for participating in demonstrations without a permit. They were also accused of blocking a road, damaging public property and using violence to ‘terrorise’ civilians.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi indicated that parliamentary elections are likely to be held in March 2015, after criticism mounted over the lengthy delay. According to the roadmap adopted in 2013, elections should have taken place by the end of 2014. The absence of a parliament has given al-Sisi the power to legislate by decree. For example, on 27 October al-Sisi passed a two-year decree enabling the military to assist the police with guarding ‘state infrastructure’, which in turn enabled civilians to be tried in military courts and expanded the power of the military.
Meanwhile, al-Sisi’s efforts to fix Egypt’s economy received approval from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when its representative praised recently enacted reforms and projected economic growth at 3.8% for the 2014–15 financial year. The government had invited the IMF mission to boost confidence prior to an investment conference scheduled to take place in March 2015. The IMF called on the government to allow the Egyptian pound to depreciate further, citing investors’ fears that it was overvalued. Economic reforms have been possible because of financial support extended by Gulf countries. This has included aid packages, shipments of fuel and petroleum products, as well as deposits to the Central Bank of Egypt.
New president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi deepened the crackdown on political opposition begun under Egypt’s military-led interim government. Anyone or anything with Muslim Brotherhood links was a particular target. After the Brotherhood itself was outlawed last December, its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, was banned this August. Another Islamist party, al-Istiqlal, was prohibited in September over its role in the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a Brotherhood-led coalition that supports the reinstatement of former Islamist president Muhammad Morsi.
Morsi’s trial, on charges of leaking national secrets to Qatar via its al-Jazeera news channel, was postponed until mid-October. However, two other Brotherhood leaders, Safwat Hegazy and Mohamed el-Beltagy, were sentenced to 20 years in jail on charges of torturing police officers during the Rabaa sit-in – the protest camp for Morsi supporters that was violently dispersed by security forces in August 2013.
The Grand Mufti converted the death sentence handed down to Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad
Badie in April to life imprisonment. In June, the Mufti had upheld Badie’s death sentence in relation to the killing of a police officer in an attack by protesters in Minya in 2013. However after being asked by prosecutors to reconsider, the Mufti unusually reversed his decision. Badie has received three other life sentences: in July, on charges of blocking a road north of Cairo; in late August for inciting violence in Giza; and in mid-September on charges of being linked to a terrorist organisation and plotting chaos across Egypt.
Hundreds more people affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested or had their businesses closed.
Egypt has not elected a parliament for more than a year; the lower house was dissolved in 2012 and the upper house was abolished by the new 2014 constitution. So laws have predominantly been enacted via presidential decree.
Sisi made a start at fixing Egypt’s stricken economy by cutting fuel and gas subsidies that had cost the state one-fifth its budget. Although this meant price rises of more than 75%, the government sweetened the pill with free bus transport and increased food subsidies, and the measure met little public protest. The cash-strapped government also warned that electricity cuts were likely to continue, while urging the population to donate to increase its revenue.
Sisi also unveiled an $8.5bn scheme to upgrade and enlarge the Suez Canal, allowing it to operate at double its capacity. The expansion of the canal is expected to bring in $2–5bn in extra toll revenues within the next few years, though some fear that the project may be too ambitious.
As widely forecast, former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won the May presidential election by a huge margin. He finished with 93% of the vote, dwarfing the 3% won by the only other candidate, the leftist Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi.
However, the relatively low turnout dented his credibility. Only 46% of registered voters cast a ballot despite the government’s last-minute announcement of a third day of voting. Sabahi’s attempt to contest the results was rejected by the electoral commission.
Sisi, who must fix Egypt’s flagging economy and stem Islamist unrest in the country’s north, is feted by his many followers as the strong leader most likely to bring stability to Egypt. However, supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Morsi and many other Sisi critics boycotted the elections. They fear that any stability established by Sisi will come at the expense of democratic freedoms.
The June decision to uphold the death sentence for Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie and many other of the group’s supporters did nothing to alleviate concerns about an increasingly repressive political climate. Hundreds of other Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Before the election, Sisi declared the group ‘finished’. In April, Egypt's interim government also outlawed the 6 April youth movement, a key player in mobilising support for the revolution that brought down former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The new president kept many ministers from the interim government ruling Egypt since Morsi’s removal in July 2013. The interim prime minister, Ibrahim Mahloub, was reappointed, alongside the ministers of defence, interior and finance.
Egypt’s economy is in dire straits, with the government bankrupt, youth unemployment high, prices rising and the country’s all-important tourism industry hit by fears of terrorism and general insecurity.
Since his election, Sisi has tried to brace Egyptians for a period of austerity and he recently halved his own salary. He also participated in a cycling marathon to encourage Egyptians to drive less and save fuel, which is heavily subsidised. Citizens were expecting subsidies on fuel and natural gas, which take up almost a quarter of the state’s annual budget, to be removed.
In a move that surprised no-one by the time it happened in late March, Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi resigned as defence minister and head of the army to run for the presidency. The man who led last year’s military ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Muhammad Morsi, Sisi has become the object of popular – some say cult-like – devotion among many Egyptians. Supporters of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood are not among that constituency, however. Others also worry that he may lead the country back into military authoritarianism.
Rights campaigners have already expressed concern about what they consider an increasingly repressive political environment. Sisi’s candidacy was announced less than a week after an Egyptian judge stunned the international community by sentencing 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death for the murder of a single police officer.
Several moves paved the way for Sisi’s presidential run, beginning in mid-January with the passage of a new constitution to replace that put forward by Islamist president Morsi.
The amended document, which Egyptians backed overwhelmingly in a referendum, retained Islamic law as a major source for legislation, but banned political parties based on religion. It provided more rights for women and minorities, and made torture a crime. However, it also abolished the upper house of parliament, or Shura Council, gave more power to the interior ministry and insisted the minister of defence should only be appointed with military approval.
Ninety-eight per cent voted ‘yes’, but with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist Alliance for Support of Legitimacy boycotting the referendum, the 39% turnout was also crucial to ensuring the legitimacy of the process. Cairo was one of three governorates that rejected the new constitution. However, ultimately there was greater public support than for the 2012 Islamist constitution, which was passed with around 64% of the vote, after 33% of registered voters turned out.
The new constitution also provided for presidential and parliamentary elections, the first of which interim President Adly Mansour announced on 26 January. Later that month, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) gave Sisi the go-ahead to run, and Mansour promoted him from colonel-general to field marshall, Egypt’s top military rank.
Once Sisi announced his bid for the presidency, former armed forces chief-of-staff Sami Enan, one of two candidates announced in February, withdrew from the race. Others declined to put themselves forward, claiming the process would be rigged. That left the left-wing Hamdeen Sabahi, the third runner-up in the 2012 presidential election, as Sisi’s only challenger. Sisi was expected to win by a landslide.
In late February, interim PM Hazim El-Biblawi and his cabinet unexpectedly resigned. Biblawi said this was ‘in light of the current situation the country is going through’, but it was unclear whether he was referring to a recent series of industrial strikes or increasing terrorist activity. The decision left Egypt with its sixth government since the start of the 2011 uprising. The departure of the liberal Biblawi was seen as further reducing the prospect of reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
January – September
Political developments in the Sinai were dominated by the political crisis that emerged when President Muhammad Morsi was forcibly removed from office on 3 July. His removal had far-reaching consequences for the Sinai Peninsula, as militants operating there escalated attacks to protest the return of the Egyptian military to the political scene with unprecedented power.
The removal of Morsi took place when hundreds of thousands of people descended to Tahrir Square on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. The opposition, organised by a group called Tamarod (Rebellion), reportedly obtained 22 million signatures, which is roughly half of Egypt’s eligible voting population. In response, pro-Morsi supporters descended to Rabaa al-Adawiyya Square to demonstrate their support for the legitimacy of their elected president.
The military rapidly aligned itself with the Tahrir protesters, calling on Morsi to step down and to impose a referendum. It gave Morsi a 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the crisis, after which he gave a defiant speech stating his legitimacy cannot be undermined. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi subsequently announced that Morsi was no longer in power, creating a transitional government led by interim President Adly Mansour and supported by Egypt’s top Muslim and Christian clerics, the Nobel Prize winner Mohamed El Baradei, salafis, as well as youth representatives. The military sought to isolate President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood by attempting to showcase unity among the rest of the political classes. It subsequently further isolated the Brotherhood as it presented its members as a ‘terrorist’ minority, rushing to create links between the Brotherhood and rejuvenated militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
After Morsi was forcibly removed, thousands of people held a rally in northern Sinai announcing the formation of a ‘war council’ and vowing to expel security forces from the Peninsula to create an Islamic emirate. Although they do not necessarily fully support Morsi, they possess strong reservations regarding the military’s return to power and its subsequent violent crackdowns.
The military has sought to implicate Morsi in the violence in Sinai by saying insurgents are linked to him via Hamas and often referring to them as ‘Hamas operatives’. Morsi himself is currently being tried for conspiring with the Palestinian group. This has led to increasing suspicion towards Palestinians in Egypt, with an unprecedented rise in the number of Palestinians arrested and deported. Military analysts claim that many radical Islamists from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Sinai and spread jihadist ideology, though Hamas strongly refutes this. Members of Morsi’s entourage, such as Mohammed el-Beltagy and Gehad el-Haddad, say violence in Sinai is a result of Morsi’s popularity and will subside once the President is reinstated.
October – December
Political developments were concerned with speculation over the upcoming Egyptian elections, the implementation of a number of controversial laws by the interim government, and the failure of reconciliation between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood. There were few developments directly linked to the conflict in the Sinai.
When the military retook control of Egyptian politics, it implemented a ‘roadmap’ with the aim of writing a new constitution, followed by presidential elections. Meanwhile, Egypt was run by interim president Adly Mansour, who is viewed as a figurehead for the military. With presidential elections scheduled for 2014, there has been widespread speculation about whether Defence Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who holds a great deal of political power and popularity in Egypt, will run for elections. Few candidates have indicated their willingness to challenge Sisi should he run, with some, such as former candidate Ahmed Shafik, explicitly stating that their decision to run for president will be contingent upon his decision.
A panel headed by a number of hand-picked political figures wrote a new constitution, which will be subject to a referendum vote in January. Egypt’s constitutional panel has also adopted a counter-terrorism law, which gives has been described by activists as an attempt to silence political dissent. The most controversial clause legislates the right to monitor internet and social media activities deemed to threaten Egyptian national security and to penalise their usage.
On 16 November, a coalition of Islamists led by a figure associated with the Muslim Brotherhood offered to start a dialogue with the military. In return for ending the political crisis, the coalition demanded that the army halts its security crackdowns against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The government, on the other hand, said it would agree to reconciliation only if the Muslim brotherhood accepts the transitional roadmap. The reconciliation failed, and the Egyptian interim authorities banned all Brotherhood institutions in October, including its role as a non-government organisation. In December, the state announced that the Muslim Brotherhood was an illegal terrorist organisation.
The trial of deposed president Muhammad Morsi started on 4 November. Morsi is charged with inciting the killing of protesters, as well as treason, which carries the death penalty. Morsi responded to the allegations by accusing Sisi of treason, and the army of carrying out a coup d’état and kidnapping the president. He maintained that the case is illegitimate and declared that he is still the elected president.