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Shunning Egypt’s Al Sisi?

The West was not only happy to flirt with Mubarak. It is also still in bed with plenty of bad guys.

September 19, 2016

The West was not only happy to flirt with Mubarak. It is also still in bed with plenty of bad guys.

Western nations were always very tolerant of Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades. In contrast, they shun Egypt’s current President Al Sisi.

That has me wonder: Is their strong distaste for Al Sisi perhaps grounded in their ex post-facto sense of displeasure with themselves, largely for having been too tolerant of Mubarak?

The principal mechanism by which Mubarak gained the trust and friendship of Western leaders was by pointing them to the possibility that Egypt could easily fall under Islamic rule.

Mubarak holding the reins in Egypt was the only thing that stood between a fragile stability and outright chaos.

Mubarak was wise enough also to offer a positive scenario. His offer of a “Stable Egypt” politically was an alternative that the West (aware of Egypt’s socioeconomic challenges) valued highly.

Mubarak’s trump card served him well. The West never let him down.

Enter Al Sisi: Time for a reappraisal?

For his part, Al Sisi believes that, having ousted the Muslim Brotherhood and designated it a terrorist organization, he deserves far more credit by the West than he actually receives.

Even though he has stabilized the situation in his country, the Egyptian president doesn’t even figure on the Western political radar.

Whatever others may consider his shortfalls and drawbacks, they just ought to undertake a reality check and compare Egypt, fragile though it is, to the nations that lie in rubble all around it.

Mubarak’s big promise didn’t pan out

The January 25 revolution and subsequent peaceful rise to power by the Muslim Brotherhood invalidated Mubarak’s national stability illusion.

The millions of Egyptians who revolted in such an admirable manner proved that Egypt has a real potential to become a genuinely democratic, modern nation.

That history is now buried. Western nations are still perplexed by how – owing to their own cowardice and overemphasis on business relations and anti-democratically managed political “stability” – they completely missed Egypt’s budding democratic moment.

The obvious task remains at hand: A need to engage political Islamists constructively in the democratic process.

After all, in the only fair and free election in our country’s modern history, democratic Islamists managed to obtain over two-thirds of the seats in the Egyptian parliament. Later, they won the presidential election with Mohamed Morsi.

West’s bad conscience

These developments were much belatedly accepted in the West, triggering a paradigm shift in the stance of Western politicians.

This is why the door remains by and large closed for Al Sisi, who later overthrew the democratic results by force.

Al Sisi, a man who is not apologetic and strongly adheres to an “I am whom I am” philosophy, deems that the West should “make nice” with him even more than it used to with Mubarak.

More pragmatism needed?

In Al-Sisi’s view, the West should not merely acknowledge his policies. It should also support them. Egypt’s president believes that because in his view he has brought his country back to the starting block.

He believes that the West should make a U-turn – and support him strongly, rather than obsessing about political events that unfolded in Egypt in recent years.

Moreover, Al Sisi considers even the West’s brief and hesitant cooperation with the elected Muslim Brotherhood-aligned government – before the ouster of President Morsi and restoration the prior status quo – as clear evidence of conspiring against Egypt.

Western nations are often not candid in their relationship with Egypt. Nevertheless, observing what happened in Egypt in recent years, many Western countries believe that Egypt could pursue a better political path, especially avoiding widespread violations of human rights.

Al Sisi’s eagerness to re-establish the Egyptian president’s “special relationship” with the West should give Western leaders an edge to engage with him constructively.

The international media also tries to advance progress in Egypt by acknowledging Egypt’s challenges in their coverage of the country.

But Al Sisi is only familiar with his domestic brand of “controlled” media, and so he is convinced that the international media is only out to highlight Egypt’s repressive policies.

International media, he feels, are displaying no gratitude or understanding for his efforts to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Sisi paints himself further into a corner by accusing the entire world of conspiring against his country. As a result, he appears to be “lost in translation” between what Western and non-Western nations are willing to offer Egypt and what he, and Egyptians at large, should commit themselves to.

The West has considerable leverage

What strengthens the hand of the West in its dealings with Al Sisi is that the Gulf states’ willingness to practice checkbook diplomacy and bail out Egypt and its President financially is getting ever more limited. They are estimated to have given Egypt a total of $29 billion over the last three years.

They have hinted to Al Sisi on many occasions that Egypt will not be receiving an open check without making some commitments in return.

Even so, Al Sisi resists their constructive proposal to pursue economic reforms. Even Russia applied increased political pressures on Egypt after the downing of its jet on Egyptian soil.

As a result of all this, Al Sisi remains too cocky and self-assured, while the West stays too distant, not wanting to dirty its hands with yet another political disturbance turned Egypt strongman.

They have seen the potential for another path, contrary to Mubarak’s decades of warnings, and Sisi has come along and ruined that anyway – as well as worsened the violence he claims to prevent.

Both sides are stuck in clichés to an appreciable extent. Given the many fires in the Middle Eastern neighborhood, a bit more openness and circumspection is warranted from both the West and Al Sisi.


Is the West’s distaste for Al Sisi grounded in displeasure with themselves for having been too tolerant of Mubarak?

Egyptians who revolted in an admirable manner proved that Egypt had the potential to become a democratic nation.

In Al-Sisi’s view, the West should not merely acknowledge his policies. It should also support them.

Because Al Sisi believes in “controlled media,” he is convinced that the international media is out to get him.