Testing Water: The Future of US-Egypt Relations

11 months have passed since the June 2013 uprisings, and one of the most important geo-political partnerships in the Middle East is still at a crossroads.

Egypt and the United States have kept close political and military ties for nearly four decades. The ordinary hiccups and obstacles along the way notwithstanding, this partnership has endured and proved to be “The cornerstone of the American foreign policy in the Mid-East”, as former US president George W. Bush described it back in 2002.

The crossroads comes at a particularly significant and rather sensitive time. In just over a month, Egypt will witness its second presidential elections in the space of two years, nearly a year after the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. The crossroads also represents the present and future predicament of this vital relationship. The US was not entirely satisfied with the course of action that took place in Egypt post- June 2013. This was clearly evident in their aid cuts and public statements. But will that hinder the two states from reconciliation? The world is currently on its toes, awaiting the results of the upcoming presidential elections, and the same can also be said of the American administration.

However, the presidential election results alone cannot be the sole guarantor of what is to come between the two countries. Several variables are also at play in this equation – historical ones most definitely. American influence in the Middle East through Egypt was achieved through a long process and it certainly cannot be disentangled in a fortnight. Yet what the previous year’s incidents have shown us is that power politics are still at large. The phase that both states are presently in cannot be better described than “political foreplay”.

In October 2013, the US Congress decided to withhold its military aid to Egypt. While not all of the aid was halted, a noteworthy amount was cut. Such a move came as the result of the seemingly unproductive process that the interim government undertook after July 3rd, namely the marginalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood from political life, the heavy security operations that ensued at the dispersals of the Raba’a and Nahda squares, and as US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “credible progress” has to be sought for the resumption of aid.

An abundant aid package has been provided since late president Anwar Al-Sadat’s time. A package of aid that also entailed certain responsibilities to be fulfilled by the Egyptian government – especially when Mubarak was in power. Economic and Financial consulting firm “Dcode” highlighted that American aid to Egypt decreased from $2.3 billion in 1991 to $1.55 billion in 2013. Such a cut was not gradual over the years; rather it was an abrupt one, mainly because the US relied heavily on the Mubarak regime to sustain an open relationship with Israel and keep the Egyptian population in check. The importance of the Egyptian regime to the US grew after 2001, particularly throughout the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when American ships passed through the Suez Canal en route to the Gulf.

It is also natural for a shift in policies to occur. This happened in January and February 2011, when the US government decided to side with the people on the streets and abandon their loyal ally, a pragmatic move at best and certainly, for a short period, a smart tactic. This brings us to another important aspect of this relationship. Even if the Americans decided to adopt a more friendly approach in the future, what guarantees that it will endure?

Russia might prove to be a speed bump along the way for the Egypt-US reconciliation process. Needless to say, the present situation is not the same as in the time of the Cold War, but Russia demonstrated that it can be a key player in the Middle East. Key matters such as the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear file showcase that Russia is still capable of outweighing the US in sensitive areas. That does not necessarily mean that it will replace the US as Egypt’s patron, as political researcher Nael Shama put it.

Yet Russia has voiced its support for the Egyptian regime and people. In addition, Russian president Vladimir Putin implicitly voiced support for Al-Sisi’s presidential bid. Giving Al-Sisi’s grand stature in the hearts of many Egyptians, he is widely expected to become the next head of state.

Additionally, Shama notes that the Americans would reconsider their stance towards the new regime depending on the election process and whether it is conducted through democratically supervised methods. Shama expects that issues such as human rights and integrating the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process would definitely be put as indicators to restarting the partnership in the future.

American-Egyptian relations were built on a basic and strong foundation, but they are not unshakeable. What the partnership has witnessed in the past turbulent year has put it to the test. Whether or not both countries will manage to succeed in overcoming the obstacles, it is still premature to define it as a failing partnership. The aid subject is not all there is in such a strategic relationship either. Publicly supporting the Egyptian regime is imperative for the continuation of any further rapprochement.

This Op-ed was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com. It is written by Yahia Gweifel.

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The Proposed Sexual Harassment Draft Law in Egypt: Countering sexual harassment?

News about sexual harassment in Egypt is widely reported nowadays. Many cases were recently highlighted in different media outlets; such as the shocking video of a female student being sexually harassed in Cairo University two weeks ago, or the baker who killed a girl after failing to sexually harass her, and so on. Sexual harassment has become a horrendous epidemic in Egypt. On average, more than 90% of Egyptian women have reported being sexually harassed at least once in their life.

After serious efforts by different concerned actors, the National Council for Women, in collaboration with several other parties, drafted a law to counter sexual harassment and presented it to the presidency. It is expected that the new law will be officially acknowledged and adopted very soon, the presidency announced.

The text of the proposed sexual harassment draft law,

–  Any sort of harassment of any female by following her, stalking, either verbally or by texting or via any modern communication tool, or through any other means, or sexual implications/ pornography either in private or public space, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not less than one year and a fine not less than 10 thousand pounds and not more than 20 thousand pounds.

– If the offender commits the same crime again within one year of the date of the sentence of the first crime, the punishment shall be imprisonment for three to five years and a fine of not less than 10 thousand pounds and not more than 20 thousand pounds, while placing the convict under police surveillance for a duration equal to that of his sentence.

– If there are multiple perpetrators or any tool has been used for intimidation in the crime, the punishment shall be imprisonment for not less than two years and not more than five years.

– If the offender returns to commit the crime referred to in the second paragraph within one year of the date of the judgment of the punishment, he shall be imprisoned for three to five years, along with a renewal of police surveillance of the convicted for a period equal to the duration of the sentence.

Where the criminal commits the same crime, previously mentioned in the article above, at the workplace, or where the actor was the employer, or having authority over the victim upon the occasion of work, he shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years and a fine of not less than ten thousand pounds and not more than twenty thousand pounds.

Examining the draft law, 

Ramy Mostafa, a legal researcher, currently RSD Assistant at UNHCR, told MEMCS that this draft law has several positive aspects.

“Sexual harassment is finally encountered in the draft law as a sort of sexual assault towards women, as beforehand sexual assaults only ranged from indecent assault to rape – harassment was not criminalized. Therefore, this strengthens the punishment. Another positive aspect the law includes is that it implicates multiple perpetrators”, Mostafa highlighted.

However, he criticized the draft law’s categorization of the crime as a misdemeanor. If regarded as a felony, it would have a stronger impact in combatting the crime.

Mostafa concludes that, “The draft law marks a very good step. Yet, the law cannot combat the crime alone; societal awareness as well as ensuring the law’s implementation by the authorities through regulations and administrative orders, and particularly orders by the Attorney General, is crucial”.

Fathi Fareed, Coordinator at the “Shoft taharush” (I Witnessed Harassment) campaign, told MEMCS he believes that, if the law is adopted, it will hardly be effective.

“It didn’t include important clauses, such as psychological support for the assaulted victims, a minimum guarantee for witness protection such as that of their personal information, the minimum number of witnesses, the mechanism for reporting the incident, and most importantly a definition for sexual harassment”, he added.

Examining the law, Dr. Omaima Abu Bakr, Founding Member and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Women and Memory Forum (WMF) asserted, in a written statement to MEMCS, that “This is a first step in the right direction: the idea of at least acknowledging the existence of the problem and suggesting using the actual word ‘harassment’ to identify the phenomenon and criminalize it”.

Nonetheless, she added that more efforts are needed for specific definitions of what harassment really entails; in terms of the range of behaviors it covers, and forms of aggression that should be considered under the crime of harassment.

“More should be done in the area of implementation of the law, meaning establishing state and official mechanisms to guarantee measures for implementing of the law by the authorities, such as the police, prosecution, courts, and judges, and how to avert intimidation of the victims to prevent them from pursuing charges, sympathizing with the perpetrator on the part of the police or judge, or just making it difficult and shameful for the victim to go after the harasser”, she further emphasized.

On the other hand, Harassmap, a volunteer-based initiative, told MEMCS that, “advocacy for a new law on sexual harassment cannot stand alone in a context in which existing laws are not enforced because sexual harassment/assault is not seen as a crime by the society, or even as something wrong”.

Harassmap states that the problem lies in the social acceptability of sexual harassment, as it is the root-cause of non-enforcement in the first place. When sexual harassment or assault is perceived as a crime, perpetrated by the harasser and not a fault of the harassed, then laws will actually be drafted and implemented effectively.

Criminalizing sexual harassment is definitely a step forward. Nevertheless, it requires a clearer definition of sexual harassment as a crime and more guarantees to ensure its implementation. This law needs more effort to be effective, particularly given that the law has specific drawbacks. Meanwhile, social acceptance and media normalization of such a phenomenon are inarguably an impediment to countering this crime.

This feature was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com. It is written by Mariam Mecky and Nada Salah.

A screenshot of the original article
A screenshot of the original article

 

What’s wrong with the world; stubborn-heads or quitters?

I have been thinking for launch my own blog since New Year’s Eve, I even wrote my first post but then many things happened in my life and the idea slipped off my mind.

In January, my first post tackled speculations about the world we live in, or really the dynamics of this world, how to succeed in it. Throughout my short lived life, I have learned that persistence is a vital factor for success, but the question that hit me then and still does now what is the fine line between the need to be persistent and the necessity of quitting. When you should hold on or let go?

On last New Year’s Eve, I have been wondering whether the key to happiness and success is being persistent about your goals or quitting to pursuing something greater. I have always hated to be a quitter that I was stuck in many points more than I should have. On the other hand, I still believe I should have pressed harder in some occasions, I should have been more persistent.

Now, I have had many reasons to launch my blog, for one I believe I’m starting of a new phase in my life. Still with this new phase, I still wonder the same, and the uncertainty puzzles me. That’s why the right thing you can do is exercise your judgment and make a decision, regardless of the uncertainty.  There is no wrong decision. We all are entitled to making decisions and through them, we develop, we grew. I’m aware this is often a cliché, usually easier said than done. Nonetheless, everyone has been at this point in their lives, where they are glad that they are not the same person they were. So, is it better to hold on or to let go? It depends on the situation and your priorities. There is absolutely no problem in being a stubborn-head or a quitter, as long as you are doing it for the right reasons; your right reason.

At the time, in January, I wanted to express how much I’m grateful for the world I live in, it might not be the best but I’m grateful for the people I get to meet, my family, my friends, the world of opportunity, even if it is not how I planned but for how far I’m.

Reading these words today, these are exactly my sentiments. I have put myself out there, I have succeeded and have failed, and things did not go as planned, but I’m happy to be the person I’m today.

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