Retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi wants to improve the strained relations between Egypt and the U.S. on his own terms. Sissi is the frontrunner in the upcoming Egyptian election that will take place Monday and Tuesday. If elected to the Egyptian presidency, his administration seeks to bring stability back to Egypt and to revive the economy.
Improving relations with the U.S. will be a long process. Egypt’s military has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and street protesters. In a recent interview, Sissi was asked if there would be a political reconciliation with Islamic groups. His answer was an emphatic “no.” The tough line rhetoric Sissi has made during his campaign against Egyptian dissidents has members of the Obama Administration concerned. If elected president, it is feared that Sissi will focus on creating stability in Egypt and repairing the economy at the expense of the political opposition and civil rights.
Tamara Wittes, the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said Egyptian and U.S. relations are at a moment of reflection, and where the future will lead is not clear. Both sides know closer relations are important, but the problem is that neither wants to engage with the other from a position of weakness. The Obama Administration wants to see an improvement in political and civil rights for all Egyptians. The administration also wants a solid ally in the region and a stop to the arrest and deaths of protesters.
When Field Marshal Sissi removed President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013, President Obama decided not to declare his action a coup. Such a declaration would have stopped all aid to Egypt. When Egyptians took to the streets to protest the removal of President Morsi, the Egyptian military cracked down on the protesters. It was then that the Obama Administration began quietly withholding economic aid.
The first priority of a Sissi presidency will be to restore stability to Egypt. Doing that will help the damaged tourist industry to revive and restore jobs. Sissi also wants to ensure that the $1.5 billion in annual aid from the U.S. continues to arrive. Most of that aid goes to supporting the military. Providing the freedom seen in the West will not happen overnight, and Sissi believes it could take up to 25 years for such freedoms to become commonplace. Improved relations with the U.S. can happen under a Sissi government, provided such improvements are on his terms.
The Obama Administration wants more political and civil rights granted to all Egyptians now. Pushing such an agenda fuels Egyptian protesters, who take to the streets and create instability in a nation that has great influence in the Middle East. As another form of protest against civil and political rights abuses, the Obama Administration left its ambassador post vacant after Anne Pattern left to become assistant secretary of state. Sissi and his supporters were happy to see Ambassador Pattern leave, as she was seen as a supporter for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since the ouster of President Morsi, Egypt’s media has accused the U.S. of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Conspiracy theories concerning the U.S. government working with Islamic opposition groups have created further divides against Egyptians who support Sissi. During his campaign, Sissi has avoided anti-American rhetoric. In interviews with Egyptian media, Sissi has stated that he understands U.S. laws and wants Americans to see his country through Egyptian eyes and attempt to live the reality that is found in Egypt.
Sissi is convinced the upcoming election will show the world that the majority of Egyptians stand behind him. Improved relations with the U.S. will only happen within a stable government and a revived economy. Provided the U.S. will abide by Sissi’s terms for providing that future, the retired field marshal believes he can achieve his goal.
By Brian T. Yates