The confirmation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Britain on 5 November has caused much controversy amongst human rights activists. There are numerous humanitarian reasons to reject David Cameron’s decision to allow Al-Sisi to visit London, but there are many more reasons for the British public to have reservations about his visit.
For the British government to support a dictator so openly puts a further stain on Britain by being on the wrong side of history in the name of national security. In fact, though, not only does Al-Sisi do nothing to enhance Britain’s national security, but his very presence is also creating more instability in Egypt, so if British foreign and defence policies rely on his unstable rule, then Britain could potentially put itself in a very vulnerable position in the inevitable event of unrest resurfacing in Egypt.
At the moment, Egypt is under complete totalitarian rule. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only the Muslim Brotherhood which is being targeted by Al-Sisi, but also anyone and everyone who opposes him. To the average British MP, Al-Sisi would seem to have progressive religious rhetoric. He is praised largely for his speech about “bringing Islam back to Muslims”, at the same time as waging a war against the Brotherhood and branding it as a religious struggle. Al-Sisi is presenting the movement’s ideology to the world as a warped sect of Islam that poses an equal threat to humanity as ISIS. It is all supposed to revolve around a political ideology that is interpreted differently by different branches and for the past five years has been a threat to all Arab dictators and their regimes. Because he is at war with this ideology, it is easily assumed that Al-Sisi is open to “Western” ideals and although his means may be harsh, the ends will result in a freer and more open Egypt.
When looking at Al-Sisi’s policies, it is clear that they are not only incompatible with democratic policies, but also with British foreign policy, if it relies on him as our ally in Egypt, so there could be difficulties domestically in Britain as a result. According to a report by EFG Hermes Holdings, the food price jump in Egypt between September and October this year was the biggest monthly increase in food prices in the past five years. The prices of vegetables have also increased by 26.4 per cent in the past two months. Inflation is rising, at 4 per cent higher than the regional average. Al-Sisi is clearly putting Egypt’s economic stability at risk. He has cracked down on freedom of speech and citizens who may disagree with his totalitarianism face arrest, execution or just “disappear”. Al-Sisi does not rely on his popularity, nor does he rely on legitimacy in his rule, because as a coup leader who leads through fear, the only aspect of his rule that he can rely on is his military governance. Because of Egypt’s current military operations, this adds yet another aspect of insecurity to Britain’s relations with Al-Sisi; it’s an aspect that is not often explored.
When looking at the situation of the Egyptian military, throughout its modern history it has been upheld for its capabilities and manpower. It is known for being one of the strongest militaries in the Middle East and North Africa, with 468,500 frontline troops and 800,000 people on active reserve who have over 1,000 aircraft and nearly 5,000 tanks at their disposal. Though the style of the Egyptian military is pretty much the same as it was in the 1950s, the national security threats that Egypt needs its military to address are completely different. One of them is the ability to be effective in counter-insurgency work, which is necessary in Sinai. Professionally conducted counter-insurgency operations should be able to distinguish between civilians and insurgents, but that is not the case in Egypt. Thousands of people in Sinai have been evicted from their homes, and civilians have been attacked indiscriminately. The lack of a coherent strategy means that success against ISIS-linked groups cannot be measured and the army’s tactics are a recipe for further instability that will come from the ethnic cleansing of Sinai. The Egyptian army is thus showing that it is incapable of tackling serious threats on its own soil, and unable to use its power wisely enough to tackle the threat in Libya, despite a heavy military involvement.
Putting the charge of incompetence to one side, Al-Sisi is overstretching Egypt’s military by taking part in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The fight against the Houthis appears to have no foreseeable end. It would be incredibly hard for Al-Sisi to withdraw from the coalition, mainly due to the fact that he owes the Gulf Cooperation Council for financing his coup against democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi. He is also ensuring the security of Israel at the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, with mass evictions to create a buffer zone and flooding tunnels with seawater, which makes the soil upon which so many people rely for their livelihood infertile. This hardly bodes well for future stability.
Al-Sisi’s military rule is not only unjustified and has not only broken the fabric of Egypt’s civil society and wrecked its economy, but it is also dangerous to itself. When suppression fails and he continues to ignore the faults in his government he will then have to deal with his policies and decisions becoming his own enemy. For Britain to endorse him in his unsustainable rule is not only at the expense of Egyptian civilians and the region, but also its own security and influence in the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Sisi’s policies actually threaten Britain, so why is David Cameron hosting him this week?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.