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Egyptian opposition groups must take every opportunity to engage with Biden

November 16, 2020 at 6:12 pm

President-elect Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Chase Center on 7 November 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware [Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]

The Muslim Brotherhood has issued what I would describe as a “measured” statement about Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election. “We call upon the incoming US administration to reconsider previous policies of support for dictatorships around the world,” it said. “We implore the Biden administration to repudiate the crimes and violations committed by tyrannical regimes against the rights of peoples and regard policies that ignore the free choices of people and which foster relations with authoritarian regimes as absolutely inappropriate.”

In a telephone interview on an Egyptian channel close to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Imad Adeeb, a prominent regime propagandist commented on Biden’s victory. He then turned his attention to the statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood; claiming that it was a political statement which was not written by anyone in the Brotherhood but instead by experts in Qatar and Turkey who understand foreign affairs and the art of choosing words.

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Adeeb’s remarks implied a recognition that the Brotherhood’s statement was a positive step — the first for some time — which opens the way for many questions about what they and other opposition groups in Egypt have to offer in the months ahead, with all their components both media and political departments. Will they be able to deal with a new US administration that will be “more responsible”, as Biden described it in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in August last year.

Meanwhile, intelligence officials Major General Abbas Kamel and Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Shaaban have told Egyptian media to keep in mind that, “We are not living in 2013, and Egypt is now stronger as a  government and a state than before.” This, they insist, is important to remember when covering Biden’s victory. The message was clearly addressed to people within Egypt, not abroad, in an attempt to reassure Sisi’s supporters and institutions supporting the regime in Egypt that it will not be affected by Biden’s policies towards Egypt. However, that is not the picture developed by those living outside Egypt.

The Sisi regime has signed a contract worth $65,000 a month with a new public relations company and a lobbying group in Washington. It is worth noting that it was signed on 9 November following the confirmation of Biden’s victory. What is surprising is that the same regime which the Egyptian media has sworn will not be affected by Trump leaving the White House which has now engaged PR consultants in Washington to improve its image and open direct communication channels with the President-elect’s team.

I don’t have a problem with engaging PR consultants; most governments and corporations do. The problem lies with the Egyptian opposition and its response to Biden’s victory. I have not seen anything significant from political and human rights movements, other than the above-mentioned statement from the Muslim Brotherhood. Are they waiting for the January inauguration before opening up communication channels with the incoming administration?

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Egyptian opposition groups can move forward from two angles: human rights and the issue of freedom of expression and Al-Sisi’s imprisonment of journalists. The Biden administration will see respect for human rights as a slogan when drafting its new foreign policy for the Middle East, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE at its heart. I liked the initiative announced by Egyptian journalist Salim Azouz last week, who called on the opposition to start a campaign for the release of women detainees in Egypt. Such a focus on human rights will, I believe, open real and direct communications with Washington.

Freedom of expression and the continued detention of journalists in Egypt are both likely to be on the agenda for European governments in their dealings with Al-Sisi and his regime. Opposition groups have an opportunity to use this emphasis in the struggle against the Egyptian regime.

There is no real opposition political project in Egypt at the moment. Moreover, it does not seem that those at the top are seeking to develop one any time soon. In order not to lose opportunities, though, the political elite among the opposition need to be ready if the Biden administration wants to talk or hear what they have to say. It may not be much, but it could be the beginning of the end for Trump’s favourite dictator in the Heliopolis Palace.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 14 November 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.