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Egypt is a ticking time bomb

February 7, 2023 at 9:26 am

Daily life of people in the streets and markets on January 30, 2023 in Esna, Egypt [Fadel Dawod/Getty Images]

Last week, Saudi writers and media professionals criticised the Egyptian regime, especially what they called the army’s “escalating domination over the state, especially the economy”, in the midst of the country’s biggest economic crisis ever, nearly a decade after the overthrow of the first genuinely democratically elected government since the establishment of the Egyptian State. These criticisms came after reports of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to send more financial support to the Egyptian regime, and the absence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from a summit called for by Emirati leader, Mohammed bin Zayed, and which included the leaders of the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan. It is believed that part of the summit discussed the Egyptian economic crisis and financially supporting Cairo.

Last October, Al-Sisi spoke about the reluctance of “friendly and brotherly countries” to provide more financial and economic support to Egypt, stressing that these countries “have become convinced that Egypt is unable to stand again after the aid they had been providing it with for years in order to resolve crises and problems”. The magnitude of Egypt’s total public debt is about $400 billion, which is a frightening number, not only in itself, but also in light of the regime continuing to follow the same approach that caused it, especially during the last decade. The army’s control of all aspects of the economy and the world of finance and business, in addition to its seizure of billions of dollars from the people’s money, aid money and external support, and transferring them to accounts that serve the well-being of its senior officials, as well as senior officials in the presidency and intelligence, poses the biggest challenge for the country.

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Although most of the Egyptian regime’s financiers know that the situation cannot continue indefinitely, and that their money may not be returned to them, they continued to support the regime during the past decade for several reasons, including their fear of the establishment of a democratic regime in the region and the rise of Islamists to power.

It is strange that, despite the miserable situation in Egypt, the International Monetary Fund still provides billions of dollars in support to the regime without real restrictions or conditions regarding reform or freeing the economy. As an explanation for this strange situation, there are those who believe that the Egyptian regime’s relationship with the US and the importance of the Sisi regime to Israel and Israel’s security allow Cairo to always obtain exceptional facilitations for fear of the worst happening in the region.

Sisi's popularity is decreasing - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Sisi’s popularity is decreasing – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A weak Egypt may be a target for several parties and, thus, the Egyptian regime serves these parties, in return for remaining in power. However, the collapse of Egypt is considered a bad scenario for all these parties, given the repercussions it would involve, which goes beyond the local dimension and affects the regional one. In this sense, these parties blackmail the Egyptian government with their support, and the government also blackmails them by reminding them of the consequences of its potential fall and the impact this fall would have on them, including immigration, extremism, terrorism, etc. Ironically, the reasons that prevent these parties from supporting Egypt are the same reasons that allow the regime to survive. In other words, while the regime’s corruption is considered a gateway to make Egypt weak and manageable, its corruption is also a card played by the regime to blackmail others and motivate them to continuously support Egypt by reminding them of the choice between the regime or chaos.

In response to the campaign of criticism against the regime and the army, some Egyptian writers affiliated with the regime launched a counter-campaign, in which they insulted some Gulf countries and nations, and the media institutions affiliated with these countries. To sum up the aforementioned ideas, one of these writers said, “Egypt before Sisi was a hotbed of chaos, lawlessness and terrorism, but unfortunately, there are fools blinded by money who do not realise that if something bad happens to Egypt, they will not survive for a minute. They are merely vocal phenomena with dead visions and insight.” This discord reflects the magnitude of the disagreement among the parties that have supported each other over the past years to preserve the old status quo and prevent positive change in the region.

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Although I do not believe that this dispute will develop into estrangement between these countries, the question remains about the fate of the Egyptian economic crisis and its repercussions. Given the Egyptian regime’s reluctance to change its approach, it is difficult to imagine that the crisis will disappear on its own and, therefore, the question arises whether the army will ultimately sacrifice Al-Sisi to save itself by taking some measures aimed at achieving stability without fundamentally changing the situation? Or will the regime resort to blackmail to ensure the continuation of the flow of financial support?

Regardless of the scenarios, it is certain that Egypt, in its current situation, remains a ticking time bomb.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 4 February 2023

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