El-Sissi brings hope but faces challenges

By : Osama Al Sharif

With Sunday’s swearing in of Abdel Fattah El-Sissi as president of Egypt, in the presence of Arab, regional and international leaders and representatives, a tumultuous chapter in this country’s history nears its end.

There is a sense of hope that after more than three years of political turbulence Egypt will now find its way to security, stability and nation building. It will not be an easy task for the country’s new leader, but he can count on the backing of Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Jordan.

US President Barack Obama has said he was ready to work with President El-Sissi, a sign that relations between Washington and Cairo could improve quickly after a period of coolness that followed the July 3 deposing of President Muhammad Mursi.

And Europe will soon follow in the footsteps of the United States. Egypt’s presidential elections last month marked an important milestone in the road map for the future that was embraced by most political powers and supported by the majority of Egyptians.

Following the adoption of a new constitution in January, the country now awaits the third and final phase, which is the election of a new Parliament. Having achieved this, El-Sissi can then concentrate his efforts on putting the country back on the road of economic recovery.

In his speech to the Egyptian people on Sunday, President El-Sissi talked about national reconciliation, nation building and restoring Egypt’s regional role.

He reiterated Egypt’s commitment to the Palestinian cause and to defending the security of the Gulf region. There is no doubt that the stability of Egypt will reflect positively on the stability of the entire Middle East.

But President El-Sissi must first deal with immediate internal challenges. Fighting terrorism in Sinai remains a priority and it appears that the army has made headway in this area. There were no incidents during the three-day elections last month, a sign that government’s efforts to confront terrorists have been successful. For weary Egyptians securing the country is a top priority and a pre-condition to economic recovery.

The second challenge would be to restore confidence in the economy. Already Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have pledged to stand by the Egyptian economy and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has called for the convening of an international donor conference on Egypt.

As foreign investors come back and local businessmen resume their activities, Egyptians should feel the benefits in the coming 12 to 18 months.

A third challenge is to start the process of national healing. Less than half eligible voters went to the polls last month. President El-Sissi, who won about 97 percent of the votes, must present himself as a president of all Egyptians.

While he said that there would be no place for those who committed crimes against Egyptians, he also said that he would exclude no one from the political process. Since the January 25 revolution many Egyptians were killed and injured. And after the June 30 uprising, which toppled President Mursi, hundreds were killed in confrontations, including those who succumbed at Rabba Al-Adawiyah Square last August.

Achieving national reconciliation will not be an easy task. The Muslim Brotherhood, now banned, has lost public sympathy in the past few months, but Islamists still have grass-roots support among Egyptians.

President El-Sisi will have to tread carefully as he attempts to deal with political Islam. The new constitution rejects religious parties and the government will have to find ways to address this issue with the Salafists who supported the transition and the election of El-Sissi. President El-Sissi committed himself to defending democratic ideals and public freedoms. The new president must find ways to mend fences with Egypt’s youth and prove to Egyptians, as well to the West, that his rule will be fair and compassionate.

Another challenge for the new president will be to make sure that the so-called deep state associated with the old regime does not try to come back.

He vowed to honor the sacrifices that Egyptians had made in two revolutions within less than three years. He promised to fight corruption and deliver what the majority of Egyptians want: Bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity. Restoring Egypt’s regional role will only come if domestic challenges are addressed properly.

But El-Sissi will be tested sooner rather than later. Instability in Libya is an urgent matter that can’t be postponed. So are challenges in Sudan and North Africa.

Sorting out problems with Ethiopia over Al-Nahda Dam is another priority. And Egypt will be expected to take a stand on Iran’s policies toward Gulf countries and its controversial role in Iraq and Syria.

The challenges facing El-Sissi are not easy, but for the first time in more than three years Egyptians are hopeful that the turmoil that gripped the country and almost brought to its knees is behind them.

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