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The Egypt Report: Sisi plays Russian roulette

Date of publication: 18 December, 2017

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Another week of show-stopping trials.

Last Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin. This wasn't Putin's first trip to Sisi's Egypt, but was arguably the most significant.

On this trip the presidents signed an agreement greenlighting Egypt's Russian-constructed El Dabaa Nuclear Plant, just 200 miles north-west of Cairo.

The initial agreement between was forged in 2015, in which Russia agreed to loan Egypt 85 percent of the estimated $30bn cost of construction, with repayment over a 13-year period with three percent annual interest.

Egypt's nuclear programme has been on government shelves since 1954 and plans to build El Dabaa Nuclear Plant have been in the works since 1983. But the plans took a back seat after the Egyptian economy tanked following its military defeat against Israel in 1967. Plans to revive the programme, always with Russian help, continued to fail for a host of reasons: lack of foreign investment, political instability, theft of radioactive material from the plant and, most recently, protests against government seizure of private land surrounding Dabaa.

It is unclear how Egypt's Sisi continues to weave a disjointed - yet extremely complex - web of alliances. Egypt's president has signed military agreements with all players across the contentious and conflicted international arena.

Yet it is not uncommon for Egyptian presidents to play both sides when it comes to military allegiances. In fact, it has become something of a legacy of Egyptian military rulers to pander to all actors on the world stage.

#WeStillNeedToTalk

Egypt continues to put its youth on trial. Though these trials have become a staple of Egyptian life, the bizarre case labelled by activists "Alexandria's Dinshaway" plunged new depths of peculiarity.

A group of 45 defendants stood trial for the shooting death of one police officer. The investigation into the crime, which took place in December 2014, was overseen by a military tribunal despite the fact that the victim and all defendants were civilians.

The verdict brought a familiar end to a uniquely Egyptian case: 14 suspects were sentenced to death, 24 were handed life sentences, five are to serve 15 years in prison each and two were found not guilty - all in the death of one man.  

Elsewhere in the capital, new cases were brought forward in the efforts to quash Ahmed Shafiq's intention to run against Sisi in 2018. With Shafiq still being held in Cairo's five star JW Marriott hotel, many members of his Egyptian Patriotic Movement political party have been arrested. 

Three of the Mubarak-era prime minister's supporters were charged on Wednesday with "spreading false information and endangering national security". The arrests prompted Shafiq to break his silence and issue a brief statement on his Twitter account, pleading with authorities for his supporters' release. 

The Shafiq saga has entered its third week and a resolution is not on the horizon.  

Media meltdown

In the wake of President Sisi's silence over Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, effectively annexing East Jerusalem - internationally recognised as occupied Palestinian territory - the Egyptian media this week tackled the real enemy: Qatar.

The relentless war waged by Egyptian media on the nation under blockade by the Egyptian and Saudi governments since June has become a daily feature.

Amr Adeeb declared on Saturday that the Qatari emir was the true reason behind Trump's assertion that Jerusalem was Israel's capital. Adeeb's claims may seem outlandish to some, however this story has been carried by numerous Egyptian media outlets.

First reported by Al Masry Al Youm in an opinion piece, the author reached his conclusion after arguing that Qatar’s alleged funding of "terrorism" in the region has kept Arab leaders preoccupied with the war on terror, allowing Israel free rein and leaving the Palestinian issue unattended.

This argument was quickly picked up by the nightly talkshows and adopted by the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee. The power of Egypt's talkshows is potent; the mass following commanded by these shows has been rising since the 2011 uprising.

However, since Sisi came to power, nightly talkshow hosts with anti-government leanings - including Yosri Fouda, Reem Maged and even satirist Bassem Youssef - were taken off air, and in some cases charged with endangering national security.

Latest loans

Khaled al-Anany, Egypt's minister of antiquities, revealed that Egypt's Grand Museum was funded in most part by Japan. The $1bn project is set to be one of the largest museums in the world, housing 100,000 artifacts.

Work on the museum began in 2012 -but the Japanese loan was unknown to the public. Funding 75 percent of the project, Japan is also involved in the training of Egyptologists who will be working at the museum when it opens its doors to the public in 2018.

Gamal Eid, the human rights lawyer and activist, commented on the revelation with a simple question to his Facebook audience: name one country that Egypt has yet to receive loans from?

Revolutionary remembrance

Last week marked the sixth anniversary of the Cabinet clashes which took place between December 16 and 20 2011. The year which began with the uprising praised worldwide for its virtual organisation and peaceful nature ended in deadly clashes.

The Cabinet clashes were not the first of their kind, following the ascent of the nation's Supreme Council of Armed Forces to the presidency.

The September following the uprising, clashes began outside the Israeli embassy where protesters gathered demanding the expulsion of the ambassador. The following month, Coptic protesters staged a sit-in outside state television in Maspero, decrying sectarian coverage. In November, Mohamed Mahmoud - a side street leading up to Tahrir Square - saw deadly clashes between youths and army officers.

The resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in protest at the events in Mohamed Mahmoud lead to the re-appointment of Mubarak-era Kamal al-Ganzory, causing more clashes - this time in December 2011, in front of the Ministerial Cabinet's offices.

During the clashes Azhari Sheikh Emad Effat was shot dead by military personnel after issuing a fatwa stating that remnants of the Mubarak regime should not be allowed to serve in government.

The clashes also came to international focus following the "blue bra incident", in which several military officers were filmed beating and exposing a female protester.

To commemorate the anniversary, the Arab Network for Human Rights and Information released a book detailing human rights abuses that took place under SCAF. The book claims that during the military's 17 month tenure, 215 civilians were killed and 7,650 injured.

Meme of the week

Translation: They asked Sisi 'Why do you always look sad in photographs?'
He answered: 'How can I smile when Egyptians still
have money?'


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