Bad news makes the headlines but no headlines are not an indication that there is no new events or that the news is not important. Since the overthrow of elected President Morsi in Egypt, the mass media in Israel has paid little or no attention to the ongoing events in Egypt. There have been substantial developments in Egypt that need to be documented and addressed. Each of these has potential significance for Israel.
The Arab Spring as an iconic phrase may no longer be used but the events are still being played out. Two icons of Egypt’s 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak have been sent to trial on charges of taking part in an “illegal” protest and allegedly assaulting policemen. The trial of Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher will begin on Sunday. This is the first referral of activists to trial linked to the recently enacted protest or assembly law, which places draconian conditions on staging street demonstrations. Their trial is the latest turn in the turmoil engulfing Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster, signalling a growing rift between the military-backed government and liberal activists five months after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Civil-military relations in Egypt and a liberal regime is important for Israel as Israel relies on the Egyptian military maintaining security in the Sinai and not having links with or supporting Hamas in Gaza.
Stability in Egypt’s civil-society and its secular nature are significant for Israel; for any unstable neighbour or radical Islamic society on Israel’s border will pose long term dangers. Amendments to Egypt’s 2012 Constitution now known as the 2013 Constitution make Islam as the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation. Other important Articles are: The defence minister is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, appointed from among its officers; The state shall ensure the achievement of equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of the constitution; Freedom of religious practice and the establishment of houses of worship for the believers in heavenly religions [Islam, Christianity and Judaism] is a right regulated by law; and parliament has the right to impeach the president if he breaches the provisions of the constitution. Israel needs to watch not only the wording and implementation of this constitution but also civil-society. A referendum date for the approval of the constitution has been set for 14-15 January 2014. Should the masses reject it then Egypt will be thrown into a deeper power-struggle. Should the masses accept it time will tell if it can be implemented.
Indicative of civil-military relations and public opinion to the political struggles are the street protests that have overthrown two leaders in three years. In the past three months violence has gripped universities. During the protests, violent clashes have frequently erupted between students and security forces who have repeatedly stormed university campuses. For example on Wednesday the president of Cairo University Gaber Nassar decided to suspend the academic year in theoretical faculties until final term exams due to acts of violence by the Muslim Brotherhood. Such discontent is writing on the wall for any presidential elections whose date has yet to be announced. So Egypt continues to be ruled by an interim President, no legislature, no constitution and Generals using the security forces to suppress revolution. Meanwhile the economy continues to crumble.
The man in the Egyptian street is still facing hardships likely to ferment discontent and revolutionary trends. However the Egyptian stock market indexes moved up collectively with the closure of yesterday’s session, prompted by optimism among Egyptian and Arab investors but still largely ignored by foreign traders. The rise came as Finance Minister Ahmed Galal announced the injection of LE30 billion into the economy as part of a stimulus plan. The main index, EGX30, moved up by 1.15 percent to close at 6,720.4 points. The more inclusive EGX70 rose by 0.65 percent to 535.56 points. EGX100 recorded a 0.77 percent rise to close at 909.24 points. Market capitalization gained LE 3.4 billion, ending the session at LE 421.9 billion. Although the figures may have little meaning for those in Israel, they do indicate that the Egyptian government is in a financial crises situation attempting to micro-manage the economy.
As any free market economy knows; any government intervention is artificial to market trends and hence is likely to require further government intervention. The same notion applies to security. Any government intervention to muzzle the youth will result in their quest for expression and require even greater government intervention. For Israel there is a need to see the new news from Egypt not as old news; but as potential for chaos. Israel cannot take sides or intervene but can prepare for the worst case scenario in hope of the best.
Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Research Fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Editor of the London Security Policy Study and Research Director of Securitatem Vigalate.