Republican Reference - Area ( 1,001,450 - Population 82,079,636 - Capital Cairo - Currency Egyptian pound - President Mohammed Morsi


















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The Importance of the Army
Even as furious Egyptians endured teargas and bullets during the protests of January and February 2011 that resulted in the collapse of the Mubarak regime, they appeared to have a genuine affection for the armed forces - as opposed to the security apparatus. . The army did not take part in the repressive action; the people demonstrated respect and affection for the armed forces, even as tanks arrived on the streets of Cairo. This suggests that the army continues to enjoy respect as an institution. The army retains holds the balance of power and will ultimately decree when the elections to decide the next president will take place. Ultimately, the Army decided whether Hosni Mubarak would stay or relinquish power. It was also Hosni Mubarak, who inadvertently brought his own downfall underestimating the army's aversion to the possible candidature of Gamal Mubarak, the president's son in the September 2011 presidential elections. Before the uprising, when some still speculated over the possibility that president Mubarak's son, Gamal al-Mubarak, would be named as the National Democratic Party (NDP - the ruling party since Gamal Abdul Nasser's coup in 1954) candidate to win the presidential election, ignored the primary role of the armed forces and security apparatus in Egyptian society and their objection to Gamal. Therefore, the president and the armed forces were already set on a collision course before the uprising. The Egyptian army, the most powerful army in the Arab world, saw Gamal as unsuitable and inexperienced and not a military man.

The Egyptian opposition, which in parliament is largely represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, has far more power on 'the street' than in parliament and their total loss of seats in the November 28, 2010 legislative elections has made this official. The fact that there was a clampdown on communications preceding the elections, that vote count observers were prevented from doing so by security forces and that several hundred members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested amid fraudulent practices at several polling stations, fueled the people's disillusionment with president Mubarak, even ahead of the spark from Tunisia.

Some Risk Factors: The Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood and the 'fundamentalists' have typically drawn their strength and agenda from the international situation. Mubarak is considered to have been very soft on Israel, seeing as Egypt has largely complied to Israeli demands to seal the border with Gaza at Rafah to control infiltration of people and goods in violation of the Israeli imposed embargo. The continuation of the Palestinian crisis, which is reaching a point of hopelessness in spite of the US administration's evident irritation with the Netanyahu government, will represent a tough test for any Egyptian government, regardless of who takes over from Mubarak. The Egyptian street will demand more solidarity with the Palestinians, while the government, eager to maintain the flow of some two billion dollars in aid from the United States (something which the military establishment is especially eager not to lose), may be drawn into an untenable - vis--vis the Egyptian 'street' - pro-Israeli stance, raising the profile of the fundamentalists. Seeing as American military and financial aid is contingent on the continued maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal, the Egyptian military establishment will be all the more concerned to back a presidential candidate that can be relied upon not to take an excessively pan-Arab nationalist outlook, so as not to alter the status-quo.

Islamic radicalism in Egypt
In the 1990's, there was a considerable influence of the so-called Arab-Afghans - Arabs who had fought alongside the Afghan Mujahedin in the war against the Soviets from 1980 to 1988. This was highly felt in Egypt. Several bombing attacks on civilians, tourists and the various attempts on President Mubarak's life have been traced to groups linked to the Soviet-Afghan conflict. In view of the close ties between many Egyptian Islamic groups and the Arab-Afghans (and consequently Bin Laden), tensions between the Government of Egypt and Islamist organizations are likely to escalate. Certainly, short of a total revolution, Egypt has already witnessed a very high degree of domestic Islamist violence and the Arab-Afghans have exploited Egypt's deteriorating economic conditions as a pretext for their actions. However, Egyptian Islamist organizations have adopted a variety of approaches that are, more often than not, peaceful such as to effectively constitute what may be civil society in Egypt. Indeed, such organizations as the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt have recently shown that some compromise is possible with the representatives of the status-quo, as well as with rival factions by participating in national elections, so as to avoid a civil war scenario. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt now opposes government policy from a legal and regulated official position, but it faces pressure from more radical Islamist groups.

Nonetheless, intractable socio-economic problems have made it ever more difficult to contain unrest.

If the government fails to stimulate private enterprise - though considerable progress in this sense was made in the past few years, especially if compared to the period from the 1970's to the 1990's - it will make it even harder for Egypt to sustain the precarious economic conditions that have stimulated Islamist unrest in the past. The benefits of the oil boom after 1973 and the Sadat-Mubarak economic liberalization policies that followed were mismanaged. Economic liberalization was primarily directed in the speculative construction and real estate sectors, and failed to attract foreign investment in other labour intensive, and professional areas. Unemployment persisted as the State reduced spending in conformance to IMF debt re-structuring, that by 1986 brought about a gradual erosion of the human development achievements of the '50s and '70s. The series of economic reforms benefited the already wealthy. Islamist organizations have also gained popularity by absorbing the void left by the declining State. The government was unable to offer viable solutions to problems of unemployment, housing shortages, deteriorating municipal services or the poor quality of health care and education. Islamist organizations have solved problems that the government has been unable or unwilling to confront. Unlike government and private banks, the Islamic Brotherhood has operated Islamic Investment Companies (IIC) since the mid-'70s that have provided a real positive rate of interest.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian authorities targeted for decades, suspecting it of involvement in terrorist activity, spread its influence and is able to attract and retain the services of physicians, pharmacists, engineers, accountants and other professionals. They volunteer through independent organizations affiliated with a local mosque ensuring that the delivery of their service is linked to a political/religious message that further enhances support for Islamic organizations. Less socially conscious Islamist organizations have adopted violence directed toward symbols of the government and its foreign backers, such as tourist sites, as recent terrorist attacks have demonstrated. The problem is by no means exclusive to Egypt. Ultimately, in view of chronic economic difficulties and the Government of Egypt's inability to adopt serious reform and tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment seriously, makes Egypt very vulnerable to the zeal and violence of militant Islam. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood did not play a leading role in the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak, contradicting the many fears that political change in Egypt would have an Islamic flavor. This is even more surprising since the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has always had far more street power than parliamentary power.

The MB's attraction, beyond the provision of social services at the community level, focused on issues of nationalistic and emotional appeal to Muslims, such as the Palestinian question. The Egyptian street however was silent about the Palestinian issue. Apart from the fact that the Egyptian revolt represented a truly genuine mass demonstration against a series of social and economic problems, it was also evident that the Islamists have been losing political currency. The MB was much more engaged against the monarchy and the British in 1952 and certainly more vociferous in the 1980's and 1990's. Perhaps, Islam is no longer the answer, as the MB suggested in its electoral platforms.


Four years after Tahrir Square, Egypt's Democratic Hopes are Broken

The Tahrir 'Revolution' of January 2011 remains incomplete. It may appear as if the situation has settled under the presidency of Gen. al-Sisi but a new opposition has emerged from the rubble of the former Mubarak regime and from the short lived leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The 4th anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolt that appeared to serve as the launchpad of an Egyptian and Arab political renewal has revealed that there are still many cracks in the foundation that need to be addressed. At least 15 people were killed in clashes throughout Egypt, and many more injured, during the clashes that erupted in the streets of Egypt on the anniversary of a Revolution that has made a full circle from military dictatorship to 'Brotherhood' and back to the military. The deaths occurred in Cairo, as well as Beheira, Matariya, Ain Shams, Menoufia and Alexandria suggesting that the unrest and the tensions continue to be felt throughout the country. The media, effectively controlled by the President Al-Sisi's government, has reported that the clashes involved the army and the Muslim Brotherhood - the supporters of jailed President Morsi - however, this is rather a misrepresentation of the fact that there are many groups, and based on some of the victims' identities some include very secular left wing parties that had clashed with the Brotherhood as well as the Mubarak regime, involved in the protests.

The Military's Return

There are many who have refused to accept General Al-Sisi's military regime, still believing that the values of the January 2011 uprising have been manipulated by the powers, that have an interest only in maintaining their privileges. While much of the opposition is still made up by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the January 25 anniversary protests have shown that there is a far more diverse composition. The secularist and centrist April 6 Movement (founded in April 2008) and the Socialist Alliance Party, also took to the streets to demand justice over the death of Shaimaa El-Sabag, a young unionist killed during a demonstration in Cairo. Then there were hundreds of young people that took to the streets of the Egyptian capital, with the same anger of 4 years ago. First against Mubarak, now against Al-Sisi and his authority, using the same slogans of the time: justice for victims, freedom, social justice. Cairo is still a city under siege, where thousands of soldiers have deployed to prevent various demonstrations from merging into a single one, marching symbolically toward Tahrir Square - which has been enclosed by barbed wire and surrounded by soldiers for the occasion.

General al-Sisi's presidency, which effectively began as a military coup in July 2013 appears to have intensified many Egyptians' sense of frustration and anger. Neither the restrictions on civil liberties, nor the media propaganda that has intended to ignite divisions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the left, between religious and secular parties, marked by a shaky legality; all this has not so far managed to quell a people who refuse to see the military government adopt, as its own, the slogans of Tahrir Square on 25 January, believing the Revolution is not over yet.

As the past has shown, Presidents and regimes ignore the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic parties at their peril because they have come to represent the political expression of many Egyptians. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood never really gained power in Egypt. Morsi issued a presidential decree to limit the power of the military but, clearly, he failed. One of the reasons is that neither he nor the Brotherhood truly had control of foreign or interior policy, or the security forces. By and large, the Muslim Brotherhood had shown a willingness to act in continuity with the Mubarak government, particularly in reference to policies of economic liberalization, alienating more those who had demanded social justice in Tahrir Square, than those who benefited from the years of leadership by Mubarak years. Indeed, Morsi never really questioned the role or influence of the military over political power. Elite military and elite politics overlap. Nevertheless, just one year of the Muslim Brotherhood in power made it possible for Egypt to go full circle, reproducing the old system that overlapped between the military and politics. The Egyptian military, of course, controls 60% of GDP; it runs factories, tourist resorts and is the majority shareholder of the leading public and private companies. The army is the State! This is why the military was and remains very concerned by the strikes in the factories - so frequent in the period before Morsi's election. The strikes also gave the military an opportunity to divide and conquer public space, identifying and limiting the potential rise of revolutionary movements.

Suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, Risks and Effects

Hundreds of Brotherhood members have been handed death sentences in the wake of the 2013 coup and thousands more are in jail, including journalists critical of the regime, as in the case of the al-Jazeera reporters accused of siding with 'terrorists'. Activism, especially in university settings and among university students, has been repressed and punished; all of which compromises the democratic nature of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Not much is left of the Egyptian spring. Thousands of young people who would like to change the country have no apparent choices other than the military-Islamist duopoly - and it really has been that way since Nasser's revolt against King Farouk and the British protectorate in 1952, where the only alternative to the Free Officers was the Muslim Brotherhood. The only outlet for activists is street art, as visitors to Cairo can see in the wall graffiti and hear in the rap music, both denouncing the poverty of the disadvantaged classes, the violence of the police and army.

The West's support for the Sisi government, as a guarantor of stability if not equality and democracy, makes the Egyptian model to be considered successful in other contexts, for example in Libya, where General Khalifa Haftar is trying to play to the same pattern as al-Sisi. Perhaps, Sisi represents a chance for the West to correct its major mistake in supporting the Syrian rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Sisi is a skilled chess player, as he reiterated this convenient authoritarianism and desire for order by enabling last summer's Israeli invasion of Gaza. Yet, for all its external trappings of stability, Egypt remains politically and socially unstable.

So, behind the apparent lull, Egypt remains at continuing risk of implosion and violently reject not only the political contradictions of the recent past, but also the more recent Tahrir Square secular attempts at opposition. In fact, while Sisi has secured the consensus of religious minorities (the Copts in particular) this has occurred without the new Government having distinguished itself from the political practices of the past. Sisi continues to use the Mokhabarat, or secret police, as a major tool of repression, suppressing any form of dissent whether or not linked to political Islam.

In addition, while there might be some form of parliamentary opposition in Egypt, the arrests and trials of activists and supporters close to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which about 700 have already been sentenced to death in the district of Minya alone, make the right to political opinions highly problematic. There have been minor concessions made for the benefit of foreign donor governments: technically, torture has been banned, for instance, the Constitution still guarantees the majority of power to be held by the armed forces. The Minister of the Interior has the very broad power to veto and to disperse gatherings even with the use of force. Freedom of expression, written or oral, is guaranteed, except however for unspecified "crimes related to violence or incitement to discrimination between citizens" and for injuries to honor, for the insult to the flag and other national symbols. Moreover, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also sought the consensus and confidence of the financial markets.

Christine la Garde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, said to have been "impressed" by Egypt's economic reforms, which actually amount to not much more than some energy subsidies for foreign companies. Sisi, well aware of the importance of being able to again attract large foreign investments to the country, a strategy amplified by Egypt's image as one of the West's and the Gulf's few possible partners in the region. Qatar remains the most important foreign investor in Egypt and al-Jazeera has suspended its broadcasts as a sign of detente also recognition of the authority and legitimacy of the Egyptian government.

The restoration of the old regime

Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal were acquitted by the accusations of corruption and illegal profits as part of an investigation into the alleged sale of natural gas to Israel, at below market prices. The revolutionaries have failed to break Mubarak's system while judges who supported the al-Sisi, denied that the police had any responsibility for those protesters who took part in the marches. Meanwhile, political Islam is the new terrorism. This model, however, instead of weakening radical movements, has strengthened them. A clear example is the ongoing war in the Sinai Peninsula. After the coup, the Sinai Peninsula has become the battleground between jihadist militias and the military. But the ongoing war in the Sinai is not like the others: 600 have died in a matter of months, including police, military and civilians, while hundreds of jihadists have been killed. President Sisi has decreed a buffer zone on the border with Gaza, destroying, in Israeli army style, thousands of homes in Rafah. The Sinai has become the cradle of jihadist groups. One of these is Ansar Beit al-Meqdisi (ABM), which claimed responsibility for major suicide and other attacks against army officers in recent months.

The novelty is the alliance between the ABM and young Bedouins and smugglers. In the eyes of the local population, the jihadists seem the only ones to oppose the marginalization of the Bedouins. ABM has been linked to the notorious ISIS or Islamic State, which makes military action and repression in the region all the more compelling. News of the alliance between ABM and IS started to spread last November; however, information coming from the Sinai should be handled carefully because journalists are denied access to the Sinai.

The repression of movements

Since the coup, al-Sisi has imposed: laws that ban protests, the return of military trials against civilians, rules against NGOs, the arrests of hundreds of journalists and analysts and a ban on politics in universities. Al-Sisi continues to rule through the use of the presidential decrees that extend his powers beyond measure! In recent months, hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death, (many sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment). The last sentence involved 188 members of the Brotherhood, bringing the number of death sentences to over a thousand. However, 2015 will be the year of parliamentary elections in Egypt (the seventh since the 2011 riots) which should take place in March. The new electoral law could pave the way for the return of the Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, who may access the seats among independent candidates.

The success of al-Sisi has restored the old regime, but also strengthened the chance for terrorism in Egypt, by wiping out democratic aspirations in the region. Yet, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt since 8 June 2014, wants to challenge this by promoting a religious revolution. He says: "The Muslim world can no longer be perceived as "a source of anxiety, danger, death and destruction" to the rest of humanity. And religious leaders of Islam must "get out of themselves" and promote "religious revolution" to eradicate bigotry and replace it with a "more enlightened vision of the world."

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the elections and then brought Morsi to the presidency, tried to manage the different interest groups in Egypt. That, however, did not succeed in preventing military intervention, which was supported from the outside, by the Gulf monarchies and especially by Saudi Arabia, which saw the Muslim Brotherhood a competitor that could somehow delegitimize the Wahhabi al Saud monarchy.

In fact, Egypt today is still a country in full conflict, not only inside but also on its borders: Libya and the Sinai, the latter being the target of an Islamist revolt. So, the fourth anniversary of the 'Arab Spring' has cast a shadow on what is the largest Arab country, and one that is key for the stability of the region.

This shadow will extend to the parliamentary elections scheduled in March and April, when President al-Sisi will try to take advantage in some way to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, to put pressure on the imams at al-Azhar (the most important Sunni Muslim religious institution) to launch a reform of Islam to establish a very different version of Islam than practiced by Salafist groups or jihadists.

This will have an influence on the elections of a country that, lest any forget, has more than 80 million inhabitants and enormous social and economic problems. The new Constitution, which prohibits the creation of confessional parties, would seem to be a response to the Islamist threat; but the Muslim Brotherhood are still active in the country. In fact, it is inconceivable to believe that repression alone would be sufficient to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood. Most have merely gone underground, as they had been for many years. And that in the end is the real problem, the real danger for Egypt: that is, not knowing how to deal or confront the many Egyptians who voted for Morsi in 2012. Sisi's leadership and de-facto coup is also an obstacle for the millions of people who were in Tahrir Square.





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