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Egypt: Looking to the Future

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Ammna Nasser reports on the special South-Asia & Middle East Forum session on Egypt’s future, chaired by Khalid Nadeem on 13 October at the House of Commons
Khalid Nadeem, Chairman of the South-Asia and Middle East Forum commenced the session by proposing the following question: ‘What does the future of Egypt entail?’ He underlined the impact of the current economic and political turmoil on the younger generation, in particular the under-35s. 
Nadeem said the issues Affecting Egypt’s future were “extremely critical,” suggesting immediate action from the West through the introduction of a carefully designed economic programme to combat the substantial youth unemployment facing the country today.
Nadeem also advocated the need for a “joint effort” between the Egyptian and Western governments, otherwise, he stated, the future of Egypt’s youth will be bleak. Nadeem highlighted that trade (rather that human right initiatives) was a priority in the UK’s foreign policy, and this was a matter of concern to members of the audience.
Catherine West MP, the British Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Minister reiterated Nadeem’s statement. Her extensive work on empowering youth in the UK led her to bring light to the fact that income insecurity experienced by the young is a key challenge for the country. Calling on the Egyptian government to prioritise policies to address this, she further proposed that the UK supports Egypt by developing a robust link and an understanding around the liberalisation of trade, rule of law focusing on the freedom of press, and strengthening the system of accountability.
Jonathan S. Paris, a US Middle East analyst, commented on Egyptian and US relations. Emphasising the need for a US presence in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure stability, he made an explicit reference to the Obama administration’s disinterest in the region, which he argued has consequently resulted in the consolidation of radical groups and wider volatility. Furthermore, he predicted that the US will play a “pro-active role” in strengthening its relationship with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East in general. To avoid the possibility of Russian interference in Egypt, he stated that the US will not undermine President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. His overall perspective on Egypt’s future is that the authoritarian tendency of President el-Sisi’s regime will fall, but it is essential to question when this will happen.
Dr Malise Ruthven, academic and consultant on Middle Eastern Affairs stressed the global importance of Egypt and its geopolitical location. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia has markedly contributed to finance the country’s deficit, revealing that the two countries share a special relationship as President el-Sisi served as the Egyptian Defence Attaché to Saudi Arabia. Dr Ruthven emphasised the paradoxical nature of unemployment in Egypt. Uneducated workers are often able to secure labour-intensive jobs in Gulf countries and remit income back to Egypt, however those who have completed higher education are unable to secure employment at home or abroad.
Commenting on the current political situation in Egypt, Dr Ruthven shed light on the 2011 revolution that brought Mohamed Morsi to power, and his subsequent overthrowing that gave traction to the agendas of extremist groups within the country. He said the tension between anti-democratic Islamists and Liberal-Secular factions among the Egyptian population had been a problem for decades. The deep-rooted economic and political issues of concern in Egypt forecast a “gloomy prospect for the future,” Dr Ruthven stated. However, he completed his speech on a quasi-optimistic note, referring to Tunisia’s fledgling democracy as evidence that statesmanship and Islamic governance can be reconciled in the modern state.
Dr Gillian Kennedy, a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London focused her talk on the security challenges facing Egypt. She commented on Egypt’s plummeting economy that relies on tourism, an industry that has approximately decreased by 40 per cent, heavily impacting the economy. She further affirmed that economic insecurity is compounded by a lack of investment made in education and health sectors, which in turn is a potential cause for radicalisation amongst the youth. She emphasised the need for a political outlet to accommodate the educated resentful youth. Beyond these risks, she said that insecurity is further exacerbated in Egypt by the Islamists in Sinai who have pledged allegiance to ISIS. She highlighted that immediate action is required to curtail ISIS’s ideological beliefs.
Concluding her talk, she proposed policy recommendations targeting Egypt’s economy. She spoke of the great potential for the economy if small to medium sized businesses and female-headed households can have access to finance. Dr Kennedy also cautioned the audience that this is not the end of the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to Egypt as “a ticking time bomb.” She urged that we not lose sight of that, stating that Egypt is the only relatively stable nation in the region, hence losing it could cause a radical insurgence in the Middle East.
Tom Brake MP, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, concluded the session by highlighting human rights issues in Egypt. He emphasised the disappearance of several people, the repeated violation of rights, the ill-treatment of prisoners and more. He advocated for the UK to immediately increase its focus on Egypt, using its position as the largest foreign interest in the country to put pressure on the regime to pursue more inclusive policies towards youth, women and human rights issues.
Panelists welcomed questions from the audience, which included diplomats, representatives from the UK government, NGOs, and media, who actively debated the fate of Egypt. A recurring theme that emerged throughout the session was the negative impact that Egypt’s current chaotic economic and political environment had on the country’s youth. All panelists agreed that there is a desperate need to accommodate the youth in Egypt’s policy-making architecture, and to combat resentment, which if overlooked, could potentially lead to radicalisation. They also urged for a focus to uphold and promote the human rights initiative in Egypt. While panelists at times painted a bleak picture of Egypt, they found themselves coming to a consensus that Egypt is still among the most stable countries in the Middle East, but has a long way to go to ensure economic and political stability.
Khalid Nadeem, Chairman of the South-Asia and Middle East Forum commenced the session by proposing the following question: ‘What does the future of Egypt entail?’ He underlined the impact of the current economic and political turmoil on the younger generation, in particular the under-35s. 
Nadeem said the issues Affecting Egypt’s future were “extremely critical,” suggesting immediate action from the West through the introduction of a carefully designed economic programme to combat the substantial youth unemployment facing the country today.
Nadeem also advocated the need for a “joint effort” between the Egyptian and Western governments, otherwise, he stated, the future of Egypt’s youth will be bleak. Nadeem highlighted that trade (rather that human right initiatives) was a priority in the UK’s foreign policy, and this was a matter of concern to members of the audience.
Catherine West MP, the British Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Minister reiterated Nadeem’s statement. Her extensive work on empowering youth in the UK led her to bring light to the fact that income insecurity experienced by the young is a key challenge for the country. Calling on the Egyptian government to prioritise policies to address this, she further proposed that the UK supports Egypt by developing a robust link and an understanding around the liberalisation of trade, rule of law focusing on the freedom of press, and strengthening the system of accountability.
Jonathan S. Paris, a US Middle East analyst, commented on Egyptian and US relations. Emphasising the need for a US presence in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure stability, he made an explicit reference to the Obama administration’s disinterest in the region, which he argued has consequently resulted in the consolidation of radical groups and wider volatility. Furthermore, he predicted that the US will play a “pro-active role” in strengthening its relationship with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East in general. To avoid the possibility of Russian interference in Egypt, he stated that the US will not undermine President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. His overall perspective on Egypt’s future is that the authoritarian tendency of President el-Sisi’s regime will fall, but it is essential to question when this will happen.
Dr Malise Ruthven, academic and consultant on Middle Eastern Affairs stressed the global importance of Egypt and its geopolitical location. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia has markedly contributed to finance the country’s deficit, revealing that the two countries share a special relationship as President el-Sisi served as the Egyptian Defence Attaché to Saudi Arabia. Dr Ruthven emphasised the paradoxical nature of unemployment in Egypt. Uneducated workers are often able to secure labour-intensive jobs in Gulf countries and remit income back to Egypt, however those who have completed higher education are unable to secure employment at home or abroad.
Commenting on the current political situation in Egypt, Dr Ruthven shed light on the 2011 revolution that brought Mohamed Morsi to power, and his subsequent overthrowing that gave traction to the agendas of extremist groups within the country. He said the tension between anti-democratic Islamists and Liberal-Secular factions among the Egyptian population had been a problem for decades. The deep-rooted economic and political issues of concern in Egypt forecast a “gloomy prospect for the future,” Dr Ruthven stated. However, he completed his speech on a quasi-optimistic note, referring to Tunisia’s fledgling democracy as evidence that statesmanship and Islamic governance can be reconciled in the modern state.
Dr Gillian Kennedy, a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London focused her talk on the security challenges facing Egypt. She commented on Egypt’s plummeting economy that relies on tourism, an industry that has approximately decreased by 40 per cent, heavily impacting the economy. She further affirmed that economic insecurity is compounded by a lack of investment made in education and health sectors, which in turn is a potential cause for radicalisation amongst the youth. She emphasised the need for a political outlet to accommodate the educated resentful youth. Beyond these risks, she said that insecurity is further exacerbated in Egypt by the Islamists in Sinai who have pledged allegiance to ISIS. She highlighted that immediate action is required to curtail ISIS’s ideological beliefs.
Concluding her talk, she proposed policy recommendations targeting Egypt’s economy. She spoke of the great potential for the economy if small to medium sized businesses and female-headed households can have access to finance. Dr Kennedy also cautioned the audience that this is not the end of the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to Egypt as “a ticking time bomb.” She urged that we not lose sight of that, stating that Egypt is the only relatively stable nation in the region, hence losing it could cause a radical insurgence in the Middle East.
Tom Brake MP, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, concluded the session by highlighting human rights issues in Egypt. He emphasised the disappearance of several people, the repeated violation of rights, the ill-treatment of prisoners and more. He advocated for the UK to immediately increase its focus on Egypt, using its position as the largest foreign interest in the country to put pressure on the regime to pursue more inclusive policies towards youth, women and human rights issues.
Panelists welcomed questions from the audience, which included diplomats, representatives from the UK government, NGOs, and media, who actively debated the fate of Egypt. A recurring theme that emerged throughout the session was the negative impact that Egypt’s current chaotic economic and political environment had on the country’s youth. All panelists agreed that there is a desperate need to accommodate the youth in Egypt’s policy-making architecture, and to combat resentment, which if overlooked, could potentially lead to radicalisation. They also urged for a focus to uphold and promote the human rights initiative in Egypt. While panelists at times painted a bleak picture of Egypt, they found themselves coming to a consensus that Egypt is still among the most stable countries in the Middle East, but has a long way to go to ensure economic and political stability.

Gervase@aumitpartners.co.uk

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