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November 18, 2014

On Egypt and Sisi, Zewail speaks for me

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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"When Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt in 2012, many in the country, including me, were hopeful that he would become a democratic president for all Egyptians," said Dr. Ahmed Zewail, the Egyptian-born American Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in his recent Los Angeles Times' op-ed, "Unfortunately, his presidency quickly became a proxy for the Muslim Brotherhood, and under his leadership the country was driven to the edge of civil war. Millions took to the streets on June 30, 2013, to demand change and greater stability for Egypt."

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “did not initially intend to run for the office in which he now serves, but he was urged to, I was told, by the chief justice of Egypt's Supreme Court and others. If the election that put him into office was rigged, as some politicians and editorials have claimed, why would Egyptians continue to support him after the election?”

 

On Sisi, Dr. Zewail rightly speaks for me and for millions of Egyptians.     

 
 

The facts are: Sisi was and still is supported by the Church and the more than 10 million Egyptian Coptic Christians, and by Al Azhar. With the exception of the extreme Muslim Brotherhood’s members and their supporters, the 80 million Egyptian Muslims also support him.

 

Among Sisi’s strong supporters are academics, lawyers, farmers, labor, judges, media personal, writers, artists, business people, youth and women groups, in addition to the army, and the security forces.

 

His supporters also include political parties from the far right e.g. the Islamic party Noor to the far left Tagamo, to the center-right e.g. the Wafid party to the center-left e.g. Al Masrian Al Ahrar.

 

Isn’t this overwhelming support a people-direct democracy?

Sisi’s support “is certainly not because he has taken the path of political expediency. Shortly after Sisi was elected, his administration announced cuts of "subsidies" on natural gas and energy consumption and lowered those for bread and other goods,” Dr. Zewail added, “This was an important step for economic stability in Egypt, but was considered politically impossible for more than half a century during the presidencies of Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. Sisi was able to convince Egyptians he was taking necessary action.”

Zewail rightly highlighted Sisi’s national mega project which would transfer Egypt to a developed country; “In another post-election call to Egyptians, he proclaimed the inauguration of a national project — the New Suez Canal — a waterway parallel to the one dug in 1869, and he called on Egyptians to invest in the project. In eight days, the Central Bank of Egypt raised nearly $8.5 billion by selling investment certificates. I visited one bank during those eight days, and the line circled several blocks. Banks had to stay open late to handle the unexpectedly huge volume of transactions.”

I am the proud owner of some of the Egyptian Government’s New Suez Canal Investment Certificates.

 

As of human rights violations it is relative. Considering Turkey’s handling of the Kurds as an example, Egypt current record on human rights is not better or worse than Turkey or for than matter any other state in the region e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Qatar etc. or even the US in its handling of the Arab Afghans after 9/11; shooting them on the spot or shipping them to an offshore American military base (many of them are still there 13 years later).

“It is true that Egypt's attempt at democracy after the 2011 revolution encountered many obstacles. And there remain issues to address, among them establishing fair laws governing NGOs, enforcing the rule of law for political prisoners awaiting trials, and the integration of Muslim Brotherhood members into the political fabric of Egypt,” added Dr. Zewail.

“Besides internal issues, including a troubled economy and high unemployment, it has security problems to its east with Islamic State, to its west with Libya and in the south toward Yemen. But despite these issues, Sisi has managed to get the majority of Egyptians behind him, taken serious steps toward reforming the ailing economy, and given hope to the country by initiating major national projects, including the City of Science and Technology, which I have been actively involved in promoting for many years,” he added.

On foreign policy Sisi is doing very well. He did outreach to African countries including Sudan and Ethiopia, to Arab countries especially to Saudi Arabia and UAE, to regional countries including Greece and Cyprus and also to Russia. Even the hostility of Turkey and Qatar towards Egypt by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood International and by training and financially supporting terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt is handled cautiously but firmly.

Zewail concluded: As the Economist put it in a piece about Sisi's first 100 days, the president “has brought economic and diplomatic advances as well as hope to Egyptians wearied by years of political turmoil.”  Amin Dr. Zewail, Amin.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, an Egyptian-born Canadian, is Emeritus Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He can be reached at

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