Reva Bhalla: Hi, my name is Reva Bhalla, and today I'm joined by my colleague Kamran Bokhari, who's calling in via Skype from Toronto. Hi Kamran.
Kamran Bokhari: Hello Reva.
Reva: For today Kamran, I wanted to talk to you about Egypt. We have the Egyptian elections extended by an extra day, extremely low voter turnout still in the upper thirties last reported, the government is even talking about fining Egyptians who didn't vote in this election, so not exactly the strong mandate that al-Sisi was expecting.
Kamran: Indeed, it’s a bit surprising considering the popularity of Gen. al-Sisi since the coup. One would’ve hoped the turnout would be somewhere above the 50 percent if not 60 percent mark, but nonetheless what we have is a situation where people just seem to have taken the idea that "Well look, Gen. al-Sisi is going to get elected so does it even matter if I go to vote?" and I think much of the low voter turnout is due to that. Then there are reports of hot weather and other logistical issues, but I think generally what we have is a situation where the foregone conclusion led to people just not coming out to the ballot box.
Reva: Yeah, I'd agree with that. Overall, Egyptians are tired. They just want stability — politically, economically, security-wise. The question is are they going to get that out of an al-Sisi presidency?
Kamran: That's going to be a tough one. Al-Sisi has a lot of challenges and its not just what's making the headlines in terms of the opposition from the [Muslim] Brotherhood or the jihadist attacks. It’s the economy, its essentially, can he do something that his predecessors have not been able to. Keep in mind since the Mubarak ouster, SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] was in power, then [Mohammed] Morsi came to power, and we've had an interim government and there is no sign that the economy is going to turn around. Egypt is essentially surviving for the most part on financial assistance from the GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. So there is this hope amongst the people, but we, as analysts, just don't see where the turnaround is going to come from.
Reva: Well, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, you've seen some of these countries — especially Kuwait — complaining a bit, not wanting to basically endlessly dump cash into Egypt. They do want to see the economy grow, but I wouldn’t say that that GCC support is going to go away anytime soon, even if they are kind of growing tired of it.
Kamran: I would agree with that. I don’t think that the GCC countries can afford to not aid Egypt, especially at a time like this. But what the outcry or sort of the criticism that is, for the most part, muffled coming from Kuwait is that they don't want to have to keep dumping money into something that they don't know is going to survive, much less Egypt grow out of this dependency on the GCC states. Its like any investor, you want to see a return on your investment, and I think that the GCC states, they're not oblivious to what's going on. So I think that they're having jitters at the very least.
Reva: On the other hand, on the security front, while we still see attacks continuing, they are not rising in tempo, in capability, and so there we might see the military actually making some meaningful progress.
Kamran: Indeed. Keep in mind that when these attacks started, it was about projecting power or the capability to stage attacks from the Sinai into the mainland. And that wasn't something that was, if you will, a positive development for the jihadists. They were operating under constraints. Its one thing to actually stage attacks in the Sinai, its another to do it in mainland Egypt. There was a rush of attacks, and I think that the jihadists were trying to take advantage of the regime being distracted by multiple things, but I think the security establishment has really gotten itself together to where now the jihadists are finding it difficult to stage attacks.
Reva: At the same time we're seeing Egypt restore its position as the key mediator in the Palestinian situation, as Fatah and Hamas are trying to paper over their differences and get back to a unity government. And Egypt I would expect to play a very big role in that process, primarily for security reasons as it tries to contain any security issues in the Sinai where Hamas and the Egyptian military actually do have a lot of common cause.
Kamran: Indeed, and despite the fact that we saw a lot of rhetoric coming from Cairo against Hamas, which was linked to the animosity that Cairo has toward the Brotherhood, the fact is that Cairo understands that it has to do business with Hamas, so it was in their interest to push this formation of a unity government with Fatah, so from the Egyptian point of view, they want as less problems as they can have, and one way of decreasing the list of problems was to take care of Gaza to the point where then they can better manage the Sinai.
Reva: One thing I would add to that is when Israel is looking at this situation, you know, they obviously want to keep the Egyptian military in power. Al-Sisi is going to have problems but as long as the military as the institution remains in control of the Egyptian situation, Israel will be somewhat calmed by that fact, and we're already seeing Israel take some pretty interesting moves and trying to ensure that its commercial activities, particularly its offshore natural gas development, will have linkages regionally to countries like Egypt, like Jordan, like Turkey to basically reinforce those strategic relationships in the near abroad.
Kamran: Indeed. From the Israeli point of view, if you look at their strategic environment, pretty much there's chaos on every single border save perhaps Jordan, although Jordan is neither here nor there given that its dealing with the Syrian uprising. So from the Israeli point of view it's important that it also sort of minimizes the risks to its national security. Even though the Israeli government has come out and said "Well, we're opposed to this deal between Hamas and Fatah," and the relations with Fatah are far more tense than they have been in recent times, I think from the Israeli point of view, having an architecture like this overseen by the Egyptians allows them the room that they need to deal with other crises.
Reva: So basically while we see al-Sisi having a lot of problems coming his way, he is not indispensable but certainly the military in Egypt is. Kamran, thank you so much for joining the conversation and thank you all for joining us. We'll see you next time.