How Domestic Policy Relates to Foreign Policy in New Egypt

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

A major cause behind the Egyptian people’s revolution in January 2011 was to protest against difficult economic situation of the Egyptian nation which had been exacerbated by excessive inflation, high unemployment rate, as well as low salaries of workers and civil servants in both state-run and private sectors. However, the revolution, has not only worsened the country’s economic woes, but has added increasing insecurity to other everyday concerns of the Egyptian people. A glance at the headlines of the Egyptian newspapers will show that such issues as increased electricity price, rising prices of various commodities, gas distribution crisis, attacks by hooligan gangs on commercial complexes and so forth are the main subjects of their reports. At the same time, about 100 days have passed since Mohamed Morsi took office as the new elected president of Egypt. He was supposed during that period to meet five urgent demands of the Egyptian people which included supply of adequate amounts of bread and fuel, invigorating the role of police, resolving Cairo’s traffic crisis (with which the Egyptian capital city has been grappling for two years), and put an end to the crisis regarding garbage disposal in the capital. In the meantime, the Revolutionary Democratic Coalition (which consists of 10 parties), and the Revolutionary Youth Union have issued separate calls on the occasion of the 100th day of Morsi’s presidency, asking people to pour into the streets, remind Morsi of the promises he had made 100 days ago, and urge the fulfillment of unfulfilled promises. The result was a million-man march at the iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square on October 12.

The main question posed by the organizer of the demonstration was which one of Morsi’s promises have been fulfilled in the 100 days that have passed since his election. That question can be also posed in a more general way: What Morsi has done in the past three months? To answer that question, one may point out an important domestic development and a foreign process. The important development which took place in the past 100 years was the expulsion of powerful army commanders from their posts. Although there are various speculations about what the army has taken in return, as well as its continued economic and bureaucratic role in the future, the tug of war between Morsi and the Egyptian army has been so far in favor of the new president and his civilian government. In addition, stripping the army of its vast powers has been a serious demand of all revolutionary and nonmilitary forces in the Arab country. In other words, realization of this goal has been Morsi’s first step toward realizing the rights of the Egyptian nation following the country’s popular revolution.

The foreign process, on the other hand, has been the beginning of President Morsi’s foreign trips which have so far taken him to eight destinations: the United States, China, Belgium, Italy, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ethiopia. In other words, during the first three months of his presidency, Morsi has embarked on a foreign trip every 11 days on average. This quantity of foreign trips is actually unprecedented compared to heads of states whose countries have been scene of social upheavals in the form of revolutions. A review of Egypt’s domestic economic problems makes it more difficult to justify such trips. Why Morsi is so impatient to take foreign trips? The main point is that most problems with which Egypt is currently faced are domestic. In addition, almost all promises given by Morsi during the past 100 days have been about domestic issues. Now, which one of the five main promises given by him have been actually realized and to what extent? Various polls show that most Egyptians are not satisfied with Morsi's performance in the past 100 days and the Egyptian society is still grappling with the aforesaid five serious problems.

How frequent foreign visits by Morsi can be possibly explained under these conditions? Although establishing a logical dialogue with various countries in order to encourage their investment in Egypt and improve the economic situation of the country has been mentioned as the main reason behind his foreign trips, is it really true? In fact, the most appropriate explanation for Morsi's travels is the publicity purposes pursued through those trips, which target and try to justify two groups of domestic and foreign audiences. In foreign terms, Morsi, as the first Islamist president of Egypt, has tried to prove Egypt’s commitment to its international obligations as well as to show rationality of political and international actions of the Egyptian Islamist groups to the world and, more importantly, to dominant global powers. This explanation is often given by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and is also reflected in Egyptian print media, including in the Freedom and Justice newspaper, which is the official organ of Morsi's party. It is clear that due to the need for improving foreign image of the Islamist figures at this juncture and protecting international standing of Egypt, such trips are quite justified, but a few simple questions can cast doubt on the above explanation: couldn’t Morsi convey his message to the world without taking such trips? Couldn’t he have sent his foreign minister or vice president instead of taking the trips in person? In fact, given the critical conditions that exist in Egypt, the aforesaid explanation is by no means adequate to justify the frequent foreign trips taken by the new Egyptian president.

Another point which has been mentioned to justify Morsi's foreign trips is that he had been trying to make the domestic audience believe that strengthening foreign standing of Egypt needs extensive activities by the country’s president in relation to other countries. This explanation has been considered by Morsi's critics and the opposition as just an excuse to which Morsi resorts in order to evade his domestic responsibilities and urgent promises he gave the people during presidential election hustings. Perhaps this is the reason behind extensive foreign interactions as well as tensions in Egypt following the election of Morsi.

Foreign policy approaches of every country vary in relation to domestic and foreign goals of the states as well as priorities which are set according to those goals. In addition, various components are involved in setting the aforesaid priorities. As for Egypt, although in his presidential election campaign, Morsi gave a clear list of his priorities for the first 100 days of his term, the subsequent faceoff with real crises as well as Egypt’s domestic hardships have put the nascent and inexperienced government of Morsi in a complicated situation as a result of promises he had given in his campaign. When faced with these conditions, governments and heads of state behave differently. Some of them make extensive efforts to fulfill a minimum of promises they have given. Others give an outright report of the realities on the ground to their nation after which they either resign or continue in office. Still there are other governments which resort to domestic or foreign propaganda hype in order to divert the attention from their promises. As for the Egypt, it seems that Morsi has put the first and third options on his agenda.

The first option is to make extensive efforts to materialize a minimum of promises. The other option is to focus on those foreign issues and cases which are not necessarily priorities for the government, but under the existing circumstances, can be of good propaganda avail to the government. The partial position taken by Morsi on the crisis in Syria, gradual increase in tension with Israel, and similar attempts, are not of urgent importance to ordinary Egyptian citizens. The Egyptian citizens also don’t consider it a priority for the government to travel far and wide in order to improve the image of the Islamist figures abroad. Egypt is in the grips of dire economic conditions. To sail through these conditions was a powerful vow that Morsi made during presidential campaigning before the Egyptian nation. However, to fill the gap between his promises and their practical fulfillment, the new government is focusing on parallel issues and cases – as was the vogue in the past regime. Although such issues and cases are no priority for the Egyptian citizens, they can at least help to reduce pressures on the government. A retrospective glance at the 1980s to see how the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak established his absolute power will show that the approach taken by the new Egyptian president may finally lead to resurgence of another totalitarian regime. The history is repeating itself in Egypt, although Morsi may not be consciously willing for such a repetition to take place. However, let’s not forget that no dictatorial regime proclaims the start of dictatorship by issuing an official statement.

Key Words: Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy, New Egypt, Economic Situation, Morsi’s Promises, Foreign Trips, Totalitarian Regime, Ahmadian

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