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Egypt’s Faltering Transition: Domestic and Regional Dynamics and Challenges for India

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  • May 02, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Ambassador Arundhati Ghose
    External Discussants: Shri Sanjay Singh and Professor Gulshan Dietl
    Internal Discussants: Dr P K Pradhan and Ms Ruchita Beri

    The paper is an attempt to analytically examine the intricacies of Egypt’s transition, its domestic-regional dynamics and nature of Indo-Egyptian relations. In the introductory remarks, author briefly discussed Egypt’s geographic, demographic, civilizational and geo-political significance and highlighted Egypt’s centrality in West Asia-North Africa (WANA) region’s strategic landscape.

    Author raised four concise research questions which form the major premise of this study; Factors responsible for faltering transition, Major domestic stake-holders in Egypt’s transition, External factors influencing the Egyptian transition and reverberations of transition on the region, and India’s key interests in Egypt.

    In the first section, author identified four factors responsible for the flawed transition of Egypt. As per author’s contentions, SCAF in its short political existence of sixteen months failed to address the popular demands of Egyptians and thus its political miscalculation proved to be an obstruction in Egypt’s democratic ambitions. Author further elaborated how multiple elections and constitutional referenda post-2011 created an element of ambiguity and frustration, and led to a directionless transition. The third factor responsible for transition’s failure was Muslim Brotherhood’s confusion, contradiction and hurry in managing the new democratic Egypt. Lastly, with reference to certain important economic variables, author affirmed that deplorable economic conditions and inability to revive the Egyptian economy further impeded the transitional movement.

    In the next section, author dealt with the major domestic players involved in writing the script of Egypt’s transition. Role played by Egyptian Armed forces, Political parties (Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic and secular political parties) and Youth Movements (April 6 movement, Revolutionary Youth Coalition, Tamarod) was analytically elaborated by the author.

    Third section of the paper was centered on external dynamics of the transition. Author classified the influences under two major sub-heads; Regional and extra-regional camps. Based on ideological differences and state of diplomatic relations, author established that Saudi-UAE-Kuwait formed the Anti-Muslim brotherhood lobby, and Turkey-Iran-Qatar group was labelled as the Pro Muslim Brotherhood camp. Under Extra-regional stake holders, the case of Russia and U.S. was studied in greater detail. To evaluate Egypt’s impact on the region, author studied the spread of Political Islam emanating from Egyptian territory, reaction of neighbours such as Iran and Turkey, probable trade-effects along Suez Canal and changing US policies.

    Last section of the paper focused on Indo-Egyptian relations by examining the cultural, civilizational, diplomatic, and economic-trade linkages. Special emphasis was laid on nature of bilateral ties in face of the Arab Spring. In conclusion, author emphatically articulated Egypt’s importance for India and deliberated upon challenges facing New Delhi while dealing with changing regimes in Cairo.

    Shri Sanjay Singh congratulated the author for producing a well-structured and analytically sound paper. He stated that developments in WANA region deserve a more detailed mention in the introduction section of the paper to place Egypt in the regional context. He further suggested the author to examine the impact of Iran P5+1 talks and Iraq elections on Egypt. He appreciated author’s detailed analysis of Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egyptian transition and asked the author to further address intra Muslim Brotherhood clefts. Furthermore, Shri Sanjay Singh highlighted the centrality of domestic economic forces in shaping the transition. Lastly, it was stated that even though Egypt is important to India, GCC remains the centre of attention and thus labelling Egypt as the “vital cog” in India’s foreign policy matrix seemed to be an exaggeration.

    Prof. Gulshan Dietl appreciated the cogent and focused study undertaken by the author. She opined that the three years of turbulence have changed the status quo in Egypt and thus the argument that “Egypt is back to square one” remains contestable. While commenting on Egypt’s contemporary relevance, Prof Dietl mentioned that Cairo as headquarters of Arab league exemplifies Egypt’s centrality to the West Asian region. Additionally, author was urged to examine the role of Egyptian films and TV in evoking and influencing the public sentiment, in order to catch the pulse of Egyptian revolution.

    Ms. Ruchita Beri acknowledged author’s efforts. She mentioned that though Egypt geographically falls under the African continent, Egyptians generally alienate themselves from their African identity. She suggested that the author accommodate the issue of Egypt’s participation in the African Union within the subject-matter of this paper, and also briefly examine Sino-Egypt trade relations.

    Dr. P.K. Pradhan complimented the author. A succinct reference to Elie Kedourie’s work on Arab political culture was made to suggest that reminiscence of Mubarak still echoes across Egypt, even after his ouster from Egyptian political theatre. Sharing his insights on military dominance in Egypt, Dr. Pradhan asserted that even though the military leader has been removed, the institutional structures remain intact. He agreed with the author’s contention that military will dominate the domestic politics, and civilian misrule will not be tolerated by military in Egypt.

    Amb. Arundhati Ghose: The neutral, non-judgmental and objective approach of the paper was highly appreciated by Amb Ghose. The author was advised to include “people or masses” as another major internal player in Egyptian transition. Demographic profiling of protestors while examining the youth movements was strongly recommended. Amb Ghose emphatically stated that jihadis have contributed to the failure of transition, and thus the role of Jihadi elements in shaping the transition deserves a mention, if not detailed scrutiny.

    The discussion was followed by comments and questions from the floor. The need to examine the future of Egypt was underlined; in order to extrapolate whether Egypt will deteriorate into a failed state or will it bounce back and retain its influence on the region. Questions were raised on US policy towards Egypt post-Mubarak and Israeli view of Arab Spring and Egyptian transition. The issue of Egypt’s excessive dependence on foreign funds was debated and the need to study economic dynamics of Egyptian transition was duly acknowledged.