EXCLUSIVE: Egyptians Speak of America, Israel and Their New President

Monday, June 02, 2014 |  Elizabeth Blade

After three years of turmoil, good news is finally coming out of Egypt.

Last week, the 80-million-strong nation chose its next president – 59-year-old former general Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who promised to bring stability and security to the country.

But not everyone was jubilant. Ahmed Gamal, a strong supporter of the ousted and outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, refused to share his thoughts with Israel Today, fearing that the "claws of the new regime" would come to hunt him down.

The president-elect of Egypt is almost enigmatic. Not much is known about the "Quiet General" who's going to run the country for the next four years, and the little that is known spells trouble for anyone who would risk his country's security.

Strong, Confident Leadership

"As a former head of Egypt's military intelligence, Al-Sisi is strong, sharp, but not very vocal. He is well-aware of the problems his country is facing. He is wise and poses as a man of his word, a person who prefers to act rather than promise," said Amr Zakariya, an Egyptian scholar and a founding member of Afaq, an Institute for Middle East Studies in Cairo, who stressed that he was optimistic about the route his country was taking.

So were many other Egyptians. According to official information, Al-Sisi gained more than 93 percent of all votes (including that of the son of the much-beloved former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser), leaving his only opponent, the liberal Hamdeen Sabahi, with a mere 2.9 percent of the final tally.

Despite allegations that the vote was rigged and the turnout was low, Zakariya argued that the polls were attended by a large number of international observers, including those from the EU, the Arab League and the African Union.

"I totally disagree with the claims that the numbers were low. Compared to the country's previous elections in June 2012, this time around the government set up more polling stations [14 thousand across Egypt compared to 10 thousand two years ago] to prevent people from queuing under the hot African sun. It took me five minutes to cast my vote and leave," said the expert, who voted for Al-Sisi.

The reason for the general's overwhelming success is simple: tired of the dire economy, the constant terrorist attacks and the frequent demonstrations and mounting political instability, many view Al-Sisi as a savior.

"I am confident that the situation is going to improve. Al-Sisi will do his best to prove to people that they made the right choice," argued Zakariya. "Unlike his predecessor, who turned out to be an even bigger dictator than the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Al-Sisi is not a tyrant. He loves his country, which means that under his leadership the country will feel the difference."

Regional Implications

A difference will be also felt in neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States that are fed up with the repressive Muslim Brotherhood, a regional movement that also threatens their regimes.

In April, Al-Sisi sealed a three-billion dollar military deal with Russia, with the Saudis providing the cash. Naturally, Riyadh's decision to fund the contract wasn't dictated by humanitarian concerns. Rather, the Saudis – whose army is well-equipped, but lacks professional military personnel – count on Cairo to protect them from the looming Iranian threat. For them, a strong president in Egypt is a guarantee of their regimes' stability.

Israel, so it seems, can also sit back and relax, as the new president has promised to "respect the peace treaty" with the Jewish state. Moreover, Al-Sisi is determined to regain full control over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which has become home to many terrorist cells (including Hamas and Al-Qaeda), and he is willing to work with Israel to tackle this hostile territory.

Dissenting Voices

But there are also those who lose from Al-Sisi's victory. Apart from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the vote, their patrons in Turkey and Qatar will now have to labor hard to fund the opposition and keep it afloat.

Washington also seems to be on the wrong side of history. Not many in Egypt can forget (let alone forgive) the support America gave the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to pose a threat to national security. President Barack Obama's call to suspend US military aid to Egypt following the army's crackdown on aggressive Muslim Brotherhood activists added fuel to the fire, triggering a decision to put an end to Egypt's dependency on American military aid.

"The US cannot scare us with halting its military aid simply because the Saudis will provide us with theirs," said Zakariya, noting that Egypt fought all of its wars using Soviet equipment, not American. "Plus, Al-Sisi is a strong believer in the diversification of sources, which means that the days of American hegemony in Egypt are now over."

Moving East

In the meantime, Egypt is moving somewhat back into Russia's sphere of influence.

In February, Al-Sisi visited Moscow to reassure Russian President Vladimir Putin that "Cairo was open to boosting ties with Russia across a wide range of mutually advantageous areas."

The Kremlin, which lost its influence in Egypt back in the 1970s and has since longed to reestablish its presence, supported Al-Sisi's decision to run for president and has already welcomed his election.

"Egypt is now heading towards the East, but it's not going to happen overnight," said Zakariya. "Just as Washington sells weapons to both Jews and Arabs, Egypt has the right to buy arms from both the US and Russia."

Does this mean that Egypt – backed by Moscow – will scrap the democratic values of the West, preferring to stick to the well-known playground of a totalitarian regime? Zakariya doubted it, but did caution that "what Egypt truly needs right now is a strong hand. Otherwise, the country will slip into chaos."

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