Security Update – EgyptNovember 15, 2013 in Egypt
Egyptian courts have ruled that the national state of emergency ended at 4 pm on Tuesday 14 November. Curfews that have been in place since 14 August have been lifted. The curfew was in place shortly following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi; economists are hopeful that the lifting of the curfew will result in a critical resurgence to the economy. Both the state of emergency and curfew were intended to last a month, however the government extended it for two more months on September 12. According to the Egyptian law, the government cannot extend a curfew beyond a three month period.
The Egyptian government is also in the process of drafting legislation to regulate demonstrations. To many activists, this is seen as a danger to their right to civil protests. The draft is currently in the hands of Interim President Adly Monsour, who in the absence of a parliament is the sole voice to decide on the issue.
Though the numbers have dwindled considerably, Morsi supporters have persisted in continuing demonstrations. On 11 November, protestors clashed with security forces at two universities north of Cairo on Tuesday. In Mansoura, four people were wounded in the clashes that also involved local residents. In Zagazig, five people were wounded clashes. Morsi, whose trial was delayed until January, remains in solitary confinement, reportedly at Burg el Arab prison in Alexandria. The former president will stand trial in connection to the killing of protesters outside of the presidential palace in December.
Meanwhile, Egyptians are awaiting a referendum on a new constitution, to take place in December. A 50- member committee has been tasked with evaluating and redesigning the current constitution, and have worked toward eliminating repressive passages, including restrictions on church construction. During Morsi’s tenure in office, he and his constitutional assembly, which were predominantly members of his Muslim Brotherhood party, developed a largely Islamist constitution, including a law that would make shari’a law, the Islamic legal system, applicable to the whole of Egypt.
Members of the Coptic Church, who comprise approximately 10% of the population, have felt that under the leadership of Morsi, the Christian population became increasingly marginalised. Following the removal of Morsi, the population was heavily targeted by Morsi supporters, including the destruction of Coptic owned properties and businesses.
Currently, the constitution has been redrafted to become increasingly secular. The committee eliminated a restriction that required Egypt’s Christians to obtain a presidential permit to build, repair or even renovate a church. Committee member Mohamed Abul-Ghar said, “Under a liberal constitution, all Egyptians, particularly Christians, must be allowed to build their own places of worship freely”. Still other proposals include suggestions to ban all political parties based upon religion.
Egypt is working to boost the economy with a tender for the development of the Suez Canal by the end of the month, in an effort to boost an economy struggling with political turmoil since 2011.
A spokesman for the project said, “No country is taking the lead, it is an Egyptian project and we are going to finalize the first stage by finalizing this tender by the end of this month.” Currently, Egypt’s economy benefits from about $5 billion a year in tolls for using the canal.
In addition, Egypt is also planning to launch an international tender in January to build its first nuclear power station. The development was announced on 14 November before talks with Russian officials on cooperation between the two countries. Egypt has suffered heavy fuel shortages since the 2011 uprising, which have placed a on power generating capabilities to the 85 million strong population, forcing power cuts and prompting energy-intensive industries to buy electricity from private suppliers at high prices. Former Trade and Industry Minister Hatem Saleh said in April that Russia had agreed to help Egypt develop atomic energy.
On 14 November, Russian and Egyptian senior officials met in Egypt to discuss military and economic cooperation between the two nations. While Egyptian officials have said that Egypt is not turning away from the United States, the meeting is a signal that the Egyptian government has options, with ties to Russian government going back several decades.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy downplayed speculation of a major foreign policy shift, saying, “We seek to energize a relationship that is already in existence,” and adding that Egypt is not looking for a “substitute for anyone”; Russia is too significant for such a role. Fahmy called the meeting an “activation” of existing ties and spoke of cooperation between the two countries “in multiple fields.”However the Egyptian government has expressed interest in purchasing Russian weaponry, in particular air defence missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets, combat helicopters and other weapons. While there is speculation of how Egypt will afford the price tag of these items, an unnamed Egyptian military general close to army leadership said Egypt was close to signing a $2 billion deal with Russia for the purchase of 24 MiG fighter-jets as well as anti-tank missiles and an air-defence system.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shogiu, who vowed to develop military ties and increase bilateral contacts, said, “I expect to continue a constructive dialogue on the entire spectrum of military and military-technical issues.”
It is likely that the weaponry requested by Egypt is in an effort to continue pursuit of extremist networks, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Since the removal of Morsi on 3 July, the region has seen a significant increase in violence, particularly aimed at security forces. On Tuesday, Officer Tareq Mohamed Zaki was gunned down in North Sinai as he left a police station in Arish.
A security cordon has been placed around the police station to hunt down the attackers. Since July, hundreds of police and military troops have been targeted. The Egyptian army has responded with what military experts are calling the largest military operation on the peninsula since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, with the aim of combating “militancy and terrorism.”