Raymond Stock, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, is a Middle East political analyst and scholar. A resident of Cairo for two decades, he has written extensively about Egypt and the Middle East in the Middle East Quarterly, The Financial Times, and International Herald Tribune, among many other venues. Dr. Stock briefed the Middle East Forum in a conference call August 27, 2015.
The Islamists have enabled Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi to consolidate his domestic standing and gain widespread international legitimacy.
Though no more tolerant of political dissent than his predecessors, Sisi is a liberal in the sense that he wants a more open, tolerant, and religiously equal Egypt as evidenced by his uncompromising fight against Muslim Brotherhood violence. The only Egyptian president to demand that Al-Azhar clerics end their militant interpretation of Islam and societal discrimination of non-Muslims, Sisi made overtures to the Coptic Christians and toned down religious extremism in the education curriculum.
Pro-Sisi demonstrators celebrate the third anniversary of Mubarak's overthrow, January 2014.
The president's success in restoring order has been eroded by the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the resurgence of Muslim Brotherhood violence, and spreading lawlessness in Sinai. The recent opening of the new Suez Canal and encouragement of foreign investment are attempts to revive Egypt's economy and boost its international standing.
Yet American involvement with the regime has been minimal due to President Obama's affinity with the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government; and while Washington has lifted the freeze on aid to Egypt, it no longer extends credit for military aid and strategic assistance, which in turn forced Sisi to turn to Russia and France for armaments and warships.
It was a strategic and moral mistake for the Obama administration to abandon Mubarak without attempting to arrange an adequate successor who would arrest Egypt's slide to anarchy, from which it has only partially recovered; and just as it supported the Islamist Morsi after Mubarak, it should have endorsed the more moderate and pragmatic Sisi after the latter's downfall. At a time when ISIS spreads its tentacles across the region, the Egyptian president presents an opportunity to influence the debate by promoting a more traditional Islam, albeit at great risk to himself.
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Middle East Forum Board of Governors