Egypt: Peace and Internal Unrest

Peace and Internal Unrest

A result of the intense U.S. effort to secure a settlement was the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Egypt, which had been severed since the 1967 war. This marked the beginning of closer relations with the West. After regaining both banks of the Suez Canal as a result of the postwar agreement, Egypt, with U.S. assistance, began to clear the canal of mines and sunken ships left from the 1967 war. In 1974, following a visit to Egypt by U.S. President Richard Nixon, a treaty was signed providing U.S. aid to Egypt of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In 1977, Sadat surprised the world with his visit to Jerusalem and plans for peace with Israel. On Mar. 26, 1979, Egypt signed a formal peace treaty with Israel in Washington, D.C. By 1982, Israel had withdrawn from nearly all the Sinai. Egypt was suspended from the Arab League as a result of the peace treaty. A boycott by Arab countries was imposed on Egypt, and Libya, which had cut ties with Egypt in 1977, provoked border clashes.

Domestic unrest between Muslims and Christians in 1981 led to a crackdown by the government. Tensions heightened, and Sadat was assassinated on Oct. 6, 1981, by Muslim extemists. He was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who faced growing economic problems as well as continued opposition from militant Muslim fundamentalists. A state of emergency, imposed after Sadat's murder, was ultimately extended by Egypt's parliament throughout Mubarak's presidency, finally lapsing in mid-2012.

President Mubarak continued amicable relations with Israel and the United States and remained active in the Middle East peace process. In 1989, Israel returned the last portion of the Sinai that it held, the Taba Strip, to Egypt. Relations with the rest of the Arab world improved, and Egypt was readmitted into the Arab League in 1989.

In return for Egypt's anti-Iraq stance and its sending of troops in the Persian Gulf War (1991), the United States dismissed $7 billion in Egyptian debt. Participation in the war strengthened Western ties and enhanced Egypt's regional leadership role but was not popular domestically. Opposition from Islamic fundamentalists heightened during the 1990s; from 1992 to 1997, more than 1,200 people, mostly Egyptian Christians, were killed in terrorist violence. A 1997 attack on tourists visiting the Temple of Hatshepsut at Luxor claimed some 70 lives. During the same period, an estimated 26,000 Islamic militants were jailed and dozens were sentenced to death.

In 1999, Mubarak was returned to office for a fourth six-year term. Islamic militancy and terrorism, most dramatically demonstrated by the Oct., 2004, July, 2005, and Apr., 2006, bombings of several Sinai resorts, was a major challenge to Mubarak's government, as were liberal reformers who became more vocal and move visible in calling for constitutional reform. In Feb., 2005, Mubarak called for a constitutional amendment to permit the direct election of the president from among a multiparty slate, but the restrictions in the amendment on who might run prevent the contest from being open to all challengers. After passage by parliament, the amendment was approved (May) in a referendum whose results were denounced as fraudulent by the opposition. At the same time, however, the government was trying Ayman Nour, a leading opposition figure, on charges that his lawyers claimed were fabricated in an attempt to derail his presidential candidacy. In the election in September, Mubarak was reelected and Nour placed second. Observers said that the election was marred by irregularities but also that they would not have affected the result; the turnout was only 23% of the nation's voters.

In the subsequent (November–December) parliamentary elections the government secured a more than two thirds of the seats, but candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood won roughly a fifth of the seats a record number. The voting was marred by violence and intimidation that seemed clearly directed by the government at opposition voters. In Dec., 2005, Nour was convicted on charges related to the forgery of signatures on electoral petitions, which most nongovernment observers regarded as improbable, and was sentenced to five years; he was released for health reasons in Feb., 2009. In 2006 there was increasingly vocal public support for establishment of a truly independent judiciary, as protestors rallied in in May support of two judges who had called for reform and faced dismissal for having criticized the presidential election. the police violently suppressed the rallies, however, and the reforms that were passed in June were widely criticized as inadequate.

In Mar., 2007, a referendum approved amendments to the constitution, earlier approved by parliament, that were generally regarded as antidemocratic (one of the amendments replaced judicial supervision of elections with an electoral committee, another banned religious-based parties). The government claimed that roughly a quarter of the electorate voted, but several independent groups estimated the turnout at roughly 5%, and they and opposition groups accused the government of vote rigging. The following month Amnesty International accused Egypt of systematic human-rights abuses and as acting as an international center for abusive interrogation and prolonged detention in the “war on terror.”

Elections in June, 2007, for seats in parliament's upper house, which the governing party, the National Democratic party (NDP), handily won, were marred by police interference and vote rigging. Subsequently in 2007 the government launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The 2010 upper house (June) and subsequent lower house (November–December) elections were also marred by electoral abuses and irregularities; most of the seats were won by the NDP, and nearly all opposition parties called for a boycott of the second round of the lower house elections.

In early 2011, young Egyptians, inspired by events in Tunisia that led to the ouster of its entrenched president, mounted massive nonviolent anti-Mubarak demonstrations, most prominently in Cairo but also in other cities. Over 18 days the protesters won the support of major opposition figures and groups while surviving a number of government moves against them, including violence that killed more than 800 people and injured several thousand. The army largely remained on the sidelines and, in the face of growing protests, finally forced Mubarak to resign.

An interim military government headed by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, and promised constitutional and political reforms prior to new elections in six months. In March a number of constitutional changes, including limits on the number of years a president may serve, were approved in a referendum. The changes were supported by the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, but a number of prodemocracy groups opposed them as insufficient. In April the Egyptian courts ordered the dissolution of the NDP.

Slow progress toward reforms and a new government—elections were ultimately scheduled for Nov., 2011–Feb., 2012—and concerns about the military government, led at times in the second half of 2011 to significant new protests in Cairo and other cities. In August, Mubarak was put on trial on charges of corruption and of ordering the killing of protesters. The elections for the lower house of parliament resulted in a significant victory for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP), which won the largest bloc of seats; the hardline Islamist party Al Nour placed second. In March, the assembly to write a new constitution was elected by parliament; it also was dominated by Islamists.

Mubarak and his former interior minister were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in June, 2012, for being accessories to murder (for having failed to stop the killing of protesters), but other security officials more directly responsible for the police involved in the killings were acquitted. At the same time, the judge dismissed corruption charges against Mubarak and his sons on technical grounds. The verdicts led to a public outcry in Egypt, but a number of other former government officials were subsequently convicted of or charged with various offenses mainly relating to corruption. A retrial of Mubarak and the former interior minister ended in 2014 with the dismissal of or acquittal on all charges against them. Mubarak and his sons were tried and convicted (2014) of embezzlement, and a retrial returned the same judgment in 2015.

Mohamed Morsi, the FJP candidate, was elected president after a runoff in late June, 2012. Before the runoff, however, the supreme court ruled that the newly elected parliament had to be dissolved because many members had been elected illegally, and the military government subsequently declared a new interim constitution that severely restricted the president's powers and reserved legislative powers to the military government until after a new parliament was elected. In July, President Morsi decreed that parliament be recalled, but the supreme court overturned his decree. In August a new government, consisting mainly of Islamists and technocrats, was appointed by Morsi. Morsi also ordered the retirement of Tantawi and the army chief of staff, ended the restriction on presidential powers, and assumed legislative powers.

In November a new presidential decree gave Morsi essentially unchecked power, sparking demonstrations against him by liberals and others who saw him as a new dictator and clashes between them and Morsi's supporters; parts of the decree were later rescinded. The constitution was pushed through the assembly in December after most liberals and Copts withdrew, and quickly adopted in a referendum in which only a third of all voters participated; the document largely was based on the existing constitution, and in the main preserved the military's powers and influence. Until new elections for the lower house of parliament were held, due within two months, the upper house assumed legislative powers.

Jan., 2013, was marked by violent protests, and the following month Morsi called for parliamentary elections in April. Meanwhile, the constitutional court rejected parts of the election law, and then the secular parties announced a boycott of the vote. In March, however, the elections were canceled as a result of a court decision that returned the election law to the constitutional court for review. In April, Islamists sought to force the retirement of older members of the judiciary, who were seen as opponents of Islamist rule; this led to new protests and tensions.

The constitutional court ruled in June that the interim parliament and the constitutional assembly had been illegally elected, but it left the constitution in effect. Massive demonstrations against Morsi in late June and early July, and clashes between Morsi opponents and supporters, led to a military ultimatum calling for the government and opposition to resolve the crisis; subsequently the president was ousted by the military. The military appointed an interim government, headed by Adly Mansour, the chief justice of the constitutional court; Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the armed forces chief and defense minister, also became deputy prime minister.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested Morsi's overthrow, leading to recurring clashes with security forces that continued on a smaller scale into 2014; in Aug., 2013, hundreds died and several thousand were injured when two pro-Morsi protest camps were stormed. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and charged with inciting violence; the organization was later banned, and subsequently (2014) the FJP was dissolved by the courts. Islamist militant attacks on security forces and on Coptic churches also increased in the aftermath of Morsi's ouster. A number of prodemocracy activists were also arrested and jailed. By 2014 some 16,000 people had been arrested, including some 3,000 Muslim Brotherhood officials. By 2016 some 40,000 were believed to have been arrested, and security forces were accused of killing as many as 1,000 and using torture on those arrested.

A new constitution, which was drafted in Dec., 2013, and again preserved the military's powers and independence, was approved by voters in Jan., 2014; the turnout was somewhat larger (38.6%) but nearly all votes (98%) were in favor of the constitution. In Mar., 2014, Sisi resigned from the army and the cabinet in order to run for president. He overwhelmingly won the May election against weak opposition, but many Islamists and liberal and secular activists boycotted the vote. In several, sometimes brief mass trials in 2014, 2015, and later years that targeted primarily members of the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of Egyptians were sentenced to death or imprisonment on murder, arson, and other charges arising from the aftermath of the military coup. The delayed parliamentary elections, which were finally held in Oct. and Dec., 2015, gave individuals and parties aligned with the president a significant majority of the seats; turnout was relatively low in both rounds. In 2015, terrorists aligned with the Islamic State began mounting attacks in the Sinai and other parts of the country.

In Apr., 2016, Sisi agreed to turn over control of Tiran and Sanafir, two Red Sea islands at the mouth of Gulf of Aqaba that had been occupied by Egyptian forces since 1949, to Saudi Arabia, declaring that they had always been Saudi territory. The move outraged many Egyptians, who believed that the islands were historically Egyptian, and it was challenged in the courts. With the status of the court challenge undecided due to conflicting decisions, parliament passed (2017) legislation transferring the islands. In 2018 the supreme court rulied that parliament had the authority to transfer the islands.

In late 2016 the government adopted a number of economic reforms in order to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund; the over next two years government subisidies were reduced, a value-added tax introduced, and the value of the currency was allowed to float freely, leading to a sharp increase in inflation. New restrictions and supervision on the media were also imposed, and the parliament passed a bill imposing restrictions on human-rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations. In June, 2017, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and a few other nations in cutting diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destablizing the region. Among the group's demands were that Qatar close Al Jazeera and end support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar rejected the accusations and demands, and when ties were restored in Jan., 2021, Qatar had made few, if any, real concessions.

In the Mar., 2018, presidential election Sisi overwhelmingly won the vote against a weak, pro-Sisi opponent; a number of more significant opposition candidates were intimidated into withdrawing or arrested. Constitutional changes approved in Apr., 2019, increased the length of the president's term, allowed Sisi to run for a third term, increased the president's powers over the judiciary, strengthened the military's role governmentally, and restored an upper house to the parliament. The anticipated filling of a reservoir behind a dam being constructed in Ethiopia on the Nile's headwaters led to increasing tensions with Ethiopia beginning in 2019. In mid-2020 Egypt negotiated a maritime agreement with Greece that demarcated their Mediterranean Sea boundary and established an exclusive economic zone; the deal was in response to a similar Turkish-Libyan agreement in late 2019. Parliamentary elections in Oct.–Dec., 2020, gave the progovernment Future of the Nation party and its allies an overwhelming majority of the seats; elections to the senate in August and September had produced a similar result. In Oct. 2017, Sisi ended the state of emergency imposed in 2017 that allowed the government considerable power to crack down on dissidents. However, the overall autocratic policies of the government are not expected to change.

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