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President Sisi continued to push for national dialogue and praised security gains in North Sinai in apparent bid to deflect pressure as economic crisis deepened.
Economy entered unchartered territory as Egyptian pound hit record lows. After govt committed to moving toward flexible exchange rate to secure $3bn loan from International Monetary Fund in Dec, exchange rate from 4 Jan began nosediving from its previous level of EGP24 to $1, temporarily hitting EGP32 to $1 on 11 Jan and subsequently stabilising around EGP30 to $1. Central Bank 16 Jan said adjustment had succeeded in restoring trust, with foreign investors transferring nearly $1bn into Egypt’s foreign exchange market following devaluation. Fitch Ratings agency 18 Jan said move “should have a positive influence” on Egypt’s credit profile but warned that “large external financing needs and related policy adjustments still represent important risks”. Govt in Jan also ordered ministries to cut spending for next six months, though health, interior, foreign affairs and defence ministries were exempted.
President Sisi-sponsored national dialogue initiative remained stalled. National dialogue Sec Gen Mahmoud Fawzi 16 Jan said official start of dialogue would be announced shortly. Opposition Civil Democratic Movement 20 Jan again urged authorities to release more political prisoners, allow political parties to operate freely, and lift restrictions on media to prepare “suitable climate” for national dialogue. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 30 Jan met with Sisi in capital Cairo, discussed human rights situation among other topics.
High-level officials highlight security gains in Sinai Peninsula. PM Mustafa Madbouly and Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Osama Askar 14-15 Jan made rare visits to North Sinai, said security situation is stable and state institutions fully functional, and paid tribute to soldiers’ efforts against Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province. Sisi 23 Jan said Egypt “succeeded to a great extent to eliminate terrorism in Sinai”.
Preparations for national dialogue among country’s political forces dragged on, jihadists launched rare attack west of Suez Canal in mainland Egypt, and govt secured IMF rescue package.
President Sisi-sponsored national dialogue initiative remained stalled. No date in sight for official launch of national dialogue among political forces more than eight months after Sisi announced initiative in April. Opposition Civil Democratic Movement 3 Dec conditioned participation in dialogue to release of 1,074 political prisoners.
Police suffered rare Sinai Province attack in mainland Egypt. Security forces early Dec reinforced checkpoints along Suez Canal, conducting night patrols and reconnaissance flights in area to prevent attacks by Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP). SP militants 30 Dec however attacked police checkpoint in Ismailia city, located on west bank of Suez Canal in mainland Egypt, killing at least three police officers.
Cairo secured external support amid financial crisis. International Monetary Fund 16 Dec approved 46-month $3bn bailout package, while govt 23 Dec announced World Bank approved $500mn support for social protection programs. Meanwhile, Cairo continued to diversify partnerships. Sisi 8 Dec attended China-Arab summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reports in following days emerged of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund eyeing $600mn purchase of Egypt’s state-owned United Bank and of China preparing $500mn in financing for Egypt. Sisi 13 Dec attended U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in U.S. capital, Washington DC, met with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken.
Widespread repression came under scrutiny during Egypt-hosted UN climate change conference (COP27); Islamist militants in Sinai Peninsula demonstrated resilience.
Security forces arrested scores ahead of planned protests during COP27. Authorities early Nov resorted to mass arrests and security forces deployment amid online calls to organise anti-govt protests on 11 Nov – to coincide with COP27 held 6-18 Nov in Sharm el-Sheikh city. Notably, NGO Human Rights Watch 16 Nov recorded 700 people detained 1 Oct-14 Nov across 18 governorates, denounced “nationwide crackdown”. As COP27 kicked off, imprisoned blogger and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah 6 Nov stopped drinking water for about ten days in addition to his six-month-long hunger strike, drawing international attention to his plight; at least three other political detainees died in Egyptian prisons during COP27. European Parliament 23 Nov passed resolution calling for thorough review of European Union’s relations with Egypt in light of poor human rights record.
Media report alleged cracks in security apparatus. Paris-based media outlet Africa Intelligence early Nov reported that six intelligence officers 23 Oct resigned after failing to convince intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to address widespread popular frustration over economic hardship; incident, if confirmed, would highlight existence of major disagreements within security establishment.
Islamist militants proved resilient in Sinai Peninsula. Amid ongoing counter-insurgency operations by govt forces and allied tribal militiamen, Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants 18-19 Nov exchanged fire with govt forces and took over several govt buildings in Al-Qantara city near Suez Canal; air force fighter jets fired missiles at school where militants had barricaded themselves, reportedly killing them; at least one army officer and five soldiers also killed.
In other important developments. On sidelines of football World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar, President al-Sisi 20 Nov for first time shook hands with Turkish President Erdoğan, who few days later reaffirmed intent to pursue full normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cairo.
Authorities faced increasing domestic and international pressure to improve human rights record as country hosts UN climate conference; jihadist activity persisted in Sinai Peninsula.
Pressure built up on govt to improve human rights record. Ahead of annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh city 6-18 Nov, UN experts 7 Oct said govt is creating “climate of fear” to dissuade civil society organisations to engage visibly at COP27. Local civil society coalition COP Civic Space 19 Oct said thousands still detained without legal basis, and NGO Amnesty International next day denounced “cruel and inhuman conditions” for opponents and civil society activists still in jail. As preparations for Sisi-sponsored national dialogue dragged on, authorities 11 Oct announced imminent liberation of 70 detainees held in pretrial detention for political issues; 16 Oct announced release of another 25 detainees.
Economic problems fed into political discontent. Amid economic crisis, govt 1 Oct increased cost of eight subsidised staple goods, including cheese, cooking oil and lentils. International Monetary Fund and govt late Oct reached preliminary agreement for $3bn loan conditioned on series of economic reforms. Calls for anti-govt protests to be held 11 Nov – to coincide with COP27 – mid-Oct started circulating online. In response, authorities in following days increased patrolling and erected checkpoints in capital Cairo and other cities, reportedly searching mobile phones for anti-govt content.
Govt forces and allies continued to combat jihadists in Sinai Peninsula. Parliament around 3 Oct extended state of emergency in North Sinai by another six months. Sinai Tribal Union and govt forces 3-5 Oct reportedly killed 11 Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants in Jilbana area, about 20km east of Suez Canal. Exchanges of fire between SP elements on one hand and army and tribal fighters on the other reported 5, 14,16 Oct in Rafah area, with fatalities on both sides. Suspected SP militants 20 Oct killed two tribal fighters south of Bir al-Abd town and in Jilbana area.
National dialogue set to begin in Oct as govt faced sustained pressure to free political detainees; military and tribal militias continued to confront jihadists in Sinai Peninsula.Poor human rights record cast shadow on upcoming national dialogue. President Sisi-sponsored dialogue set to start in early Oct after board of trustees 11 Sept announced selection of rapporteurs for dialogue’s three main tracks. Status of political detainees remained sore point. Coalition of opposition parties participating in dialogue Civil Democratic Movement, 7 Sept urged govt to speed up release of prisoners of conscience. Public prosecutor 14 Sept released 46 prisoners, including political activist Haitham Mohamedin and Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed al-Najdi; authorities 17 Sept rearrested civil society activist Sherif el-Ruby, less than two weeks after his release from prison. Meanwhile, group of MPs and other members of ruling party 1 Sept filed lawsuits against independent media outlet Mada Masr journalists after they published article alleging financial violations within party. U.S. 14 Sept announced withholding $130mn – of $300mn conditioned on human rights benchmarks – in military aid to Egypt for second year in a row.Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate suffered severe blow in North Sinai. Armed forces and Sinai Tribal Union combatants 3 Sept killed at least ten ISIS-affiliated Sinai province (SP) operatives and detained four others in counter-insurgency operations in Jilbana area (north-western Sinai) east of Suez Canal. SP suffered one of most severe blows in recent years when army and tribal fighters 11 Sept killed SP commander Ahmad Suleiman Odeh, alias Al-Shayeb, and his deputy Yunis Salim Salem al-Qaram, alias Abu Osama, at unspecified location in North Sinai. Suspected SP operatives 19 Sept killed prominent Sinai Tribal Union commander, Hamid al-Wat, at or near his home in North Sinai.Sisi sought external support amid economic crisis. Sisi 13-14 Sept made first visit to Qatar since bilateral relations resumed in 2021; Sisi and Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, signed agreements to boost cooperation. Move appears to be part of Egypt’s efforts to find new investments and foreign support to secure International Monetary Fund loan.
Amid growing economic hardship, President Sisi reshuffled cabinet and Central Bank governor resigned; govt forces engaged in days-long clashes with Islamic State-affiliated militants near Suez Canal in Sinai Peninsula. Govt 11 Aug approved plan to ration electricity in order to save more natural gas for export amid severe shortage of foreign currency. Sisi 13 Aug replaced 13 ministers, including tourism portfolio, citing need to improve his administration’s performance, and Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer 17 Aug resigned. Issue of political prisoners continued to impede preparations for Sisi-sponsored national dialogue. National dialogue board of trustee member, Amr Hashem Rabie, 3 Aug called for more prisoner releases to “create an atmosphere of trust between the regime and activists”; another board member, Negad El Borai, 10 Aug presented Dialogue Coordinator Diaa Rashwan with letter from 19 rights defenders warning that dialogue cannot succeed unless authorities first commit to upholding human rights. In response, Rashwan 12 Aug reiterated that over 700 prisoners have been released or given presidential pardon since Sisi called for national dialogue in April. Amid continued violence in North and Central Sinai, Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) moved toward Suez Canal. Govt forces and Sinai Tribal Union fighters on one hand, and SP operatives on the other, 11 Aug exchanged fire around Jilbana village (North Sinai), about 20km east of Suez Canal. In following days, clashes reportedly reached as close as 5km from canal and left several dead, with army forces blocking Al-Arish-Al-Qantara highway, while SP operatives planted mines around Jilbana to hinder govt forces’ advance. Situation in area unclear in late Aug. Meanwhile, NGO Human Rights Watch 30 Aug urged authorities to investigate videos circulating on social media platforms since July and apparently showing military and pro-govt militias committing extrajudicial executions of suspected SP militants in North Sinai.
Govt-sponsored national dialogue kicked off amid ongoing crackdown on dissent, and security situation remained precarious in Sinai Peninsula. During first meeting of general secretariat for national dialogue, participants 5 July agreed to open dialogue to all political and social forces, except for individuals linked to outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who have committed violent crimes, and to exclude possible constitutional amendments from discussions. Largest opposition coalition Civil Democratic Movement reportedly divided over participation in national dialogue, with one wing calling for boycott until authorities respond to some key demands, notably release of political prisoners. Civil Society continued to doubt commitment to reform, with Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 19 July saying national dialogue “neither aims to genuinely start a process of reform nor address the human rights crisis”. In Sinai Peninsula, military and allied tribal militias continued to engage in firefights with Islamic State (ISIS) militants, who launched several explosive attacks. Army supported by tribal fighters 1 and 27 July detained two ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) local commanders in Bir al-Abd region; 6, 13 and 18 July killed at least nine SP operatives in Maghara and Rafah regions. Explosive device attacks around 2-4 July killed three tribal fighters west of Rafah town and seven soldiers in Maghara region. SP overnight 22-23 July reportedly launched ambush involving suicide attack on police convoy in Al-Masa’id region, north of Al-Arish town; several policemen reportedly wounded. Exchange of fire south of Bir al-Abd town late July made casualties on both sides. Meanwhile, U.S. President Biden 16 July visited Egypt for first meeting with President Sisi; final communique only briefly mentioned human rights. Arabic media outlets mid-July reported that Ethiopia had started third filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which could reignite tensions with Cairo and Sudan.
Preparations for national dialogue moved forward, and fighting between security forces and Islamic State militants continued in Sinai Peninsula. Authorities 8 June appointed journalist and head of State Information Service Diaa Rashwan as general coordinator of President Sisi-sponsored national dialogue. Move sparked controversy among opposition forces, with coalition of seven political parties Civil Democratic Movement 10 June denouncing “unilateral” appointment, saying it does not augur well for fair and effective dialogue process. Rashwan later in month held consultations with political, economic and social actors with a view to launching formal dialogue in July. As part of appeasement efforts ahead of dialogue, authorities 13 June released group of 15 political prisoners, adding to 59 political detainees set free since late April. Imprisonment of opponents however continued: courts 5 June sentenced 17 people to jail, including some to life imprisonment for allegedly belonging to outlawed organisation Muslim Brotherhood (MB); 28 June sentenced ten people to death and over 50 others to life imprisonment for supporting or carrying out MB-led attacks against security forces between 2013 and 2015; NGO Amnesty International same day decried “grossly unfair mass trial” and urged authorities to quash death sentences. In response to recent spike in jihadist attacks in Sinai Peninsula, security forces 5 June launched operation against Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) west of Rafah town and in Sheikh Zuweid region. Encounters between militants and security forces in Rafah area reportedly killed large number of SP operatives 9-10 June; three soldiers 13 June; one army colonel and two tribal militia fighters around 18 June; and seven SP operatives 19-20 June. Airstrikes in same area 12 June killed six SP operatives. Russian trade minister 16 June announced Moscow and Cairo agreed to switch to local currencies for future business transactions, thus bypassing obstacles created by recent sanctions on Russia.
Jihadist activity peaked in Sinai Peninsula as Islamic State-affiliated militants launched deadliest attack on military since 2020; economic situation remained dire. Jihadist attacks took high toll on security forces in North Sinai. Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 7 May killed between 11 and 17 soldiers in complex attack on army post in Qantara town, west of Bir al-Abd town, marking army’s heaviest loss in single assault in two years; ISIS next day claimed responsibility. SP operatives 11 May attacked army checkpoint at entrance to Rafah town; military said seven assailants and five soldiers killed, including one officer, while SP claimed 12 soldiers dead. SP throughout month also targeted tribal militiamen affiliated with military: six Sinai Tribal Union fighters killed or wounded 1 May in ambush south of Rafah; one tribal fighter killed and several wounded 9 May in IED attack near Rafah; several killed or wounded 13 May as IEDs destroyed two militia vehicles east of Balaa village in Rafah area. Govt forces and tribal militiamen around 25 May reportedly killed several SP militants and arrested others south of Sheikh Zuweid town. Meanwhile, emergency court 29 May sentenced 2012 presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Foutouh, to 15 years in prison for “spreading false information” and “undermining state security”; also sentenced over 20 other Islamist opponents to prison. NGO Amnesty International same day denounced “grossly unfair and politically-motivated trial”, said defendants subjected to “torture and ill-treatment” in detention. After state statistics agency 10 May announced annual urban inflation jumped to 13.1% in April, Central Bank 19 May raised interest rates citing quickest soaring of prices in three years. As part of U.S. efforts to regain centrality in Egypt’s foreign policy, particularly in context of Russia’s war in Ukraine, head of U.S. Central Command, Gen Michael “Erik” Kurilla, and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan 9 and 11 May, respectively, met with President Sisi in capital Cairo.
Fighting intensified in Sinai Peninsula, and repression of opposition activists showed no sign of abating. High levels of violence reported in Sinai since late March between Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants on one hand, and govt forces and allied tribal militias on the other; SP also continued to abduct civilians. Sniper fire 1 April killed one soldier in Al-Buhaira area near Bir al-Abd town. SP operatives 2-3 April killed at least two people suspected of collaborating with army in Bir al-Abd area; 8 April abducted two agricultural workers from field in Jalbana area, west of al-Arish town, and three residents of Malsaq town, Bir al-Abd region. Army and allied tribal forces 4 April killed one suspected SP militant and arrested another south of Sheikh Zuweid town; tribal militia 11 April claimed militiamen in cooperation with army had in recent days cleared certain areas around Rafah city and Sheikh Zuweid town of SP militants, killing five SP operatives in Rafah area. Five ISIS operatives reportedly killed 24 April south of Rafah in counter-terrorism operations. Exchanges of fire between suspected militants and Sinai Tribal Union fighters in Al-Muqata’a area near Sheikh Zuweid 22-25 April left at least seven killed. Gunfire 25 April targeted army patrol in same area, killing two soldiers. Meanwhile, after authorities 9 April announced death of economist and opposition party official Ayman Hadhoud, who disappeared in Feb, NGO Egyptian Organization for Human Rights 11 April called for investigation into his death. Italian court same day suspended trial of four Egyptian security officers accused of detaining and killing Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in 2016, citing Cairo’s refusal to cooperate and locate officers. In apparent reaffirmation of Turkey’s commitment to normalising relations with Egypt, senior Turkish official early April reportedly said Ankara would soon appoint ambassador to Egypt for first time in nine years.
Authorities took steps to mitigate impact of soaring wheat price; uptick in jihadist violence recorded in Sinai Peninsula. Amid disruption of wheat imports due to Russian invasion of Ukraine, govt from 11 March banned exports of key staple items for three months, 21 March imposed price cap on unsubsidised bread and throughout month announced new incentives for domestic wheat producers to increase supply. Authorities 21 March devalued currency by around 15%. International Monetary Fund 23 March said Cairo had asked for support to help weather impact of war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, G7 ambassadors to Cairo 1 March jointly called on President Sisi to vote in favour of UN resolution condemning Russian invasion; authorities 2 March complied with request. In signal that Cairo is not ready to cut ties with Moscow, Sisi and Russian President Putin 9 March held phone call to discuss bilateral cooperation. In Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) stepped up attacks on military and pro-govt tribal militiamen. SP militants 7 March allegedly attacked army base in Al-Arish area, killing unspecified number of soldiers. SP 10 March pledged allegiance to new ISIS leader Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi. Heavy exchanges of fire reported 11-14 March between soldiers and tribal militia fighters on one hand, and suspected SP militants on the other, in Shibana and al-Barth areas south of Rafah town; up to 14 soldiers and several militiamen reportedly killed. Alleged SP militants 21 March attacked and killed four militiamen south of Rafah. SP also launched several explosive device attacks throughout month: four militiamen killed 1 and 21 March in three separate locations, several soldiers killed or wounded 11 March south west of Bir al-Abd town.
Violence persisted in Sinai Peninsula, and country’s human rights record came under international spotlight. In Sinai Peninsula, low-intensity fighting between Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) and security forces and allied militiamen continued. Pro-govt Sinai Tribal Union (STU) 4 Feb said it had killed ISIS commander in central Sinai, Abu Rawaha al-Ansari; 13 Feb said it had lost eight militiamen in clashes with SP militants in Sinai Peninsula. Explosive devices 6, 9 Feb wounded at least four civilians in Rafah area (North Sinai); 19-20 Feb killed three civilians including one child in Sheikh Zuweid area (North Sinai). Suspected SP militants 9 Feb killed one soldier in same area; 15 Feb abducted two civilians in Al-Gafgafa region (central Sinai). Meanwhile, 175 EU lawmakers 3 Feb called on UN Human Rights Council to establish monitoring and reporting mechanism to bring Egypt’s “devastating” human rights situation under global scrutiny during body’s 49th regular session 28 Feb-1 April. Ahead of 17 Feb AU-EU Summit in Belgian capital Brussels, NGO Human Rights Watch 14 Feb called on Europe not to “roll out the red carpet” for President Sisi in light of “human rights crisis unfolding under his rule”. After Addis Ababa 20 Feb announced it had begun producing electricity from Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, FM Sameh Shoukry same day accused Ethiopia of violating 2015 Declaration of Principles (see Nile Waters).
Repression of rights defenders and political activists continued while violence persisted in North Sinai. Authorities took symbolic measures in apparent bid to appease Western partners but repression continued. Authorities 8 Jan released Coptic human rights activist Ramy Kamel and Egyptian-Palestinian activist Ramy Shaath while forcing latter to abandon his Egyptian nationality; next day released 15 women who had been in pre-trial detention for two years on charges of “spreading false news” and “promoting terrorism”. Meanwhile, security forces 12 Jan arrested opposition activist Hossam Mahmoud Sallam after his Khartoum-Istanbul flight landed at Luxor airport; Istanbul-based NGO We Record next day denounced “kidnapping”. One of last remaining independent rights groups, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, 10 Jan said it was forced to suspend its operations due to repressive laws. Group of U.S. foreign affairs experts Working Group on Egypt 22 Jan called on U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken to deny $130mn in annual security assistance (withheld from Egypt in Sept 2021) unless Cairo fully meets series of human rights conditions by 30 Jan deadline; U.S. Senator Chris Murphy 28 Jan said U.S. President Biden had decided to reprogram funds, applauded “important message”. Meanwhile, U.S. State Dept 25 Jan announced $2.5bn in arms sale to Egypt. In Sinai Peninsula, army around 9 Jan killed two suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants in Bir al-Abd area. Military governor for North Sinai 15 Jan announced residents of villages south of Sheikh Zuweid town had returned home. Suspected ISIS militants around 19 Jan reportedly killed or wounded 13 soldiers in ambush in Joura area, south of Sheikh Zuweid. Suspected ISIS militants 25 Jan allegedly kidnapped six people in Bir al-Abd town, and explosive device hours later killed up to five soldiers in same area.
Amid repression of critics, rights groups continued to warn about recent series of laws restricting civil liberties; violence remained low in North Sinai. After President Sisi 29 Nov ratified new law giving authorities special powers to curb COVID-19 pandemic, prominent human rights defender Sherif Azer and other civil society activists in following days accused authorities of seeking alternative to state of emergency, which Sisi lifted in Oct, to maintain extraordinary powers. Several prosecutions appeared to be fast-tracked as military courts established under state of emergency continued to oversee previously referred trials. Notably, military court 20 Dec sentenced prominent civil society activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim to four years imprisonment, all on charges of “spreading false news”; convictions not subject to appeal before higher court. Low-intensity guerrilla warfare continued in Sinai Peninsula. Notably, mine allegedly planted by Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 4 Dec killed or wounded five soldiers in Maliz area, central Sinai; suspected militants 14 Dec attacked village and killed soldier near Sheikh Zuweid town (North Sinai). Meanwhile, Sinai Tribal Union operating alongside govt forces around 1 Dec reportedly killed two militants engaged in planting dozens of explosive devices in Manjam area (central Sinai); 3 Dec killed another two near Sheikh Zuweid in operation that reportedly thwarted suicide bombing against army and police forces; late Dec launched large-scale offensive against SP in Al-Arjaa area south of Rafah town, killing two militants. Military around 5 Dec reportedly killed senior jihadist leader Mahmoud Akram al-Laham, also known as Abu Duaa, at undisclosed location in Sinai. Meanwhile, FM Sameh Shoukry 12 Dec met with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) representatives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; GCC officials reportedly expressed support for Egypt’s water security concerns though final statement did not mention issue.
Rights groups accused President Sisi of replacing recently lifted state of emergency with new civil rights restrictions. After Sisi late Oct lifted nationwide state of emergency, parliament 31 Oct approved amendments to counter-terrorism law, Penal Code and public infrastructure law, de facto expanding executive and military powers. NGO Human Rights Watch 5 Nov said amendments “incorporated many emergency-law-like provisions in other laws” and demonstrated govt’s “lack of genuine commitment to ending undue restrictions on basic human rights”. Among few security incidents reported in Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province combatants around 4 Nov killed two soldiers in ambush west of Al-Arish town; 15 Nov reportedly launched rocket attack on army armoured vehicle in southern Sinai, killing two soldiers; also allegedly planted mine, which around 21 Nov killed three members of pro-govt tribal militia south of Rafah town. Egypt and Israel 7 Nov agreed to strengthen Egyptian military presence near Rafah border crossing with Gaza Strip; move amounts to amendment of 1979 peace treaty excluding Egyptian military deployment in that area. U.S. daily newspaper The Wall Street Journal 3 Nov revealed Sudan coup leader Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan held secret meeting with Sisi day before 25 Oct Sudanese coup. U.S. and Egyptian officials 8-9 Nov held strategic dialogue in Washington DC, discussed human rights, water and regional security. French govt 22 Nov called for investigation after investigative website Disclose alleged Egypt misused French intelligence – intended to track jihadist militants – to kill civilians.
Violence continued to decline in North Sinai, and President Sisi lifted years-long nationwide state of emergency. Among few security incidents reported in Sinai, army vehicle 3 Oct detonated explosive device allegedly planted by Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province militants near Al-Masura checkpoint, south of Rafah town; toll unknown. Sisi 7 Oct reportedly issued decree making entire Sinai Peninsula “military zone”, which enables defence minister to impose series of special measures. Meanwhile, Sisi 25 Oct lifted nation-wide security-related state of emergency, which had granted authorities sweeping powers for over four years, and 27 Oct appointed Lt Gen Osama Askar armed forces chief of staff. Human rights groups cautiously welcomed end of state of emergency, with NGO Human Rights Watch 26 Oct deeming move “insufficient” to address country’s “prolonged human rights crisis”. Sisi 12 Oct took part in Visegrad Group summit in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, said country would not give in to any “orders” from EU on human rights; statement comes after U.S. in Sept withheld small section of annual military aid to Cairo due to human rights concerns. Military court 13 Oct upheld life sentences for 32 people accused of plotting to kill Sisi in 2014. Amid stalled negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters), Sisi at Cairo Water Week conference 24 Oct called for “balanced and legally binding agreement”. After Turkey’s plans to sell armed drones to Ethiopia disclosed 14 Oct, Egyptian security source reportedly called for freezing of deal, said any such agreement should be discussed between Cairo and Ankara; both countries in recent months have negotiated reestablishing diplomatic ties.
Govt scored major victory against jihadist group amid persistent vio-lence in Sinai, and U.S. decided to withhold part of military aid over human rights concerns. After opponent in exile Mohamed Ali late-Aug urged Egyptians to take to streets against President Sisi on second anniversary of 20 Sept 2019 anti-regime protests, authorities reportedly placed country on high alert; streets 20 Sept remained quiet amid enhanced security presence notably in capital Cairo. In Sinai Peninsula, suspected Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 2-3 Sept abducted eight civilians; army four days later released them. Two IEDs reportedly activated early Sept against army vehicles west of Rafah town and south of Sheikh Zuweid town. In highest-profile defection since insurgency began in 2011, top SP official Mohamed Saad Kamel, also known as Abu Hamza al-Qadi, 10 Sept surrendered to govt-linked tribal union. NGO Human Rights Watch 7 Sept accused security forces of having killed dozens of suspected “terrorists” in extrajudicial executions in recent years, including in North Sinai; called on international partners to halt weapons transfers to Egypt and to impose sanctions against security agencies and officials responsible for abuses. In unprecedented step, U.S. State Dept 14 Sept said U.S. administration will withhold $130mn out of its annual $300mn in conditioned military aid to Egypt until Cairo takes specific steps to improve human rights record; group of 19 human rights groups, which had called on U.S. to block entire $300mn, same day decried decision as “terrible blow” to Washington’s commitment to “human rights first” foreign policy. Delegations of Egyptian and Turkish diplomats 7-8 Sept held second round of discussions in Turkey’s capital Ankara with view to normalising relations; both sides pledged further talks to address divergences.
Amid ongoing violence in Sinai Peninsula, security forces faced accusations of extrajudicial killings. In Sinai Peninsula, army vehicle 9 Aug struck explosive device south of Rafah town, leaving one army colonel killed and several soldiers wounded. Roadside bomb 12 Aug killed seven soldiers including officer and wounded six others near New Rafah town; Islamic State (ISIS) later claimed responsibility. Sniper fire targeted security forces throughout month in New Rafah area, leaving one soldier dead 20 Aug. Armed forces 1 Aug said they had killed 89 suspected ISIS militants in recent operation, and published video showing killings of two unarmed people; NGO Amnesty International 5 Aug called on public prosecution to investigate newly released video which apparently showed security forces engaging in extrajudicial killings in North Sinai. President Sisi 18 Aug signed into law bill granting Supreme Constitutional Court power to decide whether international agreements and court decisions are applicable in Egypt, potentially providing means for authorities to avoid enforcing country’s human rights commitments. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken throughout month faced pressure from range of parties, including Democratic caucus at House of Representatives and NGO Amnesty International, not to use national security waiver to release $300mn in military aid for Egypt conditioned on human rights record. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns 15 Aug met with President Sisi and General Intelligence Service Director Abbas Kamel in capital Cairo, discussed ways to “enhance security and intelligence cooperation” on various issues including Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Libya, Afghanistan and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Authorities continued clampdown on outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and jihadist violence persisted in Sinai Peninsula. Court of Cassation 11 July upheld life sentences of ten Muslim Brotherhood (MB) top officials, including former leader Mohamed Badie, on accusations of killing policemen and organising mass jailbreaks during 2011 uprising. Parliament’s lower house next day approved legal amendment that enables govt to dismiss public sector employees suspected of being affiliated with MB. Court of Cassation 14 July rejected appeal by group of 13 people, including two prominent civil society activists, against their placement on Egypt’s terrorism list in April 2020; all 13 have been detained since 2019 on accusations of having received funds from MB to incite revolution and commit violence. Jihadist attacks persisted in Sinai Peninsula. Notably, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants’ gunfire 2 July wounded soldier south of Rafah town and 12 July targeted pro-govt militia south of Sheikh Zuweid town. IEDs likely planted by SP militants 11, 13 and 17 July blew up army tanks south of Sheikh Zuweid, killing or wounding soldiers on board. Suspected SP militants 31 July killed at least five troops in attack on checkpoint in Sheikh Zuweid town: three militants also killed in exchange of fire. NGO Human Rights First 15 July said ISIS recruitment was ongoing in Egyptian prisons and fuelled in large part by torture and other abuse of inmates. Meanwhile, Qatar 29 July named ambassador to Egypt after Cairo and Doha signed reconciliation agreement in Jan; Egypt had appointed ambassador to Doha in late June. Tensions with Ethiopia ran high as Addis Ababa completed second filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters).
Nile waters crisis with Ethiopia started to shake up domestic politics, and jihadist attacks regained intensity in Sinai Peninsula. Various opposition figures tried to use diplomatic impasse over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD, see also Nile Waters) to challenge President Sisi’s rule. Left-wing and Nasserist opposition groups, along with public personalities 1 June launched new coalition with view to “defending Egypt’s water rights”, notably calling for binding agreement with Ethiopia. Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali 9 June – whose online videos accusing Sisi of corruption triggered wave of anti-govt protests in 2019 – called on Egyptians to take to the streets 10 July and carry out “Nile Revolution”. In response to rising pressure, authorities continued to clamp down on dissent. Family of former Egyptian Ambassador Yahia Najm, who has criticised govt’s handling of GERD crisis, 6 June said authorities arrested Najm late May. In Sinai Peninsula, jihadists stepped up attacks against army and civilians. Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 3 June infiltrated army camp south of Sheikh Zuweid town, wounding at least four soldiers, and next day ambushed army patrol in same area, reportedly killing or wounding four. IEDs 4 June killed or wounded passengers of pro-army militia vehicle south of Rafah town, and killed intelligence officer in Northern Sinai. Suspected SP combatants 8 June kidnapped five civilians near Bir al-Abd town. IEDs 15-17 June reportedly targeted army convoy and bulldozers in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid areas; death toll unknown. Meanwhile, army 14 June killed senior SP official Abdullah Bariq al-Awassi south of Rafah
Authorities sought to purge state institutions of outlawed Muslim Brotherhood amid steps toward reconciliation with Ankara. Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk 3 May reported parliament was set to discuss draft law aimed at removing civil servants suspected of supporting or sympathising with Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherwood (MB); bill comes after Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir late April blamed recent spate of deadly train accidents, which prompted calls for his resignation, on “extremists” working in railway sector. Several NGOs, including Democracy for the Arab World Now, in following days criticised bill as “persecution” of MB members. Jihadist violence in Sinai Peninsula persisted at low level; suspected Sinai Province militants 1 May killed three civilians in Al-Arish area. Turkish delegation led by Deputy FM Sedat Önal 5 May visited Cairo to discuss re-establishing diplomatic ties; both sides recorded some progress, but presence of MB members in Turkey and Turkish troops in Libya remained stumbling blocks to full reconciliation; Egyptian delegation expected to visit Turkey in coming weeks. In possible warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation of tensions amid reports Ethiopia had started second filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Sudan and Egypt 26-31 May held third joint military exercise since Nov 2020 (see Nile Waters). After violent conflict broke out between Israel and Palestinian armed factions in Gaza Strip, Cairo mid-May sent ambulances to Gaza and opened Rafah crossing to allow passage of humanitarian aid; also played leading role in brokering 20 May ceasefire (see Israel-Palestine).
Jihadist insurgency persisted in Sinai Peninsula, while govt took further steps toward rapprochement with Turkey. In Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province reportedly redeployed from north to central Sinai under army’s pressure, with build-up reported in Bir al-Abd region and Jabal Maghara area. Suspected Sinai Province militants 2 April killed unspecified number of pro-army militiamen in Manjam village. ISIS 5 April published pictures of execution of tribal militiaman previously kidnapped in al-Barth area, south of Rafah city; 17 April released video showing killing of Coptic Christian and two other men in Sinai Peninsula. Court in capital Cairo 8 April sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting leader of outlawed Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood, to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. In likely attempt to respond to U.S. pressure, authorities 13 April released former opposition party leader Khaled Daoud, next day set free journalists Hosam al-Sayed and Solafa Magdy; all three had been imprisoned since 2019. After train wreck 18 April killed at least 11 people north of capital Cairo, Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir 20 April sacked head of Railways Authority; al-Wazir 26 April appeared before Parliament amid mounting popular anger over recurrent train accidents. After Egyptian and Turkish officials late March took initial steps to normalise relations, bilateral contacts culminated in 15 April announcement of Turkish delegation’s visit to Cairo in early May; Cairo’s request that Ankara extradite Muslim Brotherhood officials who have taken shelter in Turkey after 2013 military coup remains stumbling block. Meanwhile, tensions mounted further with Ethiopia amid persistent deadlock in negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
Low-intensity jihadist violence persisted in North Sinai, and group of Western countries, including U.S., condemned crackdown on dissent. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Sinai Province 4 and 11 March reportedly killed eight including at least two civilians; mid-March detonated IED near army armoured vehicle in Sheikh Zuweid area, killing several soldiers. Bedouin tribal force and security forces mid-March killed Salim Salma Said al-Hamadin, senior ISIS commander in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid areas, south of Rafah town. NGO Human Rights Watch 17 March said demolition of buildings and forced evictions of residents as part of govt’s counter-insurgency policy in Sinai “likely amount to war crimes”. U.S. 12 March joined group of 30 UN Human Rights Council member states to condemn “restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly” and “application of terrorism legislation against peaceful critics” in first such statement since 2014; govt immediately rejected “reckless” accusations. Amid growing convergence between Egypt and Sudan notably on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute with Ethiopia (see Nile Waters entry), both countries 2 March signed military cooperation agreement; in following days, President Sisi 6 March visited Sudan’s capital Khartoum for first time since 2019 overthrow of Sudan’s former President al-Bashir, while Sudan’s PM Hamdok 11 March travelled to capital Cairo. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 12 March reported first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 coup in Egypt. Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry 14 March confirmed diplomatic contacts with Ankara but said dialogue was limited and Turkey’s actions must “show alignment with Egyptian principles and goals” for relations to return to normal, in possible allusion to presence of Egyptian opposition leaders in Turkey; partial rapprochement could pave way for understanding on Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Govt came under parliament’s scrutiny, while jihadist insurgency persisted in North Sinai, albeit at lower level. Amid rumours of imminent cabinet reshuffle since Jan, parliament late Jan-early Feb questioned govt ministers about implementation of govt’s program, voicing strong criticism of several ministers’ performance; head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee Ahmed Al-Sigini late Feb said some ministers should be replaced. Former presidential candidate and leader of Ghad party Ayman Nour 11 Feb launched platform of exiled opposition figures Union of Egyptian National Forces, with stated aim to oust President Sisi. Authorities 6 Feb released TV channel Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein after more than four years of pre-trial detention; Hussein had been accused of spreading false news, joining banned group and receiving foreign funds. NGO Human Rights Watch 19 Feb condemned govt’s targeting of Egypt-based family members of critics living abroad; statement comes after authorities 13 Feb arrested two cousins of U.S.-based rights activist Mohamed Soltan in Menoufiya governorate. In North Sinai, Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province 9 Feb killed six tribal militiamen and reportedly abducted another in Maghara area in central Sinai; IED attacks 10 Feb destroyed army bulldozer in Naga Shabana village south of Rafah, and 12 Feb wounded several soldiers in Sheikh Zuweid area. Govt early Feb announced construction of 36km-long fence to protect Sharm al-Sheikh resort town in southern Sinai from North Sinai violence. Amid stalled AU-led negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, Egypt 24 Feb endorsed Sudan’s proposal for quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, U.S. and UN. Egypt 8-9 Feb hosted reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions in capital Cairo (see Israel/Palestine); 9 Feb for first time in years “indefinitely” opened Rafah border crossing with Gaza Strip.
Jihadist violence left several dead in North Sinai, and govt mended ties with Qatar after years-long dispute. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces. Spate of IED attacks 1, 3, 11 and 26 Jan killed at least four security forces personnel in Bir al-Abd area; 3-10 Jan left unknown number of casualties in and around Rafah city at border with Gaza strip; 21 Jan killed at least one security forces personnel in Sheikh Zuweid area. Suspected jihadists 2 Jan reportedly kidnapped nine civilians near Bir al-Abd town; 17 Jan detonated explosive at gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Parliament’s lower house 12 Jan elected former head of Supreme Constitutional Court Hanafy Ali El-Gebali as speaker; lower house currently dominated by Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to President Sisi, following last year’s legislative elections. Police 25 Jan arrested cartoonist Ashraf Hamdi after he posted online video commemorating 2011 uprising that overthrew former President Mubarak. In concerted move to end over-three-year-long Qatar blockade, Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, 5 Jan signed reconciliation agreement with Doha, vowing to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties; Cairo 12 Jan reopened Egyptian airspace to Qatari flights; 20 Jan exchanged official memoranda with Qatar on resuming diplomatic relations. Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam resumed early Jan but failed to make progress.
President Sisi’s allies won absolute majority in parliament’s lower house, and jihadist insurgency persisted in north Sinai. Following third and final round of legislative elections 7-8 Dec, Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to Sisi, increased its share of seats to at least 316 from 53 in 596-seat chamber (Sisi still to appoint 28 deputies); Republican People’s Party, another pro-Sisi party, won 50 seats, up from 13; meanwhile opposition further marginalised as several opposition deputies lost seats. Crackdown on dissent continued unabated; NGO Amnesty International 2 Dec said authorities executed at least 57 individuals, including at least 15 sentenced to death in cases relating to political violence, in Oct-Nov alone, nearly twice as many as in 2019. Security forces 3 Dec arrested businessman Sayed Sowerky for allegedly supporting outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces and local energy infrastructure. Spate of sniper attacks 2-9 Dec killed at least four soldiers in Bir al-Abd, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah areas; roadside bomb 18 Dec killed five soldiers south of Sheikh Zuweid town. Suspected jihadists 10 Dec blew up gas pipeline in Sabika area; 24 Dec detonated explosive at natural gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Counter-insurgency operations continued in Sinai and elsewhere. Army 8 Dec said ground and air operations had killed 40 suspected jihadist militants since Sept across Sinai; next day struck jihadist group near border with Libya in west, reportedly destroying 21 vehicles. Govt continued to strengthen ties with informal anti-Turkey alliance. Joint naval exercise involving Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and United Arab Emirates took place 30 Nov-6 Dec off coast of Alexandria city; Sisi 6 Dec met with French President Macron in Paris to discuss regional issues, bilateral relations and military cooperation. FM 30 Dec said it had summoned Ethiopia’s top diplomat in Cairo after Addis Ababa 29 Dec said Cairo uses dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as “diversion from internal problems”.
President Sisi’s allies won vast majority of seats in parliament’s lower house, and security situation remained tense in Sinai peninsula. In late Oct and early Nov elections, pro-Sisi Mostaqbal Watan party won vast majority of 568 available seats in parliament’s lower house (28 more will be attributed by Sisi); turnout below 30%; run-offs to take place in late Nov and early Dec. In ongoing targeting of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, parliament’s legislative committee 1 Nov approved draft law that would dismiss any civil servants with ties to MB. In Sinai peninsula, armed forces continued to struggle to contain local jihadist insurgency, with Bir al-Abd area remaining major hotspot of violence. Explosive devices planted by Islamic State’s Sinai Province affiliate during its two-month occupation of villages west of Bir al-Abd town 4-9 Nov killed at least two soldiers and unknown number of civilians. Suspected Sinai Province militants 7 Nov kidnapped Coptic Christian in Bir al-Abd town. Suspected jihadists 13-14 Nov shot and killed two soldiers in Rafah area near border with Gaza Strip, 19 Nov struck gas pipeline near al-Arish town. New rounds of negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to produce agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters).
Govt faced increased international scrutiny for crackdown on dissent and jihadists continued to pose serious security threat in Sinai peninsula. Following Sept protests against corruption and govt’s illegal building demolition policy, NGO Amnesty International 2 Oct said security forces killed at least two demonstrators, and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali 12 Oct said authorities arrested around 2,000 people in relation to protests. Over 50 Democrat U.S. Congress members 19 Oct called on President Sisi to release political detainees; 200 European lawmakers 21 Oct followed suit, calling on Sisi to release human rights defenders, lawyers, political activists and other prisoners of conscience unjustly detained. NGO Human Rights Watch 22 Oct said 49 detainees including 15 political prisoners were executed 3-13 Oct, called on authorities to immediately halt carrying out death sentences; series of executions followed clashes last month inside death row ward at capital Cairo’s Scorpion prison that reportedly left four policemen and four inmates dead. In North Sinai, jihadist militants targeted soldiers, mainly through IEDs and ambushes; notably, IED 14 Oct killed soldier and wounded four others in Bir al-Abd area. On occasion of Armed Forces Day celebrations, residents of Bir al-Abd area – who were displaced in late July-early Aug when Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai Province took control of several villages – 6 Oct protested to demand right to return to their homes. In following weeks, at least 14 citizens were reportedly killed by IEDs upon returning to their villages, including six from same family 24 Oct; devices were allegedly planted by jihadists before fleeing. Govt late Sept to mid-Oct stepped up diplomatic engagement on Libyan crisis. After Hurghada city late Sept hosted military talks, which paved way for permanent ceasefire, delegations from Libya’s rival parliaments 11-13 Oct met in Cairo to discuss constitutional roadmap. Tripartite meeting on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam took place 27 Oct (see Nile Waters).
Demonstrations broke out across country calling for President Sisi to resign; security forces deployed in main cities in response. Hundreds of anti-Sisi protesters 20 Sept took to streets in capital Cairo, Alexandria, Aswan and Suez cities and smaller towns after Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali (who had sparked wave of protests in Sept 2019) called for new demonstrations against political repression, corruption and economic crisis and govt started implementing policy of demolishing unregistered houses. Protesters reportedly set presidential residence in Aswan on fire and attacked several police vehicles; security forces fired tear gas and arrested dozens. After several days of lower-scale demonstrations, thousands 25 Sept took to streets notably in Cairo, Giza and Luxor cities; one protester reportedly killed in unclear circumstances in Al-Blida village, Giza governorate. In days before protests, govt deployed security forces in main cities, particularly Cairo, where they reportedly carried out random checks and inspections of passers-by. Earlier in month, around 300 protesters 7 Sept gathered outside police station in Giza governorate to protest death in custody of shopkeeper, who was reportedly detained after refusing to bribe police officer on 5 Sept. Ahead of elections for lower house of parliament due to take place by end of year, main pro-Sisi party Mostaqbal Watan 13 Sept unveiled coalition of 16 parties. In North Sinai, military forces late Aug-early Sept reportedly regained control of several villages in Bir Al-Abd area seized by Islamic State (ISIS) in July. Negotiations with Ethiopia over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam remained at a standstill (see Nile Waters). High-level Egyptian delegation 14 Sept met with eastern Libya leaders Aguila Saleh and Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi city in Libya notably to discuss resumption of oil exports; Haftar 18 Sept agreed to lift months-long oil blockade and oil sales resumed 26 Sept (see Libya).
President Sisi continued to take steps to reinforce his power while insecurity persisted in North Sinai. In first round of Senate elections 11-12 Aug, pro-Sisi party Mustaqbal Watan secured overwhelming majority of seats in newly created upper chamber of parliament; most opposition parties boycotted ballot, which saw extremely low turnout at 15%; run-off vote scheduled for Sept. Amid economic downturn caused notably by COVID-19 pandemic, govt 16 Aug announced price hikes for public transportation in capital Cairo and next day reduced size of subsidised bread loaf from 110 to 90 grams, while keeping price unchanged. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province early Aug reportedly executed four civilians suspected of cooperating with army in Bir al-Abed city. Govt 30 Aug said army killed over 70 suspected jihadists in military operations in North Sinai 22 July-30 Aug; seven soldiers including three officers also killed. Egypt and Greece 6 Aug signed agreement on demarcation of their maritime border in Mediterranean Sea, creating exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights; deal reportedly came in response to similar deal between Turkey and Libyan Govt of National Accord (GNA) in 2019; GNA immediately said it will not allow any party to violate its maritime rights while Turkey said deal was “null and void” and later deployed seismic research vessel in disputed waters (see Cyprus). On-off negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on filling and operations of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam continued under African Union auspices; final agreement remains elusive as Cairo and Khartoum denounce Addis Ababa’s failure to commit to legally binding deal (see Nile Waters).
Army grappled with Islamic State in Sinai, while govt continued to threaten military intervention in Libya. In Sinai peninsula, army 21 July reportedly repelled suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province attack on military installation in Bir al-Abed area, leaving 18 militants and two soldiers dead, while ISIS claimed 40 soldiers killed during incident; in following days, military confronted militants who reportedly seized control of four nearby villages, killing at least one soldier and forcing residents to flee. Court of Cassation 14 July upheld life sentence for Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader Mohamed Badie and 186 other MB members on charges of attacking Minya city police station and killing policemen in 2013. Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali, whose online videos accusing President Sisi of misusing public funds sparked wave of protest in 2019, 9 July appeared in Madrid court on preliminary extradition hearing; Egyptian authorities late 2019 requested Ali’s extradition from Spain on tax evasion and money laundering charges. Govt took preparatory steps toward military intervention in neighbouring Libya against Turkish-backed forces loyal to UN-recognised Govt of National Accord. Army 9 July reportedly carried out major military exercise in Qabr Gabis area near Libyan border. In 13 July statement, members of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-aligned House of Representatives called for Cairo’s military intervention in Libya, citing national security threat to both countries. In Cairo, Sisi 16 July met with Libyan tribal leaders favourable to military intervention. Parliament 20 July authorised troop deployment abroad “in defence of national security” (see Libya). African Union-facilitated negotiations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam 3-13 July failed to secure agreement (see Nile Waters).
President Sisi 20 June threatened to intervene militarily in neighbouring Libya, while talks on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project suffered new setback. As UN-recognised Govt of National Accord (GNA)-aligned forces made gains against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) in Libyan capital Tripoli, Sisi 6 June proposed roadmap for political settlement between Libya’s rival factions, including UN-supervised elections, withdrawal of foreign forces and adherence to arms embargoes. Turkey and GNA immediately rejected initiative as pro-Haftar and signalled that they would continue offensive into central and eastern Libya. In televised speech 20 June, Sisi warned that advances by Turkey-backed GNA-aligned forces on strategic city of Sirte were “red line” and would prompt Egypt to intervene militarily in Libya, citing threat to national security. Technical negotiations on GERD between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum resumed 9 June but broke down 17 June due to disagreements over drought mitigation, arbitration mechanism and legal status of final agreement (see Nile Waters). International Monetary Fund 5 June announced one-year $5.2bn financial package to support Egyptian economy on top of already-agreed $2.8bn fund. Court in capital Cairo 21 June sentenced 13 to life imprisonment and three others to 15 years in prison for alleged membership with Syrian jihadist group Al-Nusra Front.
With highest number of COVID-19 cases in Africa and Middle East, govt remained occupied with concerns over public health and economic recession, while Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project remained foreign policy priority. PM Mostafa Madbouli 13 May announced preparation of austerity budget for 2021 as govt signalled growing gap in national budget and current account deficits; International Monetary Fund 11 May granted Egypt $2.77bn loan, while govt estimated total $9bn needed from international financial institutions to meet shortfall. Following Cairo and Khartoum’s early May rejection of Ethiopian PM Ahmed’s proposed interim agreement on Ethiopian dam, and anticipating test phase beginning July 2020, Egyptian FM Shoukry 6 May sent letter to refer dispute to UN Security Council; Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan 21 May agreed to resume stalled talks (see Nile Waters entry). Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province 1 May claimed responsibility for 30 April attack on military vehicle near Bir al-Abd in northern Sinai that killed ten soldiers; ministry of interior announced security forces 3 May killed eighteen alleged ISIS members, and 23 May killed 21 alleged ISIS members in clashes near Bir al-Abd.
Attempts to mediate talks over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam stalled, crackdown on dissent continued, and fears of jihadist attacks on Coptic community resurfaced. Security forces 14 April killed seven suspected jihadist militants in al-Amirya district in capital Cairo, citing alleged plot to attack Coptic communities over Easter. Cairo judicial authorities 18 April charged former legislator Zyad Elelaimy and twelve others for collaborating with outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false news and undermining trust in state institutions. Govt 12 April arrested chairman of Daily News Egypt Mostafa Sakr after newspaper published story about central bank manipulation of exchange rate. Due to economic impact of COVID-19, finance minister 9 April said country had lost total $8.5bn in foreign investment over previous three months. President al-Sisi 16 April pardoned hundreds of detainees; he made no link to concerns about COVID-19 in prisons. In ongoing dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Sudanese water minister Yasser Abbas 7 April said his govt would not mediate talks between Egypt and Ethiopia; Egypt intelligence head Abbas Kamel and water minister Mohammed Abdul Motti 9 April met Sudan’s Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum.
Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia rose after Ethiopia end-Feb refused to sign U.S.-drafted agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile. Arab League 5 March supported Egypt’s position, while Sudan requested not to feature on list of countries in favour, saying Egypt had not consulted it. Egyptian FM Shoukry early March toured Arab capitals to put pressure on Addis Ababa not to take unilateral steps to fill reservoir behind dam. Shoukry 12 March visited Brussels to ask EU to mediate between Egypt and Ethiopia. Interior ministry 16 March said security forces in Abu Shilla city, North Sinai killed six alleged militants. Due to possible spread of COVID-19 in prison facilities, Supreme State Security Prosecution 21 March released fifteen opposition activists held on remand, including Hassan Nafaa arrested Sept 2019, Hazem Abdel Azim and Shadi Ghazali Harb, both arrested May 2018.
Violence continued in Sinai Peninsula and govt pursued talks with Ethiopia and Sudan over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile. In Sinai Peninsula, local media 3 Feb reported that unidentified attackers blew up section of gas pipeline near el-Arish city, without impacting gas imports from Israel. Govt 17 Feb announced it had started building latest in series of new military bases, this one in Abu Sultan to protect Suez Canal. Egyptian officials 10 Feb resumed mediation between Israel and Hamas to avoid military escalation. Local media mid-Feb reported that military had begun building wall along parts of border with Gaza considered vulnerable to incursions and tunnels. National security agency 7 Feb arrested Patrick Zaky, activist and student at University of Bologna in Italy, in Mansoura, north of Cairo; Italian President of European Parliament David Sassoli 12 Feb called for Zaky’s immediate release. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan 14 Feb announced broad agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile; U.S. and World Bank worked on final draft agreement on technical issues ahead of 27-28 Feb ministerial meeting in Washington DC which Ethiopia boycotted. Foreign affairs and water resources ministries 29 Feb criticised Ethiopia’s decision. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 25 Feb died in hospital.
Tensions with Turkey grew, and President Sisi continued to tighten his grip on media, while Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan made progress in talks to resolve dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile opening opportunity to strike comprehensive deal in Feb. Govt 2 Jan condemned Turkey’s decision to send troops and weapons to support Libyan militias loyal to UN-backed Govt of National Accord against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces backed by Cairo, and National Security Council convened same day in Cairo to identify measures to address potential threat to national security. FMs of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France met in Cairo 8 Jan and jointly condemned Turkey’s move. Govt 10 Jan said armed forces were conducting military exercises in country’s strategic areas and along coasts of Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea to show “strength and readiness of the armed forces to protect the capabilities and wealth of the country”. Police 14 Jan raided Cairo office of Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency and detained four staff, including Turkish national, on grounds of having links to banned Muslim Brotherhood group; authorities released them 16-19 Jan. Govt 8 Jan approved new media policies after Sisi late Dec reinstated information ministry abolished in 2014 and said authorities had to block websites to protect country. In Washington DC 13-15 Jan, representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed six-point preliminary agreement on filling of reservoir and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile; met again in Washington DC 28-29 Jan in attempt to finalise agreement and resolve dispute, but extended talks due to deadlock over agreement details; 31 Jan said in joint statement they had reached agreement and would sign deal by end of Feb. During meeting with Sisi 19 Jan, U.S. Sec State Pompeo expressed outrage at death of U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem in prison 13 Jan. Court in Cairo 27 Jan sentenced 37 people to jail terms, including eight to life in prison, for joining Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province.
Following late Sept anti-govt protests, President Sisi reshuffled security apparatus in late Nov and early Dec and jihadist attacks and counter-terrorism operations continued in Sinai. Sisi reportedly appointed commander of Republican Guard Gen. Ahmed Ali as head of presidency office, former army Chief of Staff Gen. Mahmoud Higazi to key position within presidency office, and former military official Mostafa Shawkat as head of Republican Guard. In Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province militants 8 Dec launched simultaneous attacks on military camp at Al-Ahrash near Rafah and military vehicle in Sheikh Zuweid, killing four soldiers. Army raid 5 Dec killed three suspected jihadists in North Sinai. Talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile continued in U.S. in bid to resolve dispute by 15 Jan. After FMs met in Washington 9 Dec, Egyptian officials said negotiations were moving forward. Further talks took place in Sudanese capital Khartoum 21-22 Dec. Sudan 22 Dec said countries had come closer to agreeing on operation of dam and filling of reservoir. President Sisi showed growing concern over Turkey’s expanding ties with Libya’s UN-backed govt (GNA); govt mid-Dec warned against attempts “to control” neighbouring Libya and protested to UN Security Council against agreements signed in Nov between Turkey and GNA on maritime rights in Mediterranean Sea and military cooperation.
Following late Sept anti-regime protests, govt continued to take measures to ease economic pressure on citizens, jihadist insurgency continued in Sinai, and govt committed to further talks with Ethiopia and Sudan over Nile waters. Govt 16 Nov announced further cuts to prices of certain foods effective from 1 Dec. Cabinet 13 Nov approved amnesty for unspecified number of prisoners effective 25 Jan. Police 23 Nov arrested senior editor of independent news outlet Mada Masr in Cairo after it published report on President Sisi’s son; 24 Nov raided Mada Masr’s Cairo HQ, arrested three journalists; all four journalists reportedly released 24 Nov. Police 26 Nov arrested three more journalists in Cairo. In Sinai, jihadist attacks and counter-terrorism operations continued. Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province 2 Nov pledged allegiance to new ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi. ISIS claimed roadside bomb that hit army vehicle 20 Nov in Sheikh Zuweid, one officer killed. Military 4 Nov said they had killed 83 suspected militants in north and central Sinai in Oct. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu met Sisi in Cairo 12 Nov to discuss Egypt’s possible purchase of Russian fighter jets. U.S. 18 Nov warned govt that buying Russian fighter jets could lead to U.S. sanctions, including ban on future purchases of American weapons. After U.S. hosted talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile, parties agreed to hold four meetings among water ministers in bid to resolve dispute by 15 Jan.
After authorities cracked down on late Sept protests against President Sisi’s rule, govt took economic measures to relieve pressure on citizens. A