Illustration: Liu Rui (Photo: Global Times)
Egypt's National Elections Committee officially announced the results of the presidential elections on April 2. Incumbent President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi won a second term until 2022 with 97 percent of the votes. Given Egypt's critical position in both the Arab world and Africa, it is time to discuss the goals and challenges facing Sisi during his second term, which will officially begin in June.
Through proper diplomacy, Sisi has skillfully repositioned Egypt as a strategic pillar in the Middle East. Not only has he reversed the seemingly impulsive foreign policy pursued by former president Mohamed Morsi, but he provides a viable solution to Egypt's long-standing diplomatic dilemma by diversifying international connections.
Since Egypt achieved "cold peace" with its arch-rival Israel in 1979, the US, as the major broker of the Egypt-Israel treaty, has been treated as a preferential ally. The US-first policy, though it brought significant military economic assistance to Egypt, also made it difficult to develop relations with other major powers. Uneasy with Morsi's dismissal in 2013, the US slowed its cooperation with Egypt. Sisi seized the opportunity to diversify international connections with Russia and EU countries.
During Sisi's first term, core members of the Egyptian cabinet conducted frequent exchanges with their Russian counterparts, most of which ended with large contracts for arms sales. The visits gave rise to military rapprochement between Cairo and Moscow, after 45 years of hostility following former president Anwar Sadat's expulsion of Soviet military advisers in 1972. The two reached a preliminary agreement to allow Russian military jets to use its airspace and bases at the end of 2017.
Sisi also visited major EU members, such as France, Germany and Italy, bringing back sizable foreign direct investment.
In the second term, Sisi still faces many challenges in foreign relations, given the continuing upheaval in the Middle East. The most daunting challenges come from peripheral countries, namely, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The weakness and sometimes complicity of the international community in the war against terrorism has allowed terrorism to survive and linger in these countries. Extremists utilize the absence of a powerful central government in Palestine and Libya to infiltrate Egypt via borders. The unstable domestic situation in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq poses direct threats to Egypt's energy and economic security.
Water security may be an issue for Sisi's second term. Tensions have risen over the use of Nile water and Ethiopia's decision to build Africa's biggest hydroelectric dam on the river. Relevant treaties reached in 1929 and 1959 give Egypt the right to the majority of the Nile's water, and it relies almost totally on the river for irrigation and drinking water. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could upset the hydro-political status quo that gave Egypt decades-long disproportionate weight in regional politics. In a bid to resolve differences, a new round of talks opened in Khartoum recently with the participation of foreign and water resources ministers, as well as chiefs of intelligence and security of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, but failed to reach an agreement.
Sisi, in his second term, is expected to continue a balanced diplomatic approach to guarantee a favorable external environment. China-Egypt relations appear to be the most stable in its relations with major powers, given strategic trust since the 1950s and, more importantly, ever-increasing economic ties between the two countries.
Strategic mutual trust between Chinese and Egyptian leaders reached a new level during Sisi's first term. Five Egypt-China summits have been held in the last three years, about one-third of all summit meetings between the two countries in history. During Sisi's visit to China in 2014, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly upgraded bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
During his first term, China-Egypt cooperation expanded at an unprecedented rate in a variety of areas. China has been Egypt's largest trading partner and largest source of imports, with trade volume above $10 billion each year. Sisi's first term witnessed increasing Chinese investment in Egyptian infrastructure projects, which has acted as a driver of the president's Egypt revival project. Just one week before the election, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail attended the ground-breaking of the 1.71 million square meters CBD of Egypt's new administrative capital, developed by China State Construction Engineering Company.