The Takeaway: January 29, 2020 – Al-Monitor

Posted By on January 31, 2020

1. Trump peace plan: Egypt as bellwether, Hamas as roadblock

Lets start with Egypt.

If the Trump administrations Peace to Prosperity plan is to have any hope of success (and there are doubts), it will depend in good part on Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisis role in the following areas:

And that brings us to Hamas and Iran.

The Trump plan stipulates that Hamas, as a US-designated terrorist organization, has no place in its Israeli-Palestinian Peace to Prosperity vision. But how to unseat Hamas in Gaza? It won elections in 2006 and has ruled Gaza ever since. Its relationships with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Fatah party and the rest of the PLO are acrimonious. Hamas, as well as the smaller and more militant Islamic Jihad, get financial and military support from Iran the target of the security arrangements the United States wants to set up. A shaky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt, has been broken several times over the past few months, perhaps at Irans instigation. In an unusual display of unity, Hamas and Islamic Jihad joined Fatah and all PLO factions in opposing the Trump plan.

Our take: Egypt will be a bellwether for the Trump plan. Not just in terms of its diplomatic, security and economic firepower, but with regard to what happens in Gaza. Egypts role as mediator between Hamas and Israel, and as a check on Iran, is more vital than ever. Expect Iran to encourage Hamas and Islamic Jihad to escalate actions in opposition to the peace plan.

Read more: Check out Shahira Amins article on unofficial reactions to the Trump plan in Egypt; Adnan Abu Amers report on Hamas resumption of explosive-laden balloons launched at Israel; and our column on Shadow War, the contest for influence between Iran and Egypt in Gaza, from July 2019..

While popular protests in Iraq and Lebanon rage on, it might come as a surprise that the nine-year anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, known among activists as the January 25 Revolution, passed with little fanfare.

Background: The Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt began in January 2011. Mubarak was overthrown the next month, and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi was elected president in June 2012. Sisi overthrew Morsi via coup in July 2013 and was elected president the following year. Sisi clamped down on political dissent while aggressively undertaking economic reforms, which included reductions in energy subsidies, which hit the poor hardest.

Back on the streets: Demonstrators took to the streets again in September 2019 to protest increased political suppression, leading to the arrest and detention of over 2,800 activists. The internet leader of the protests was Mohamed Ali, an actor and businessman, whom The Economist called the pain in Spain, because his online calls for demonstrations against corruption went viral. As we wrote here at the time, Ali is an unlikely champion of reform. His motivation seems to have first come about because the Egyptian government stiffed him on payment for his work on big defense contracts.

Quiet streets: This time around, Alis waning popularity, or the preponderance of security, or both, stifled any anniversary protests.

National security and general security officers affiliated with the Ministry of Interior were deployed, in addition to riot police, in anticipation of possible protests Jan. 25 in the main squares of Cairo and Giza, notably Talaat Harb Square, Tahrir Square, Esaaf Square and Ramses Square. Police forces are still deployed in those squares until the end of the week to ensure that no incidents take place, an Al-Monitor correspondent in Egypt reports.

Is it the economy? Unlike Iraq and Lebanon, Egypts struggling economy has made remarkable progress in some areas under Sisi. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that unemployment declined over the last four years from 12.3% to a projected to 7.5% by 2020; the budget deficit is down from 10.9% of gross domestic product to an estimated 5.6% by 2019-20; and real GDP growth increased from 4.1% to a projected 6% by 2020.

Our take: While Egypts economic progress under Sisi is commendable, we wrote back in October that the demographic demands of a growing population needing jobs will nonetheless tax the government. Half of Egypts population of about 100 million is under 24, and a third is under 14. The IMF estimates that Egypt needs 700,000 new jobs annually, primarily from the private sector, over the next five years just to keep pace, which is unlikely. Despite Egypts economic successes to date, those trend lines remain daunting.

Read more: Yasmine al-Tawdy explains the link between the January 25 Revolution and the national police day holiday, also on Jan. 25.

Irans parliamentary elections on Feb. 21 look to be a lock for Irans hard-line camp at the expense of reformers.

The conservative Guardian Council, which vets candidates, and whose decisions are often considered arbitrary and undemocratic, has purged many Reformists, including incumbents, as candidates.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani obliquely took a swipe at the council, saying, "People favor political pluralism in elections."

The people are noticing. According to a survey of the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as many as 49% of Tehran residents have no plans to vote; 26.5% said they would go to the ballot box only if the Guardian Council approves their favored candidates; and 55.1% held a cynical view toward the electoral process, predicting it wont be a good outcome.

Saeid Jafari, who has the story here, concludes that Iran could be awaiting one of the least competitive electoral races in its recent history. Amid the anticipated low turnout, its no tough task, or a matter of speculation, to predict a winner. As Reformists and their supporters have been offered nearly no spot on the pitch, the vote is expected to see only like-minded conservatives and ultraconservatives battle it out for seats in their seeming win-win game.

The three-year restoration of Eliyahu Hanavi, which dates back to the 1300s, marks Cairo's renewed interest in the country's Jewish heritage. Read the article by Rasha Mahmoud here.

If you havent read the Trump administrations Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people, now is the time. Dont just count on the press, read for yourself. The full report is here.

The IMF reports this week that Kuwait is undertaking reforms to improve the business climate, strengthen competition, reduce the role of the state in the economy, deepen capital markets, and foster the development of small and medium enterprises. The needed fiscal adjustment however is proving difficult due to opposition to reducing the public wage bill, subsidies, and transfers, or introducing new taxes. Read the report here.

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The Takeaway: January 29, 2020 - Al-Monitor

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