Stability at All Costs: The Case of Egypt in Al-Sisi Era
Proposition #1: Promote good civil society
Proposition #2: Control hate speech
Proposition #3: Adopt conflict-reducing economic policies
Stability at All Costs: The Case of Egypt in Al-Sisi Era
The field of International Relations has contributed to the understanding of the notions of strong and weak states especially as an element of peacekeeping on both the intrastate and interstate levels. Strong-weak states literature has been focusing on institutions-building as an indicator for the level of autonomy and good governance the state performs. War-shattered states and Third World countries are presumed to be mostly fragile, due to their lack of efficient institutions that regulate the political, social and economic lives of the citizens. Attempting to address such issue, over the past years the liberal discourse has been developing several models to help build strong states by establishing powerful institutions in those countries through different modes of assistance. One of those models is the Institutionalisation Before Liberalisation developed by Ronald Paris which argues that building strong state institutions is vital for maintaining peace before bringing in democracy.
Nevertheless, the strong-state literature prioritises stability over legitimacy which has enabled rulers to use coercive means to maintain what they see as a ‘stable’ state. Usually the concept of a strong state is interlinked with a robust state apparatus; meaning that the state/regime has the right to exercise power over its citizens to ensure their protection. Often times this includes using coercive force to maintain the status quo and avert any driving force of change that might bring threat to the de facto ruling regime. Thus, a strong state discourse, adversely or in-adversely, causes coercion and illegitimacy, which in its role leads to structural violence, conflicts, and state failure. Hence, the paper challenges the liberal and neo-liberal understanding of strong states using Egypt as a case study.
The purpose of this paper is to understand to the extent strong-weak state dichotomy reinforces coercive power over legitimacy. The paper proposes an analytical perspective to assess what is described as a strong state as opposite to a failed or fragile state. It suggests that, in some empirical cases, the notion of strong state does not necessarily reflect legitimacy but rather, often times, oppression under the claim of maintaining stability and order amongst the citizens. The paper uses Ronald Paris’s theory on Institutionalisation Before Liberalisation (IBL) as one example of liberal peace literature discourse that supports state-centrism. It criticises Paris’s argument of institutionalisation as a mean towards a stable and peaceful state, differentiating between the stability of a state versus the stability of a regime. As an empirical evidence, the paper sheds light on the current status of Egypt under President’s Al-Sisi rule as a case study of how institutionalism reinforces coercion and violence.
The first section of the paper presents some of the International Relations’ (IR) field literature on the notions of strong and weak states. Then, selecting Paris’s IBL as a liberal peacebuilding model, the paper establishes a proposition that the Egyptian state-building framework resembles the model which is apparent through the current regime of President AbdelFattah Al-Sisi. The paper, then, analyses the model arguing that it has resulted into the consolidation of an authoritarian Egyptian state rather than a peaceful and inclusive one. Hence, it concludes that, unlike what the liberal peacebuilding discourses claim to build legitimate institutions, it reinforces a state-society relationship of coercion and violence. The argument presented in this paper is not to say that strong states are not core for peace and order. On the contrary, the paper discusses the strengths of the field of IR in theorising and providing an understanding on the concepts of strong vs. weak states. However, at the same time, the paper challenges literature on the strong state phenomenon which has been prioritising stability as an indicator for security, consequently, justifying state leader’s usage of coercive power over legitimacy.
Building strong states has been a major concern for the international community especially with the persisting threat of civil wars and the continuous increase of violent non-state actors such as armed guerrillas and terrorist groups that challenge the power of the state. Many conflicts, especially intrastate ones, occur as a result of weak and failed states that do not exercise power and autonomy over their segmented citizens (Call & Cousens, 2008). According to IR discourses, strong state architecture has been characterised with state owning the central power in addition to exercising monopoly and control over its territory and people (Fritz & Menocal, 2007, p. 11). States’ strength is also driven from constituting functional institutions that execute the state’s roles in providing the citizens with their political, economic, social and civil rights (ibid). Hence, the notion of strong states focuses on both the structural and functional levels of the state. On the other hand, fragile and weak states are those that fail in exercising power or carrying out their legitimate functional roles towards their citizens. Such fragility affects not only those states’ citizens, but also their neighbouring countries and the international world as a whole. Issues like immigration, terrorism and even interstate wars which has been on the rise are presumed to exist due to fragile and failing states (Newman, 2007).
Therefore, the international community has directed its focus on building strong states and reforming states’ institutions through various means of support, such as diplomatic operations, sanctions and international organisations and donors’ involvement. Institutions like the UN and the World Bank have been called to support establishing effective institutions (Cousens, 2008, p. 9) in fragile states. Their main argument is that strong institutions promote prosperity, development and stability not only to the states themselves but also to the power equilibrium of the international world. As suggested by Call and Cousens, “The core idea is that a minimal threshold of nationally recognized, sufficiently effective, and broadly legitimate institutions needs to be in place for peace to endure …. [and] to ensure law, order, and the repression of resurgent violence” (2008, p. 9). Hence, state-centric peacebuilding models has been helpful in their assistance to providing methodologies of building strong institutions that respond to public demands in exchange of their adherence.
However, on the other hand, strong state discourses often forgo that the binding element of the social contract between the state and the society is its legitimacy and not its coercive enforcement. Liberal peacebuilding models that hinge on foreign intervention and support to implant strong institutions compromise the well of the people and their acceptance to comply to those institutions’ authorities (Mac Ginty, 2008). In fact, those models support the institutionalisation of coercive regimes by not holding them accountable for exercising excessive powers and illegitimate ruling of the people. Those regimes are known for their repression and failure to provide their people with decent living conditions in addition to the absence of the rule of law, justice and human rights. Such states only tend to practice “tenuous control of their population” (Fritz & Menocal, 2007, p. 11) through oppressive means while only being keen on staying in power. Yet, the international community does not allege those regimes for their violations. In fact, those regimes serve the interests of the international community by maintaining a specific kind of order that prevents threats to the international power relations status quo (Tamminen, 2010, p. 65). Therefore, as argued by Mac Ginty, liberal peace becomes “the concept, condition and practice whereby leading states, international organizations and international financial institutions promote their version of peace through peace-support interventions, control of international financial architecture, support for state sovereignty and the international status quo” (2008). Even the neo-liberal models such as the IBL one, which critique the orthodox liberal strategies for renewing violence and tensions through their approaches (Paris, 2004; Bindi and Tufekci, 2018, p. 3) still consolidate authoritarianism as it will be demonstrated in the next section. Thus, it is important for IR scholars and liberal peacemakers to revisit and examine the strong-state stability discourse and what it constitutes, to evaluate its efficacy and real impact on nations and states.
One of the common liberal discourses on state-building is the Institutionalisation Before Liberalisation (IBL) model which has been put forward by Ronald Paris, a pioneer political scientist in the field of peace and conflict resolution. The model was first introduced in Paris’s book At War’s End in 2004 as an alternative approach to the orthodox liberal peacebuilding of international intervention and peace operations. Paris’s model comes out as response to his disagreement with conventional liberal peacebuilders who rush the transformation of war-shattered states into liberal market democracies (2004). For him, that model has proven its failure, as it results into a “spurred societal competition before effective governmental structures could be established to regulate the competition” (2004, p. 187). Thus, Paris suggests an alternative model to transform post-conflict states into liberal market democracies, but, slowly and steadily (2004, p. 179). His strategy aims at introducing states with a gradual and controlled liberalisation by focusing on establishing effective institutions before introducing a liberal democracy (2004, p. 187). Paris suggests that states and their institutions should be built before introducing democracy and liberalisation. He argues that “peacebuilders should delay liberalisation and limit political and economic freedoms in the short run, in order to create conditions for a smoother and less hazardous transition to market democracy – and durable peace – in the long run” (2004, p. 188). Paris’s initial focus has been on war-torn states and post-conflict state-building. However, the model has also been used and adopted by the international community to help states build and maintain strong institutions. Egypt is one of those states that has been receiving enormous financial and technical support from other states and international organisations to maintain sturdy state apparatus along the history and even post the 25th of January 2011 revolution up till now with the last regime change and current President Abdelfattah Al-Sisi coming to power in 2014.
Egypt has been a strong military state. The Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) has excessive control over the internal affairs of the country including the economy. In addition, since the 1960s, the state has been led by military rulers who have been EAF officers for a long time, with the exception of the year 2013-14 when ex-president Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood group was in power. But even during Morsi’s rule, the military kept his excessive authorities through controlling the public order and the economy. Throughout the years, Egypt has been one of the strongest allies to the West due to its important geo-political location for those states’ economic interests which has led to tight relations with them. Consequently, Egypt has been receiving massive political backing-up and financial support from the Western states to maintain the power of the ruling regimes even at times when they carried out major violations against its own citizens.
Nevertheless, in January 2011, protests broke out on the Egyptian streets calling for the stepdown of Mubarak and an end to the military authoritative ruling of the state. After Mubarak had resigned and few military-backed interim governments ruled over Egypt for a transitional period, presidential elections were held in June 2012. The results led to the appointment of the Muslim Brother candidate Mohamed Morsi as the newly elected president. Many people, including the international community, perceived it as the first free and fair democratic elections to take place in Egypt after almost 60 years of military rule; 30 of which under Mubarak’s regime only (Khalifa, 2015). Not much later and in June 2013, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), led by at-that-time Minister of Defence and current president General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, announced a 2-day ultimatum asking Egyptians to go out to the streets to support the stepping in of the army to restore order (Abdelaziz et. al, 2013). In fact, many Egyptians answered his call, as they were disappointed from the unpromising internal and external affairs of the country. On the 3rd of July 2013, President Morsi was ousted from the presidential palace and his regime was overthrown. For a year, the Egyptian Armed Forces secured control over the state’s institutions and appointed another military-backed temporary government.
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- Radwa El Sekhily (Autor), 2019, Stability at All Costs. The Case of Egypt in Al-Sisi Era, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/496935