Sisi opens ‘new page’ with Europe after first trip

In his short visit to Italy and France, the Egyptian president managed to revive Egypt’s position on the international scen

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Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi this week made his first visit to Europe since taking office, and he didn’t return empty-handed.

In his short visit to Italy and France, the Egyptian president managed to revive Egypt’s position on the international scene and reaffirm his legitimacy after he oversaw a crackdown that many say has damaged Cairo’s reputation.

“Sisi's first trip to Europe was quite positive,” Marwa Maziad, Middle East expert and researcher at University of Washington, told Al Arabiya News, adding that Egypt was opening a new page with Europe after a period of Muslim Brotherhood rule in the country.

“In addition to his trip to the United States earlier [this year], it accentuates the legitimacy he has as an elected president, following the second uprising of June 30,” Maziad said.

The Egyptian president has struggled to secure international legitimacy since he took office in May after deposing Islamist President Mohammad Mursi on July 30, 2013.

But during the four-day trip, Sisi seems to have tipped the scales in his favour.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hailed Egypt as a "strategic partner" and announced that he would be sending a trade delegation to Cairo in an effort to boost the two countries' economic ties, according to Agence France-Presse.

He also called on international organizations to be more sympathetic to Egypt’s plight in dealing with the spillover from the unstable countries in its environs.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande vowed his country would be “a partner” for Egypt in a number of areas and revealed the pair had signed agreements on developing the Suez Canal.

Hollande also said that an economic committee would meet in France next March to discuss ways of helping the Egyptian economy.

Explaining the change in attitudes of the two European states toward Egypt, Maziad said: “The world realized a completely unstable Egypt is not in the best interest of anyone. Late but it did.”

“That is precisely why the world is adjusting to Sisi [and his government] and pragmatically hitting a restart bottom,” she added.

Maziad also said that Sisi’s attempt at developing Egypt’s ties with different European countries was a smart move as Egypt needs more “strategic alliances” to boost the economy.

“Egypt needs more investments and friendships,” she said, “It has to find diversified sources of trade and economic cooperation as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia cannot subsidize the country forever.”

So far, Egypt is receiving most of its financial and military aid from its Gulf allies and Russia.

Even though France and Italy seem to be changing their stance on the legitimacy of the Egyptian government and its activities, other countries and global organizations appear to be more reluctant.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again declared his refusal to recognize the “legitimacy” of Sisi.

In November, the U.S. and UK envoys to the U.N. Human Rights Council urged Egypt to free political prisoners and investigate alleged abuses by security forces.

Nabil Sharaf el-Din, an Egyptian political analyst and former Interior Ministry advisor, told Al Arabiya News that in order for Sisi to gain a more positive image, he should reconsider some of the country’s most controversial laws, including the protest law and the fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, he mentioned that “even when Sisi takes a move forward with the Brotherhood, their terrorist acts make him go back again.”

He also said that improved ties between Egypt and foreign countries or organization were essential for the economy.

“If Sisi manages to improve Egypt’s image and relations abroad, a better economic situation is to expect with the return of foreign investment and tourism.”

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