Sisi warms to Bouteflika, Cairenes cheer on Algeria
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Algeria and his meeting with President Bouteflika
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Algeria and his meeting with President Bouteflika, while enroute to an African Union Summit last week, will have immediate regional repercussions. However, for the moment it is overshadowed by an equally intriguing development: today the Egyptian people will be cheering for Algeria when it takes on Germany in the second round of the World Cup in Brazil.
Just the thought of it is incredible for anyone living in either Cairo or Algiers when back in November 2009 a bitterly played football match between Egypt and Algeria led to attacks on Algerians in Cairo and an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Algiers. With diplomatic relations by early 2010 close to breaking point, the respective national media denounced each other.
But football fans happily have short memories and today it is Algeria that will be carrying the Arab flag, so–to-speak in the World Cup competition. Even stronger than the popular enthusiasm here in Cairo right now for the Algerian football team is the anger against Qatar for denying Egyptians the opportunity of watching the World Cup in their homes. Qatar has Arab world rights and beIN sports channel was selling pay-for-play viewing for $134 dollars which is the equivalent of a month’s salary for the financial bottom third of Egyptians. For those who could afford to put another dish up on their roofs to pull down the European Hot Bird signal, the games can be watched - as broadcast by European channels - for free.
Both Algeria and Egypt have borders with Libya and both states are concerned that radical Islamist militias are running guns into the hands of extremist Islamist bandsAbdallah Schleifer
But jiggling with their existing dishes has meant that Egyptians can watch the World Cup for free on Israeli TV. Hatred for Qatar is far more intense here because of the World Cup than it has been for Qatar’s support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and to such a degree that even middle class Egyptians who can afford beIN’s fee, prefer to go up on their roofs and get their hands dirty jiggling their dishes so they can get the Israeli signal than pay a piaster to Qatar.
Trip to Algeria
But that is not to diminish the importance to the region of Sisi’s trip to Algeria. Both Algeria and Egypt have borders with Libya and both states are concerned that radical Islamist militias are running guns into the hands of extremist Islamist bands in both countries. It is understood here that both countries will increase their support for Libya’s revolutionary General Khalifa Haftar, who is pushing his campaign against Islamist militias in Benghazi and along Libya’s eastern border with Egypt.
The theme of Sisi’s tour, shown by his remarks to the African Union (which had suspended Egypt’s membership nearly a year ago, after the Egyptian armed forces intervened and deposed Egypt’s previous elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi), is combating terrorism. The difference between the two countries’ experiences is that while the army’s intervention here spared the country from a civil war, a similar move in Algeria a few decades ago sparked one.
Equally important is Algeria’s willingness to sell Egypt liquefied natural gas, at what is believed will be a favorable price. That gas is urgently needed by Egypt – heat waves here the past few weeks have been brutal, and while I do not have statistics at hand I know that an increasing number of the Egyptian working class are scrapping the money together to buy at least one air conditioner for their homes. Since the beginning of June, two blackouts a day are standard, but yesterday the number of power cuts rose to three.
Of course there were opposition voices in the Algerian media, warning that Egypt would turn around and sell some of that gas to Israel but this typifies a particular vein of demagoguery in Arab politics. Indeed, Egypt was selling gas to Israel in rather scandalous circumstances during the last years of Mubarak’s rule. But now, Israel is poised to be a major gas producer from offshore fields in the Mediterranean. Indeed the opposite is true: Egypt, with its own declining capacity to produce gas, might well be tempted to buy gas from Israel. Perhaps a few more deals like the one being worked out with Algeria might just spare the Egyptians from such humiliation.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.
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