May 23, 2012, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)
Speaker: Prof. Dr. WANG Suolao 王锁劳, Peking University, School of International Studies
Being fluent in both English and Arabic Professor Wang held a very up to date and informative talk with interesting anecdotes from his personal experiences and research on Egyptian Islamists foreign policy towards China. He started off with embedding his main argument in latest analysis on the upcoming Egyptian Presidential elections. He presented the the candidates on the ballot with emphasis on the 6 candidates with high chances. The biggest trade-off therein is that experienced candidates have the disadvantage of being linked to the former regime whilst genuinely new candidates, many of them representing Islamic political groupings, do not have experience in running the country. Prof. Wang sees the rise of Islamic political groupings as a general trend in the region and of the Arab Spring. “North Africa is becoming green again”.
This can be seen as a factor of uncertainty for the Chinese leadership as it has no experience in conducting politics or business with the new potential Islamic leaders. Prof. Wang then went on to distinguish the two main groups of Islamic political groupings, notably the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more conservative Salafists, presenting their background, organizational structure, etc. In terms of foreign policy both groups plan to focus on the “Three Rings” of countries with African, Arab and Islamic background, reduce the dependence on the US and to hold a referendum on the future of the domestically disputed Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accord (1979). Both groups have almost similar foreign policy schemes, with the Salafists entertaining a special focus on the Nile river basin countries.
Notably the Muslim Brotherhood has great interest in good relations with China. They show interest in learning from Chinas experiences in rapid development and in diversifying African development dependence on Western countries. Trade is certainly a central motive as well. Reviving the Egyptian tourist industry after the Revolution by attracting Chinese tourists to Egypt to make up of for the losses in Western tourists who avoided the country after the tumultuous change of power in early 2011 is another. China and Egypt, both civilizations with very long histories, share dissatisfaction about US-American “hegemony”. However, different views in the area of human rights may cause tensions between the potential new Egyptian leadership and the PRC. Especially the natural sympathies young Egyptians have for the repressed Uighur minority that are fellow Muslim “brothers” may prove to be a stumbling bloc for the good ties of Egypt with China.
The QnA round was vivid with questions such as establishing a democratic system with an Islamic leadership and Chinese interests in Egypt. Prof. Wang considers that chances are high that Egypt can be a case of reconciling a democratic political system with Islamic values, similar to the Turkish model. After all, the success of Islamists will boil down to bread and butter issues. If an Islamic Egyptian government cannot deliver an appropriate level of economic success and welfare for Egyptians, they might soon be outvoted of power. Socialist Revolution of Nasser and the now defunct Capitalist approach of Mubarak are examples. The high birthrate of Egypt that is relatively higher than the growth in GDP results in unemployment among young people, the driving force for the Arab Spring. This is the most volatile group that the new President of Egypt needs to accommodate.
Prof. Wang managed to engage well in the discussion by clearly answering the questions put forward with references to his recent research interviews in Egypt.