Seeking influence, Egypt’s Sisi to chair African Union

Nearly six years after the African Union shut it out in the cold, Egypt will take the organisation’s helm – and strengthening multilateral powers is unlikely to be on the agenda.

Cairo’s tenure “will probably concentrate on security and peacekeeping”, said Ashraf Swelam, who heads a think tank linked to the country’s foreign ministry.

Incoming AU chair President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will likely focus less on “financial and administrative reform” than his predecessor, Swelam added.

Such reform was the cornerstone of outgoing AU chairperson Paul Kagame’s year in the role.

The Rwandan president has pushed for a continent-wide import tax to fund the AU and reduce its dependence on external donors, who still pay for more than half the institution’s annual budget.

An African diplomat told AFP that Egypt – along with fellow heavyweights South Africa and Nigeria – does not want a powerful AU.

This diplomat, who has been tracking AU affairs for over a decade, said Cairo has “never forgotten” its suspension in 2013.

The near year-long lock out from the AU came after Egypt’s army deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who in 2012 had become the country’s first democratically elected president.

Sisi is due to take the helm at the AU’s biannual heads of state assembly, which takes place on February 10 and 11 at the AU’s gleaming headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

As usual, the continent’s multiple security crises will be high on the VIPs’ agenda.

Rwanda’s ambitious funding proposal will also likely be on the table.

But it has met resistance not only from Egypt, but other member states, so may fail to pass.

Reform of the AU Commission is an even more sensitive topic. In November 2018, most states rejected a proposal to give the head of the AU’s executive organ the power to name deputies and commissioners.

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