Egypt is back on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Earlier this month, the country won a seat as a non- permanent member of the council for the two-year term 2016 – 2017 with a vote of 179 out of 193 votes, surpassing the two-thirds majority required for winning the seat. The members are elected by secret ballot and the number of member States that participated in the voting process was 190 out of the 193 UN member States; analysts believe the US was among the three that abstained from voting.
Together with Egypt, the 70th session of the UN General Assembly held on 15 October elected Japan, Senegal, Uruguay and Ukraine to replace Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria as the five non-permanent members on the council. The other five are the permanent veto-powers: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.
Five times before
This is not the first time Egypt holds a seat at the UNSC; Egypt was elected five times before. The country was among the first six UN member States to hold a UNSC non-permanent seat in 1946 when it was still a kingdom. The number of non-permanent seats was then six; it was raised to ten in 1965. The Kingdom of Egypt was re-elected for Security Council membership for the 1949 – 1950 term, and again when it was in union with Syria in 1961-1962 as the United Arab Republic. The fourth and fifth times were for the 1984 – 1985 and 1996 – 1997 terms, both under Hosni Mubarak as president.
Local politicians and diplomats are elated at Egypt’s win in the UNSC election. Military expert General Hamdy Amer says that Egypt’s long history in politics and diplomacy is known to the whole world. He reminds of Egyptian stances such as those in 1961 when Egypt was a third-time seat holder in the UNSC, and played a crucial role in supporting the independence movements in Arab, African and Latin American nations, notably in Algeria. Egypt also provided military aid for the resistance movements and assisted the newly independent nations in education, health, and construction.
Also in 1961, General Dr Amer says, Egypt helped found the Non-Aligned Movement which included more than 70 member States from Asia, Africa and Latin America and aimed at easing tensions between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War years.
Saad al-Gammal, security expert and former Head of the People’s Assembly’s Arab Affairs Committee, says that the recent vote highlights respect by the international community for Egypt’s battle against terrorism, whereas Law Professor Eissa Saad believes that Egypt must use the UNSC seat to consolidate the confidence the international community has invested in it.
Seat of African group
A seat on the UNSC means Egypt is now an active player on the international scene, the council being the only UN body that can make legally-binding decisions. As a member State, Egypt will bear responsibilities such as investigating disputes presented to the Security Council, maintaining peace, establishing peacekeeping operations, and applying necessary measures or imposing sanctions on nations in case such actions are needed. It can influence international decision making on important issues as stipulated in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter related to the use of military action in response to “threats to the peace, breaches to the peace and acts of aggression”.
Given that Egypt together with Senegal have won the seats of the African group in the 2016-2017 council, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu-Zeid said that African affairs would be Egypt’s top priority at the UNSC. Close on its heels would come Middle Eastern affairs, the Palestinian cause, and the fight against terrorism.
“Egypt will undertake every effort to fulfill its responsibility and cooperation with the other 14 members of the Security Council,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.
International analysts are waiting to see how Egypt, which they describe as a key regional power, will act on the Security Council. Relations between Cairo and Washington have cooled, whereas those with Moscow have warmed up. The UNSC had seen an impasse on how to end Syria’s near five-year civil war with Russia and China opposing action proposed by US-led western States against President Bashar al-Assad. Egypt recently praised Russia’s pro-Assad military intervention in Syria as helping curtail the spread of terrorism.
Egypt also wants to play a central role in reviving the stalled peace process for Israel and the Palestinians.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Egypt winning a UNSC seat with a clear majority vote is that it signals a strong comeback for the country as a key player in regional and international politics. This follows four years of internal turmoil which negatively affected the country’s political and diplomatic status in the Arab World, Africa, and the whole world.
It started with the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt in January 2011 bringing down a secular regime and giving an opportunity for Islamists to rise to power. Egyptians, in their majority Muslims, decided to give Islamists a chance to run the country; the result was the election, albeit with a very thin margin, of an Islamist president in June 2012. One year of Islamist rule, however, was sufficient to convince Egyptians that they were forfeiting all chances of future democracy and, worse, their national identity which was being suppressed by the Islamists in order to fuse Egypt into what was to be their dream pan-world Islamic caliphate. Egyptians decided to overthrow the Islamists there and then—that was June 2013, one year after the Muslim Brother Muhammad Mursi had come to power—realising that if they waited till he completed his term as president it would be too late to go back on the detrimental measures he had taken to obliterate democracy. The date 30 June 2013 saw a massive millions-strong revolution against Mursi; the army stepped in to avert civil war, and the Islamists were overthrown on 3 July 2013. A secular State was established in Egypt.
Vote of confidence
Ever since, the US-led Western World and its supporters have been intent on treating Egypt as a rogue State in which a coup dislodged a ‘democratically-elected president’. There appeared to be nothing Egyptians could say or do to persuade the world at large that this was not the case; that Egypt had rescued itself from a dire fate of no-democracy, no-Egyptianness. Western governments and media persisted—many still do—in their stance against Egypt. Yet Egypt went ahead with the roadmap it had drawn for a secular, democratic future, at the same time working confidently and assiduously on its relations with the outside world. January 2014 saw a new Constitution established, and May 2014 saw General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who had backed the Egyptian people in their demand to overthrow the Islamists a year earlier, elected as President by a landslide. Egypt was engaged in a fierce battle waged against it by Islamist terrorists in revenge for having been overthrown in 2013. Tthe country worked patiently and confidently on restoring relations with the rest of the world States. Many in the West still display hostility against Egypt, not least being the US and its allies, claiming so-called breaches against human rights, Egypt has gone forward with mending its international fences and convincing the world that the country was working for peace, stability and prosperity.
So for Egyptians, the UNSC seat win marks a turn on the international scene in favour of Egypt, and a vote of confidence in the country as a key regional and international player. It means the world is no longer taken in by unjust, incorrect claims against the country.
21 October 2015