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The balancing act

Injy Samy - Amira Ezzat

17 Dec 2014 1:52 pm

A coup or not a coup? That was the question the whole world appeared unable to answer once Egyptians rose in their millions on 30 June 2013 to bring down the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime. The Egyptian Armed Forces stood by the people and, on 3 July 2013, the MB regime was toppled. Egyptians saw, and still see, their success as a mass revolution that needed the support of the military to achieve its end, but many in the world saw it as a military coup against an elected president, that is against democracy. But Egyptians insist they overthrew that elected president, the MB Muhammad Mursi, expressly for the purpose of attaining future democracy, since Mursi had usurped sweeping powers for himself, deactivated all democratic practice, and was mobilising the efforts of all State institutions in the direction of Egypt becoming part of a pan-world Islamic caliphate. This did not sit well with Egyptians; they revolted because they could see that by the time Mursi’s term in office was over there could be no revival of a murdered democracy and an Islamist Egypt. So while Egypt saw the overthrow of the Islamists as the outcome of a mass revolution, many in the world insisted it was no more than a military coup. This discrepancy has coloured, rather overshadowed, Egypt’s relations with many countries in the world.

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In black and white
Once Egyptians established in January 2014 a new Constitution that roots it as a civil State, and elected in the moderate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as President, the country could move on to mending its relations with the outside world. In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Okaz, President Sisi described Egypt’s foreign relations by saying: “In the wake of the 30 June Revolution in 2013, Egypt is establishing its international relations on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. We work on fostering balanced, democratic relations that work in the best interest of the parties concerned. This is Egypt’s foreign policy, written in black and white in an official document, not just in words.”
The President insisted that Egypt’s good relations with any country do not come at the expense or in reduction of her relations with any other country. A look at the orientation of Egyptian foreign policy since the 30 June 2013 Revolution reveals some shrewd efforts to mend fences and at the same time to counter diplomatic offensives against Egypt. This comes at a time when the entire region appears to be facing a great conspiracy to fragment it in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry has said that Egypt’s relations with Arab States are based on Arab unity and brotherhood and the fact that all Arab nations seek stability. “Relation between the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and American State officials is based on mutual respect,” he says. “US national security is closely linked to the Middle East of which Egypt is a major partner. As for Egyptian-Russian relations, these are time-honoured and rooted in mutual interests. President Sisi was warmly received in Moscow last August and President Putin will be visiting Egypt around the beginning of next year.” On 23 December, President Sisi will pay a two-day visit to another world power, China.

Into the UN Security Council?
Egypt has been the African and Middle Eastern pioneer in participating in the creation of international organisations. It was one of the first signatory States to the United Nations Charter on 24 October 1945 and was elected four times (1946, 1949-1950, 1984-1985, 1996-1997) to hold a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). “Egypt is now campaigning for another non-permanent seat at the UNSC,” says Judge Mukhtar Mohamed Ghobashi, Professor of International Politics. “Re-election to the Security Council will add needed prestige to Egypt’s international status”.
A State is elected for a two-year term, nominated for UNSC non-permanent membership from among the 193 members of the UN. The nomination is made according to geographic regions on a rotating basis. The non-permanent member States discuss international security issues and vote on resolutions, but the five permanent States have the right to adopt any resolution without voting and may veto resolutions without the consent of the other members.
During the term of 2014-2015, Jordan was elected to the UNSC and the hopes are high that Egypt assumes this honor in 2016. For its nomination as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, Egypt is now seeking the support of China, a permanent member of the council. A seat in the UNSC is bound to give Egypt the international recognition it is seeking, the seal of approval so to speak from the international community, and weight on the resolution of global security issues. This is a matter of vital importance to Egypt at this time when terrorist bodies constitute a real threat to the country and the whole world.

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Egypt and Russia
Egyptian-Russian relations witnessed an unprecedented rapprochement in the wake of the 30 June Revolution, culminating with the official visit of President Sisi to Moscow and the successful summit between Presidents Sisi and Putin.
Gamal Salama, Professor of Political Science at the Suez Canal University, says that President Sisi’s foreign policy confirms his keenness to establish amicable relations, especially with States that are influential in international politics. “The Russia visit was a significant step in the direction of closer Egyptian relations with the Russian Federation as a key player in international politics. President Sisi is attempting to redefine Egypt’s relations with the world powers; the Russia visit serves to adjust the balance of powers and send a strong message to the Americans,” Dr Salama says. It is an open secret that the US has adopted a policy hostile to Egypt since the 30 June 2013 Revolution.
“For many years, Egyptian-Russian relations were restricted to tourism and wheat, despite calls from Russian officials to widen the scope of cooperation,” Ambassador Alaa’ al-Hadidi says. “President Sisi’s visit to Russia disclosed warmer Egyptian-Russian relations and Egypt’s status within the complications and intricacies of Russia’s Middle East policy that includes relations with Syria, Iran and Israel.
“It is possible to say that Egyptian-Russian interests have converged in an unprecedented manner after 30 June 2013. Both countries wish to take their cooperation to new levels, regardless of Egyptian-American relations,” Hadidi explains.

South Sudan
On the African and Nile Basin front, Egypt’s relations with South Sudan stand out as an example of Egyptian efforts to enhance African relations. Hani Raslan, expert in Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says that the relations between Egypt and South Sudan region go back to the 1960s, long before South Sudan gained its independence. “Since that time, Egypt has set up water and technical projects in the region,” he says. “In 2005, Egypt and the new Autonomous Government of South Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding and after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, the two countries established bilateral relations and another, more structured, memorandum was signed.” Late last month, South Sudan President Salva Kiir paid an official visit to Cairo and held talks with President Sisi to establish ‘brotherly’ relations. The two governments signed an agreement on “technical and developmental cooperation in managing water resources”. And only last week, Egypt’s Irrigation Minister visited South Sudan to open six water wells and drinking water and power facilities set up there by Egypt at the cost of USD25 million.

Conciliation with Qatar?
“The recently-touted reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar is no conciliation in the real sense of the word,” says Zubayda Atta, Professor of Modern History. “Saudi Arabia offered to arrange for mutual understanding between the two countries without any further common work between Egypt and Qatar.”
The kingdom also suggested a similar understanding between Egypt and Turkey; however, the Turkish government gave no indication of its desire to bridge the gap. According to Dr Atta, Turkey wishes to reestablish the Ottoman Empire, which had once dominated Egypt, as a pan-world Islamic caliphate based in Turkey.
“As for Qatar, it is still using its satellite channels to broadcast all sorts of falsities to defame Egypt before the whole world,” Dr Atta says. “To vex Egypt even more, Qatar demanded to recall its USD3 billion deposit in the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). What understanding are they talking about?” the CBE returned the deposit back to Qatar last November.

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Egypt, Greece, Cyprus…and Turkey
A diplomatic source in Cairo said that Egypt had long been preparing for a tripartite summit between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece. Last November in Cairo President Sisi met the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The aim was to form a tripartite coalition to preserve the rights of exploration for oil and natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, rights which Cairo claims are violated by Israel. The leaders also discussed means to confront Turkish interference in Egypt’s internal affairs through its coalition with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The source, which is close to decision-makers in Cairo, said that the talks with the Cypriot side resulted in Cyprus’s recognition of Egypt’s right to exploit its shores and delimit the borders between the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. It also made clear that there is no conflict between Egypt and Cyprus concerning national delimitation.
“This summit has conveyed a message to Turkey and Israel,” says Tarek Fahmi, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University. “If Anqara is trying to vex Cairo by establishing a coalition with Qatar, Egypt too is capable of forming coalitions with States that have basic conflicts with Turkey as a means of pressure.
“The message Egypt sends to Tel-Aviv is that it will not remain silent over its lost rights, most importantly its right to the natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean fields and its right to the compensations stipulated in the Camp David Accords concerning Israel’s exploitation and theft of the oil and natural gas fields during its occupation of Sinai,” he adds.
Fahmi says the tripartite summit was tantamount to recognition of the 30 June Revolution by the European Union of which Greece is a member.

My enemy’s enemy?
Ambassador Hassan Haridi, former Assistant Foreign Minister, believes that the tripartite summit worked a correction to the Egyptian relations with Athens and Nicosia which had become needlessly tense with the post-Arab Spring Islamist regime that ruled Egypt. “Egypt then enhanced its relations with Turkey at the expense of its strategic relations with Greece and Cyprus. This gave these States the impression that Turkey, their historic enemy, was dominating Egyptian sovereignty.”
Mr Haridi says that Egypt managed in 2008 and 2009 to make an agreement with Cyprus on the delimitation of maritime boundaries in accordance with the stipulations of International Law which grants each State 200 nautical miles as exclusive economic zone. This agreement was a forefront to the cooperation between Cairo and Nicosia to invest in common natural gas fields. However, in the wake of the 25 January 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and in particular during the presidency of Muslim Brother Muhammad Mursi, the Turkish side sought to cancel the agreement between Egypt and Cyprus. This would have been possible had not the 30 June 2013 Revolution erupted.
“My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” reminds Nash’at al-Dihi, expert in Turkish affairs. “The tripartite summit is a slap in the face of Turkey’s political insolence and hostility towards Egypt following the fall of the Islamists in 2013. The latest is Erdogan’s announcement last week that Turkey had historic rights in Egypt, Ukraine, Palestine, Syria and Iraq which were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Dihi says Cairo still has many cards it can play in response to Anqara’s audacity; it can use the Armenia card or that of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, Cairo has always preferred to respond to Turkish provocations in a practical manner. After the tripartite agreement Ankara can do no more than fume with rage and address more insults to Egypt.”

Watani International
17 December 2014

 

 


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