Cairo – Contrary to issues that directly affect Egyptian national security, including water security and the Libyan file, the Middle East files and its regional crises have regressed in the Egyptian priorities during the past decade, driven by internal instability since the 2011 revolution that toppled the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.
More recently, the internal stability in the structure of the Egyptian regime, driven by a significant and noticeable decline in the role of the opposition and the calming of regional crises, has created motives for Cairo to restore its previous position as a major regional player, which was occupied by other Arab and regional capitals, after Egyptian foreign policies identified with the goals of other regional players. Especially with regard to the negative attitude towards the Arab Spring revolutions.
On the other hand, Cairo distanced itself from more unlimited alliances with countries, including the UAE, in the Libyan file, for example. It also seemed more open to the return of relations with Turkey, in addition to Egyptian efforts to appear more moderate to avoid entering into potential crises with the new US administration.
In a forward-looking context for the new year, Al Jazeera Net monitors Cairo’s most prominent efforts to restore its regional position, so will it succeed in restoring its diplomatic health again in 2022? In light of the following topics:
With the re-formation of the region’s alliances and the calming of crisis regional files that are directly intertwined with Egypt’s national security and its regional role, the Egyptian regime is still feeling its position as a result of the expected transformations, in light of maintaining relations with the majority of actors to varying degrees.
The Egyptian foreign policy was mainly characterized by the defense of the interests of the state; As Egypt was not completely absent from the international and regional scene and could not isolate itself from the world due to vital interests, the most prominent of which were:
- Water security in its relationship with Sudan and Ethiopia and potential concerns about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
- The conflict in Libya, and its security and geopolitical implications for Egypt.
- The events in Sudan and the difficult transitional period it is going through, and its repercussions on the southern depths of Egypt.
The pace of Arab normalization with Israel increased – a step that observers attributed to the formation of an Arab-Israeli-American alliance to confront Iran – but normalization, especially the UAE, was not in a positive light on Cairo, which began to feel its national security and its regional role that is gradually eroding, according to observers.
In light of this, Egypt and the UAE pursued different goals in its foreign policy at different stages, but sometimes the two countries had conflicting agendas, in light of the following indicators:
- The failure of the military campaign of retired Libyan Major General Khalifa Haftar against the capital, Tripoli, prompted Cairo to reconsider its plans and bet on marketing the political track.
- Cairo’s openness to the Tripoli government, commitment to holding elections, and stressing the need for foreign forces to leave.
- The rapprochement with Turkey, which also witnessed a rapprochement with the UAE.
- Egyptian fears of Emirati activity against its security and strategic interests, including the Suez Canal.
- Cairo had previously refused to send forces to support the Saudi-Emirati coalition in Yemen in 2015.
Regional Energy Center
The huge gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean have caused a series of security and political conflicts, and a distinction appeared on the horizon between two opposing axes, one of which is Turkey, and the other includes Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Israel, whose repercussions extended to the Libyan file. In addition to the political tensions between the two axes, Cairo sought to transform into a regional energy center, and worked in this context to:
- The inauguration of the “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF) in early 2019 in Cairo, which included Egypt, Israel and other countries.
- It allied itself with Cyprus and Greece in the projects of gas extraction and demarcation of maritime borders in the Mediterranean.
- Agreed to deliver Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon via Syria.
- The energy file may witness new developments with the acceleration of the Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement, and the constant Turkish assertion that Cairo will reap great economic gains in the eastern Mediterranean in agreement with Ankara.
Despite the opposition of some Gulf countries to the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the inauguration of healthy relations with Iran, Cairo continued to support the Syrian president amid media leaks about Egyptian-Iranian talks, which Cairo denied.
At a time when estimates by former diplomats in Egypt indicate the possibility of a breakthrough in the Arab position on Syria in light of the Vienna negotiations for America’s return to the nuclear agreement and its gradual lifting of sanctions from Tehran, and the possible developments of attempts at rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran – the Egyptian shift towards Iran and Syria is represented in the following:
- Continue to support Assad, after the situation has changed dramatically since the summer of 2013, as Cairo regularly hosted meetings with Syrian intelligence officials.
- A sudden shift in Cairo’s position from tacit support for the Syrian regime to the declared one, after the first ministerial meeting of its kind in 10 years between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Miqdad.
- The official at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Mir Masoud Hosseinian, previously indicated that “relations with Egypt will definitely improve if the talks with Saudi Arabia succeed.”
Taking care of the Palestinian file
During the last Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip – in May 2021 – the Palestinian cause witnessed an unprecedented transformation in the last years of Egyptian foreign policy, the most prominent results of which were:
- Giving Egypt the opportunity to re-enact its traditional role as a major international interlocutor on security issues, an opportunity that it seized in strengthening its position with the US administration.
- On this tour, Egypt won international plaudits for helping to secure a relatively quick end to the 11-day offensive.
- Egypt has proven to be the strongest partner in efforts to protect Israel’s security interests and achieve a more sustainable outcome for the Palestinians.
- Absorbing the state of popular resentment, as happened during the mobilization of official and religious bodies and parties, in support of Gaza during the recent aggression.
African conglomerate crystallization
In the midst of escalating tension with Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam crisis, Egypt’s steps were:
- In the first quarter of 2021, Egypt strengthened its military and security cooperation with 5 countries neighboring Ethiopia, namely Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Djibouti, in an effort to encircle Addis Ababa.
- In recent years, Egypt has moved towards re-positioning among African countries, especially the Nile Basin, after decades of absence, in the context of exchanging security information (including Congo, Somalia, Mozambique and Uganda), in contrast to supporting water-related development processes.
Cairo worked to inaugurate an Arab alliance with Jordan and Iraq. In the last three years, tripartite meetings were held between Cairo, Baghdad and Amman with the aim of implementing infrastructure deals, saving energy and strengthening trade relations. This alliance reinforces the restoration of the Egyptian role in light of the following indicators:
- The coalition comprises three nearly contiguous countries that together possess significant energy resources (Iraq), human capital (Jordan), market opportunities, mobile construction workers and military capabilities (Egypt).
- The Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi consensus may help in confronting the Emirati-Israeli threats aimed at establishing infrastructure and commercial lines linking the Mediterranean with the Arabian Gulf and beyond.
- Washington’s lack of objection, in the context of efforts to reduce Iraq’s economic dependence on Iran, although practically excluded.
- Egypt may seek to make the “new Levant” project of great economic and political importance to Cairo succeed, through dialogue with Iran and facilitating the Egyptian presence in Iraq.
- The New Sham Project has its roots in a study prepared by the World Bank in March 2014. According to the study, it includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, in addition to Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, but it remained only a theoretical study.
- Beginning in 2019, the project began to find its way to the light, after Egypt, Jordan and Iraq held several meetings at the level of leaders or foreign ministers, to confront the geopolitical climate change in the region.
- The project is based on economic and political understandings between the three countries, and this works to attract investments to Iraq, enhance electrical interconnection and energy exchange, link gas transmission networks, and provide an outlet for the export of Iraqi oil through Jordan and Egypt by proceeding with the completion of the Arab gas pipeline and the establishment of a crude oil transmission line ( Basra – Aqaba).