29 Apr. - 5 May 1999
Issue No. 427
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Focus Special Travel Sports People Features Living Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
In quest of balanceBy Dina Ezzat
The new strategy adopted by NATO in Washington this week has left Cairo facing a new challenge. "Disturbing, but expected" is how one diplomatic source put it.
For Egypt, the new strategy means that the United States could well adopt a more aggressive attitude in its political plans for the Middle East. Egypt may find it necessary to be "even more careful" in its opposition to some aspects of these regional policies, be it on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and advanced missile technology that are monopolised by Israel, or on the territorial integrity of some Arab countries.
For Cairo, the strategy is another serious political side-effect of the uni-polar world in which Egypt must balance its economic and political interests with the US on the one hand and continue to maintain its strategic role as a leading player in the Arab world on the other. It is also another reason why Cairo needs to be more forthcoming in its efforts to balance "the special nature of US-Egyptian relations" with other "special relations" with leading European Union countries, particularly France, and other would-be major powers, including China and Japan.
"The United Nations should regain its authority; this is the only guarantee for [the interests of] all countries, particularly the developing and emerging ones, in face of the many and complicated [developments] that international relations will be witnessing in the future," Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters, in response to questions about the implications of the new NATO strategy on Egyptian diplomacy.
"NATO's policies, binding on only member states, should not run counter to the wider and more comprehensive prerogatives of the UN on issues related to the maintenance of international peace and security," Moussa said.
At the same time, Moussa blamed the UN Security Council for having been marginalised in the Kosovo crisis; "for having failed to react earlier as it should have done". He argued that the way NATO managed the Kosovo crisis "should not constitute a precedent" that would allow the 19-member US-European organisation to interfere in affairs related to peace and security across the world.
This was the first time, since the beginning of the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, that Egypt's top diplomat expressed concern about the implications of excluding the UN from the crisis which has put Egypt in a diplomatic quandary. Cairo cannot object to the military action that, NATO says, is designed to save Muslim Kosovars, but neither can it ignore the political expansionism that it indicates.
In this connection, the US-imposed limitations on Egyptian policy, particularly regional policy, are significant. Indeed, throughout the decade, Egypt has been confronted with a number of situations where the objectives of its foreign policy have taken a much longer time to be achieved than was expected, or had to be shelved altogether, in order to avoid a confrontation with the US, the world's only remaining superpower. Such situations included the expansion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), irrespective of Israel's exemption, the pace of Arab-Israeli regional cooperation, criticism of Israeli policies and defence of the suffering of the Iraqi people.
"The only way to deal with this new uni-polar situation was to promote relations with countries that may not have such an influential say in world affairs like the US, but whose word still counts; obviously we had to look to Europe," commented Fathi El-Shazli, assistant to the foreign minister. "Otherwise, we would have risked the threat of regional isolation and this is something we cannot afford," El-Shazli said.
Indeed, in regard to regional problems, the scope of Egyptian-European agreement is much wider than it is between Cairo and Washington. Unlike the US, which has been successful, through its leverage in the UN Security Council, in maintaining arms inspections and economic sanctions on Iraq, France is lobbying for long-term arms monitoring and the easing of sanctions which Egypt favours. Moreover, Egypt and the EU, particularly France, have cooperated closely in drafting the statement issued recently by a European summit in support of the right of the Palestinians to declare an independent state.
Egypt is seeking closer ties with Germany, Britain and Italy, but it is relations with France that come to the fore. "France is always keen on pursuing an independent policy from that of the US, even in NATO and particularly on issues related to the Middle East," said one source.
In early May, Moussa and his French opposite number, Hubert Vedrine, will open the first session of the strategic French-Egyptian dialogue in Cairo. Egypt launched a strategic dialogue with the US last year.
"When Egypt and France choose to upgrade their relations to this level, it means that they know that working together will make a difference," said Ahmed Abul-Gheit, assistant to the foreign minister.
Egyptian diplomacy is also seeking closer ties with Russia. The detailed talks that Moussa had last week in Cairo with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on regional and international issues are the beginning of closer cooperation in the future.
Egypt, diplomatic sources say, will continue to oppose the increasing monopoly by any single power on running world affairs but, at the same time, will remain keen on maintaining "very stable relations with the US".