Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s role in the region

Political experts marked the 30th anniversary of the Arab Strategic Report by emphasising Egypt’s regional role in the wake of the Arab revolutions, reports Doaa El-Bey

Arab Strategic Report
Arab Strategic Report
Al-Ahram Weekly

“The idea appeared extremely ambitious to some and rather ambiguous to others at first. But it was neither of these things for its proponent, professor Sayed Yassin. The plan he drew up for the Arab Strategic Report is the one that is still followed in the present – to present an in-depth perspective on Egypt’s internal affairs as well as on the Arab, regional and international framework,” wrote veteran commentator Ahmed Youssef Ahmed in the newspaper Al-Watan recently, describing the annual Arab Strategic Report published by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS).

Last week, the ACPSS held a conference to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Arab Strategic Report, focusing on Egypt’s regional role in the wake of the Arab revolutions and including a group of experts from the Centre.

Commenting on the general state of the region, ACPSS expert Moataz Salama said that Egypt was leading efforts to ensure stability and support legitimacy in the region at a time when there had been an unprecedented rise in trans-national armed groups.

He called on Egypt and the Gulf states to deal with this state of affairs through coordinating an Arab effort that would thwart the rise of non-Arab powers and their possible control of the region.

Citing the Yemeni case as an example, Salama called for quick intervention using a joint Arab force, holding regular meetings with the leading Yemeni groups, and dealing with the sources of finance of the rebels.

In the session entitled “Egypt’s Intervention in Regional Hot Spots,” the speakers agreed that Egypt’s role in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iraq was linked to Cairo’s aim to maintain the security and unity of these states and of the entire region. However, the extent of its intervention would differ according to various factors, they said.

Egypt’s intervention in Yemen was based on supporting legitimacy, preserving the unity of the country and looking for a political solution, expert Hassan Abu Taleb said. The military operations were the best way towards a political solution, he added.

Egypt had opened a dialogue with all the Yemeni factions before the Decisive Storm Operation, and this would continue after the Operation, he said, with a view to a political solution to the country’s problems.

In his paper on Egypt’s vision of the crisis in Syria, researcher Ahmed Qandil underlined the importance of a political solution to the Syrian crisis, emphasising that Egypt had two priorities in dealing with it: halting the collapse of the Syrian state and preventing the victory of the extremist groups in the country.

He refuted claims that Egypt’s role in Syria was limited and ineffective, stating that it was based on Egyptian interests. It was important for Egypt that the crisis be resolved, he said, for security and economic reasons.

The extremist groups that had risen in Syria could spread to other countries, he said, as had the Al-Nusra Front, for example, which was now active in Libya. There were also some 300,000 to 400,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt, constituting a load on the Egyptian economy.

The volatile situation in Libya was another challenge to Egypt. However, according to expert Khaled Hanafi after the 30 June Revolution Egypt had managed to strike a balance between deterring the violent parties there and stopping them from reaching Egypt and opening channels with the parties involved in the Libyan national dialogue.

In his paper “Egypt’s Intervention in the Libyan Conflict,” Hanafi drew a picture of the threat post-revolution Libya presents to Egypt. Libya had become a haven for jihadi groups, he said, and these targeted Egyptian interests as could be seen from the beheading of 20 Egyptians in Libya earlier this year.

Moreover, the country had become a gateway for smuggling weapons into Egypt, and there was the possibility that the country could be formally divided.

Researcher Eman Ragab focused on the Egyptian role in Iraq, also prompted by combating terrorism and preserving the unity of the region. Egypt was acting in line with a request from the Iraqi state, Ragab said, and to support state authority, but was playing a more limited role than the Gulf states.

In future, Egypt’s role in Iraq would likely be governed by three variables, he said – the sectarian nature of the Iraqi regime, Egyptian relations with the Gulf states, and the Iranian influence in Iraq.

The third session of the conference on Egypt’s engagement with neighbouring states focused on the country’s relations with Ethiopia, Iran, Turkey and Israel.

Amani al-Taweel said there had been a clear deterioration in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations in 1995 when there had been a failed attempt to assassinate former president Hosni Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and former Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi had come to power.

Al-Taweel said that since then Egypt’s role in Africa had declined and Ethiopia’s had grown, but she regarded the Declaration of Principles on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, signed earlier this year, as a positive step in boosting relations. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s recent speech before the Ethiopian parliament was another positive step contributing to building Egyptian-Ethiopian relations.  

However, she added that the Declaration was only an agreement on the Renaissance Dam rather than on water-sharing in general. The real strategic success would come with the signature of an agreement on the Nile’s water, and this should take place within the next three years, she said.  

Regarding Egypt’s relations with Iran, expert Mohamed Abbas Nagi said that Egypt was guided by an evaluation of mutual interests and non-intervention in Iranian affairs.

However, there had been rivalry between Cairo and Tehran because of the external polices of the two states, and in the 1970s Egypt had supported liberation movements in various states while Iran had been a strong ally of the US.

This rivalry had remained and was likely to continue because of Iran’s attempts to spread Shia thinking in the region, though Nagi downplayed the importance of Iran’s ideological offensives.

The Framework Agreement recently concluded with the US on Iran’s nuclear programme was another reason for potential differences, he said. Iran’s nuclear programme could prompt other powers in the region to develop their own programmes, contradicting Egypt’s call for the creation of a region free from weapons of mass destruction, Nagi explained.

Mohamed Abdel-Qader said that Egyptian-Turkish relations had been stable before the 25 January Revolution, but had been affected by developments after it.

He divided the relations between the two states into three stages: before the 25 January Revolution, when there had been covert tensions because of Egypt’s concerns that Turkey had a regional plan for the Middle East; during the period of Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, during which Turkey had cosied up to one faction; and after the 30 June Revolution.

The third stage had been most dangerous because Turkey’s criticisms of Egypt in international forums and opposition to Egypt’s non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council had led to acute tensions.  

The first Arab Strategic Report was published in 1985. The ACPSS was established as an independent research unit within the Al-Ahram Foundation in 1968.

Since then, it has carried out multidisciplinary research dealing with regional and international developments, as well as Egyptian strategic, political, economic, and social affairs.

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