Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt-US strategic dialogue

As officially announced, a Egypt-US strategic dialogue will be held on 28-29 July, which invites us to recall its background and consider its prospects, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptian foreign policy adopted, following the 30 June Revolution, a strategy of broadening the base of the country’s international relations. This strategy was carried out by developing Egypt’s relations with international powers, including Russia, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

In adopting this strategy, Egyptian diplomacy was keen to emphasise that building relations with other powers would not come at the expense of relations with traditional allies.

To discuss Egypt-US relations, we have to put them in proper perspective. The US is a superpower with global interests and commitments, while Egypt is a regional power with priorities that may differ from US policies, particularly on the Middle East.

Given this reality, which will determine the two countries’ relations in the future, it was not surprising that scholars and analysts started to call for establishing an institutional, systematic, strategic dialogue as a mechanism to manage these relations and to guarantee that each country better understands the others’ interests, motivations and responsibilities.

This realisation was behind the start of such a dialogue at the foreign ministers’ level in Washington in July 1998. The second round, in Cairo in December 1998, was at the level of assistant ministers. The third round, at the same level, took place in Washington in February 1999.

How effective the strategic dialogue was remains an open question, but we have to remember that a number of clouds emerged in relations between the two countries on a number of issues: the Egyptian law for civil society organisations, the incident of Boeing Aircraft 990, and the failure of the second Camp David summit in July 2000.

Developments in Egypt since the 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013 revolutions came to mark a new phase in relations between the two countries. The major development was the negative US stance towards the 30 June Revolution, particularly after the army intervened on 3 July and overthrew the Brotherhood regime and its president.

The situation worsened when the US administration suspended the delivery of essential parts of US military assistance, which motivated the new regime in Egypt to search for alternatives for arms supplies.

Egypt’s relations with the US were described as “troubled” a state that lasted for months until the US administration started to reconsider its relations towards Egypt, amid the success of the new regime, as it established itself and implemented its “roadmap”, together with the realisation that Egypt is fighting terrorism, a common enemy for the US.

The administration started to ease its restrictions on delivering arms to Egypt, delivering, in December 2014, ten Apache helicopters, and then, in March 2015, lifting restrictions on delivering F-16 aircraft and M1 tanks and other sophisticated equipment.

At the political level, the participation of US Secretary of State John Kerry in the economic conference in Sharm El-Sheikh in March, and his positive statements on Egypt, indicated the beginning of a thaw between the two countries.

If a US-Egypt strategic dialogue was important in the past, it is all the more so now following regime change in Egypt and its repercussions. Particularly from the point of view of Egypt, regular and systematic communication with the US to clear up a number of misconceptions, inaccurate readings of the realities in Egypt that prevailed in the US, is necessary following 30 June 2013. This is all the more so because of the highly complicated and threatening regional environment.

With this as context, a number of issues should surface on the agenda of the coming round of the strategic dialogue. Among them is the Egyptian view on repeated US critical remarks on human rights and freedoms in Egypt, and misconceptions of the “politicisation” of the judiciary in Egypt. There is also the Egyptian view on combating terrorism based on a comprehensive and not selective outlook.

As well, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference has proven that the Egyptian-Arab demand to establish a zone free from nuclear weapons (and all other weapons of mass destruction) in the Middle East was a disputed issue between Egypt and the US. Given what the absence of nuclear weapons would represent for the security of Egypt and the region, it should be one of the main issues of the strategic dialogue.

Finally, it is high time to reactivate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. There is a great need for an effective and balanced American role in achieving the two-state solution.

For such a strategic dialogue to be effective, it must first be systematic and continuous. It must be based on a regular timeframe, with an agreed-upon agenda. Together with dialogue between official institutions, the dialogue must extend to and be deepened between the civil society institutions that influence the making of foreign policies, such as representatives of legislative bodies, writers and analysts, representatives of think tanks and civil society organisations.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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