Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Vote of confidence

Egypt gaining a seat on the UN Security Council is a significant endorsement of its direction, internationally and domestically, and presages continued enhancement of Cairo’s regional role, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

For the fifth time since the establishment of the United Nations back in 1945, Egypt won a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the period running from January 2016 to December 2017. The General Assembly of the UN elected five new member states for the non-permanent seats on the council on Thursday, 15 October. Some 179 states voted for Egypt out of 193 member states in the UN. Egypt had previously occupied this seat in 1946, 1949-1950, 1984-1985 and from 1996 to 1997. Some diplomats add a sixth time during the union with Syria under the name of the United Arab Republic, from 1960 to 1961.

This time the victory in New York had a different resonance. The country has been passing through a very difficult period after four and a half years of economic and financial hardship, on the one hand, and challenging political conditions within Egypt and in the Middle East on the other. Meanwhile, Egyptians, prior to the elections in the General Assembly last Thursday, had seen the vote as a prospective vindication  or otherwise  of their revolution in June 2013 and the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Similarly, they considered it in the context of regional and Arab politics where an array of countries have adopted a confrontational attitude towards post-30 June Egypt in support of the return of the status quo ante.

For most Egyptians, the victory at the United Nations is a symbol of high relevance relative to their national pride and testament to the political course the country has taken in the last two years, particularly after the election of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in May 2014. As a matter of fact, many within Egypt, especially those who had taken an active part in the June Revolution, dealt with the UN vote as an endorsement of their president in terms of Egyptian foreign policy under his rule, and his policy orientations domestically. Before the vote, Egypt held its breath, for many were unsure whether Egypt would win or not. They remembered that Turkey under Erdogan, the archenemy of Egypt, had lost a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in the last session of the General Assembly in October 2014. For them, the victory at the United Nations was a defeat of Erdogan’s policy towards Egypt after June 2013. Similarly, they looked at the vote as a rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Turkish government has actively supported in their continued campaign of destabilisation. The vote meant for many Egyptians the closing of a tumultuous chapter in their contemporary history.

Egypt won the seat on the Security Council for a variety of reasons. The most important concerns the overall situation in the Middle East and the need felt by major powers that Cairo has a significant role to play in restoring order and stability in the Middle East in the years ahead. It is a tall order, and those powers need strong, stable and reliable allies and partners in order to reach such an objective that has eluded them for the last couple of years. The region is, in fact, drifting and no one is sure if the major powers have complete control over  or for that matter a complete understanding of  regional developments. Some are afraid, and maybe they are right, that the Middle East is becoming once more a theatre of a rivalry between Moscow and Washington, reminiscent of the Cold War. In such a period of uncertainty, the need for reliable allies becomes greater. Egypt, under a strong leadership, is in a position to work with international powers to push the Middle East towards a state of normalcy once again. How long that would take is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains that without an active Egyptian role in this respect, the task would be all the more harder.

In the same vein, the international fight against cross-border terrorism in the Middle East and the Arab world has become a serious concern. It is a fight that has been going on for some time now, and the only winner  so far  has been the terrorists, unfortunately. True, the US administration has said that after one year of air strikes, the control of the Islamic State group over Iraqi and Syrian territories has diminished by 30 per cent. However, the fact of the matter is that this terrorist organisation is still fighting on the ground and is still of control of Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. The military intervention of Russia in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria has added a complicating factor. The situation in the Mediterranean has become much more unstable. In such a situation, the international system needs a stable regional and Arab power that could be relied on as a balancer in the shifting sands of the Middle East. Egypt as a member in the Security Council can play a significant role in international and regional efforts to bring back order in the region and around the Mediterranean.

It goes without saying that Egypt was an African candidate, alongside Senegal. African endorsement of Egyptian candidature was a major factor in securing the non-permanent seat for Egypt. In this respect, I would argue that the conciliatory approach Cairo has adopted towards the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam controversy, and the signing of the Khartoum Declaration in this context during the tripartite summit that brought together the Egyptian and Sudanese presidents and the Ethiopian prime minister in March 2015, played an important role in assuring Egypt wide African support.

The Egyptian victory at the General Assembly last week was about the present, but also had to do with the future, and the role that Egypt could play during the next two years is steering the Middle East towards safer shores, leading, with other powers and the 14 other members of the Security Council, the region towards a more stable and prosperous era in the framework of the objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter, to which Egyptian diplomacy has always been faithful since its adoption in 1945  Egypt being one of its 45 founding signatories.

The writer is a former assistant to the foreign minister.

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