Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Outstanding differences

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s visit to the US aims to bolster relations between Cairo and Washington, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Developments in Iraq, Syria and Libya and in the Palestinian issue require an intensification of Egyptian-US cooperation, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid commenting on this week’s three-day visit to the US by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

“Minister Shoukri’s visit to the US is the first in more than a year. It is significant that his visit comes after the completion of the post-30 June roadmap and after the newly elected parliament has begun sitting.”

Sayed Amin Shalaby, executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, says the timing of the visit is important because it will allow Shoukri to capitalise on the full implementation of the roadmap.

“Shoukri’s arrival in the US comes on the heels of several visits to Egypt by leading US officials, the latest being last month’s two-day stopover in Cairo by CIA Director John Brennan. These exchange visits illustrate the importance Washington places on its relationship with Egypt,” he said.

Brennan’s meeting with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi underlined the significance both Washington and Cairo attach to the military and security dimensions of their relationship.

Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, professor of political science at Cairo University, says the exchanges show that “the US is starting to reconsider its policies towards Egypt”.

Following Mohamed Morsi’s removal, there was a real crisis in Egypt-US relations, said Ahmed. “The US failed to realise that what happened on 30 June was an expression of the popular will. Their reaction amounted to imposing a military embargo on Egypt.

“Washington has always regarded Egypt as an important regional player and now that the roadmap has been accomplished Washington wants to get bilateral relations back on track.”

During the visit, Shoukri met his American counterpart, John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Congress members and the heads of intelligence and military service committees.

Egypt’s relations with the US soured following the ouster of Morsi in July 2013.

In October 2013 the US announced the suspension of its annual military aid to Egypt. The aid was resumed in March 2014 despite the Obama administration’s continued criticism of Egypt’s human rights record.

The US currently provides $1.3 billion annually to support Egypt’s security and military efforts to confront terrorism.

During the standoff between Washington and Cairo, Egypt worked to diversify its military and political options, said Ahmed. “Cairo opened military channels with Russia and France, and political channels with China and other states,” he added.

While the relationship between Egypt and the US has improved since Al-Sisi took office in 2014, human rights are expected be a contentious issue in Shoukri’s talks with US officials.

In an interview with a US radio station, Shoukri said the Egyptian government’s approach to human rights is transparent and complies with Egypt’s legal framework and the principle of separation between authorities.

While Ahmed concedes problems do exist in striking a balance between preserving security and the respect of human rights, he argues that Washington has placed an exaggerated focus on human rights. “They consistently shine a light on the practices of the authority while ignoring the terrorist operations undertaken in Egypt,” he said.

When it comes to human rights, Shalaby believes it will need high levels of diplomacy to overcome differences between the two capitals. He argues that Shoukri’s task would have been made easier if “a few young detainees had been released before Shoukri’s visit”.

The visit nonetheless allows Egypt and the US to share their views on the best way to deal with ongoing crises in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Shalaby holds out little hope the visit will result in a new push by Washington to resolve the Palestinian issue. The best that can be expected, he said, is that the Russian-French initiative to hold an international conference on Palestine will receive some backing.

Ahmed is even less optimistic. The Palestinian issue, he says, is way down international and Arab agendas. He is far less pessimistic when it comes to Libya.

“Libya is a major national security issue for Egypt. The spread of terrorism there is viewed as a catastrophe in Cairo. Coordination over Libya is very much in the interests of both Cairo and Washington,” he said.

During Kerry’s last visit to Egypt in August, he said that Washington fully supports Egypt’s fight against terrorism. He also agreed with Shoukri to restart the Egyptian-US strategic dialogue.

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