Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Return to centre stage

In New York, Mohamed Abdel-Baky contrasts Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s attendance of last week’s United Nations General Assembly with the first time he participated in the event

Al-Ahram Weekly

In his third visit to New York which concluded last week President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s main goal was to restore Egypt’s role at the forefront of securing regional peace and stability in Africa and the Middle East.

In 2014, when Al-Sisi attended the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for the first time as president, Egypt was facing the prospect of international isolation following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its membership of the African Union (AU) had been suspended, the US froze military assistance and EU capitals were distancing themselves from Cairo. 

This year things couldn’t have been more different.  During the 71st UNGA Al-Sisi headed the AU Peace and Stability Summit, Egypt attended the UN Security Council meeting as a non-member state for first time since 1997and participated in a high level meetings on the refugee crisis. Al-Sisi also represented the AU in the UN Climate Change Summit.

Al-Sisi’s visit to New York included 20 bilateral meetings with world leaders including French President Francois Hollande, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, President of the European Commission Donald Tusk and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He also held talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Ben Naif and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.

An official from the Foreign Ministry told Al-Ahram Weekly in New York that the ministry and the presidency had ploughed two tracks to return to centre stage. The first involved carving out an important role in regional bodies such as the AU and the Arab League as well as “working hard over the last three years to be part of as many initiatives as possible within the UN so Egypt could recover the status it had before 2011 in supporting international peace and security”.

“The second track involved reviving bilateral relations with many countries that were once strong allies” which required the identification of both shared interests and differences.

Terrorism, which Al-Sisi described as “the cancer of our age” in his speech to the General Assembly, was probably the most debated topic at this year’s UNGA.

In his speech Al-Sisi laid out Egypt’s vision of countering terrorism and urged the United Nations to use “cultural weapons” to confront extremist ideologies.

“I would like to point out that the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states that war begins in the minds of men and thus it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be built,” Al-Sisi said.

“It is our duty to instil in these same minds the principles of tolerance and coexistence.”

“This must be undertaken in partnership with UNESCO, an organisation the role of which has grown vastly in importance in today's world. Egypt recognises the ever increasing importance of this role in achieving a better, safer and more understanding world in which there is room for all,” he said.

Turning to terrorism, Al-Sisi called for an immediate halt to all hostile acts in Syria, paving the way for a political solution to end the bloodshed and preserve the territorial integrity and security of Syrian state, realise the aspirations of the Syrian population and end the chaos that has only served to facilitate the spread of terrorism.

“The bloodletting in Syria and the absence of any prospects on the horizon are no longer acceptable,” he said.

On the sidelines of UNGA, Egypt participated in the Global Counterterrorism Forum, established in 2011 by 29 countries to promote strategic, long-term approaches to counter terrorism and violent extremist ideologies.

“The US and Egypt co-chaired one of the working groups in the forum and I believe Egypt could play an important role on the regional and international stage in countering terrorism,” Justin Siberell, US Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The US and Egypt have a long relationship and a very strong partnership on security matters in particular. They have worked together to counter terrorism for many, many years,” Siberell added.

He underlined how the US is supporting Egypt in its fight against terrorism in Sinai and said close cooperation with Cairo is ongoing to end the threat.

“We had the Russian Metrojet plane disaster and we have worked with the Egyptian government to strengthen aviation security together. That’s a cooperative partnership, a very close partnership in that area… these are the kinds of things that we work very closely with the Egyptian Government on.”

Siberell also pointed out that “Egypt is a member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and is preparing to play an important role”.

With regard the cooperation between Egypt and US over Libya, Siberell said that for the country to be stabilised so it no longer provides a safe haven for terrorist groups requires a national unity government all parties will support.

He revealed that the US State Department is negotiating with different groups to bring together a unified Libyan government and said Washington is providing support for the Libyan government to expel IS fighters from Sirte

“I can’t address the specifics of the negotiations. There are discussions ongoing this week about Libya. What’s clear, however, is that the international community needs to work together with the Libyan people,” Siberell said.

In his UNGA speech Al-Sisi said Egypt was playing an active role in bringing Libyan parties together and supported Libya’s legitimate institutions, including the Presidential Council, the National Unity Government, the House of Representatives and the Libyan army.

Al-Sisi’s visit to New York created heated debate in the US media after he met with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In a CNN interview Al-Sisi said that he respected both candidates and it was up to the American people to choose who would lead the country.

Al-Sisi told CNN that he is working to build a democratic state which respects the rule of law.

“In Egypt there is no opportunity for dictatorship to develop because we have a constitution,” Al-Sisi said. “There is the law, and there is the will of the people who will refuse to allow any leader to stay in position longer than his term, which is four years.”

Asked whether he plans to run for a second term in office in 2018, Al-Sisi said his focus now is to succeed in overcoming the many challenges currently facing Egypt.

“I made promises to the Egyptians to implement economic reforms and address economic crises and build a strong state,” he said.

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