Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

On Egypt’s stance towards Syria

Some saw inconsistency in Egypt voting for the French and Russian resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council. On the contrary, writes Hany Ghoraba

To some observers, Egypt’s position on Syria and its five-year civil war appears ambiguous and even conflicted, but the truth is quite the opposite.

As early as March 2011, Egypt’s main diplomatic stance was based on two main principals. The first is the universal right of the Syrian people to decide their own fate through a free political process. The second is the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian state. Parallel to those two principals is the humanitarian goal of ending the bloodshed and the suffering of all Syrian people, and bringing all parties — with exception of jihadist and terrorist groups — to the negotiating table.

Egypt’s pragmatic view of the situation in Syria stems on its conviction that a major part of the so-called “armed Syrian opposition” is made up of terrorist groups devoid of any shred of mercy, remorse or conscience towards civilians. These groups believe in forcing Bashar Al-Assadout of the presidential seat by all means necessary, even if it means obliterating the entire Syrian state to attain that goal. Undoubtedly, the Syrian army was not clinical either in fighting back against these militants; in fact, thousands of innocents have been reported killed in crossfire while fighting militants during the ongoing civil war that has ravaged the country.

Egypt’s position to vote “Yes” for two separate Russian and French resolutions in regard of Syria in October 2016 was not a conflicting position. Both resolutions included a ceasefire and a negotiation plan after humanitarian aid would be allowed into Aleppo and other conflict zones. The French resolution was aiming to stop all air strikes on Aleppo, mainly conducted by Russian air forces stationed in Syria. That resolution was opposed by the Russians who vetoed it, mentioning that it pointed fingers of blame towards the Syrian government and Russia for the crisis, providing shelter for terrorist groups such as Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) operating in Aleppo.

During his speech to the UN in September, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stated clearly that Egypt refuses any attempt to improve the image of terrorist groups operating in Syria by including them among opposition ranks in any political negotiations. The fact remains that none of these groups seek any democratic processes of any kind but simply to rule Syria and the Levant area as a foundation for a delusional new 21st century Caliphate.

Unfortunately, the conspiracy and intervention of regional players, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to take down Al-Assad was a catalyst for the conflict to spiral out of control and turn from a regional problem to an international one. This was done through funding and arming terrorist militant groups, regardless of their affiliation, which eventually led to the rise of Islamic State terrorists. Egypt remains probably the only regional power that didn’t contribute to the mayhem taking place in Syria by siding neither with the government nor the opposition.

The Syrian conflict might be resolved in a much shorter period should all regional and international powers stop interfering in Syrian affairs. The involvement of foreign parties in the conflict has exacerbated the already dire situation in Syria, spurring further chaos. Many countries have cited humanitarian and civil rights reasons for their involvement, especially regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. This should be treated as nothing but black comedy given the abysmal human rights conditions in these very countries themselves.

Furthermore, the conflict became the favourite new Cold War battlefield between the United States and Russia, where both countries have been utilising all their military, diplomatic, economical and media might as a show of force against each other, regardless of the consequences for the Syrian people. The Syrian conflict became the 21st century equivalent of the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars.

The modus operandi of the aforementioned belligerents in fighting the war through the most brutal and inhuman methods is testament that these countries’ involvement is simply part of a “game of thrones” that has nothing to do with the welfare of the Syrian people. The famines that hit Syria along with airstrikes on humanitarian convoys aiding millions of entrapped Syrians is proof that Syrian citizens are the least important factor for all parties in this bloody conflict.

In recent years, Egypt has been subject to an incredible amount of diplomatic and even economic pressure to waiver its more pragmatic position on the Syrian conflict and to put its weight behind the so-called opposition. During his reign of terror, ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi severed diplomatic ties with Syria and declared jihad on the Syrian regime in a step unprecedented in the country’s modern history. The move was never realised in reality as the Islamist president was gone less than a fortnight later after a massive revolution removed him from power. Thanks to that revolution, Egypt’s army was spared fighting against a once historical ally in the wars against Israel, which could have been a catastrophic strategic mistake by Egypt.

Furthermore, the Egyptian state remains the only player with good relations with both the peaceful opposition and government. Accordingly, Egypt has been working vehemently with all affiliated parties and organising meetings of the non-militant opposition in Cairo while keeping channels open with the Syrian regime. The aim is to find a peaceful and practical solution to the Syrian conflict. Egypt believes that Al-Assad, who was never truly an ally, must be part of the solution as the only realistic way to preserve the territorial integrity of the Syrian state. The scary alternative would be a full scale power struggle that would only escalate the civil war, similar to the Iraqi, Yemeni and Libyan cases in the past decade.

Accordingly, Egyptian approval of both the Russian and French UN resolutions on Syria was not simply aimed towards displaying support for two of Egypt’s strongest allies in the world. The Egyptian approval and "Yes" vote stems from principals set by the Egyptian state on a peaceful resolution for the Syrian crisis.

The Egyptian stance and vote may have angered some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, with vested interests towards supporting certain radical groups to overtake Al-Assad by all means necessary. For mysterious reasons, these nations, along with a few others, granted themselves the liberty to decide what’s best for the Syrian people and consequently contributed towards the demise of the Syrian state in the past five years.

Egyptian officials, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the methods of voting on the Syrian war in the UN Security Council. Egypt’s Ambassador to the UNAmr Abou Al-Atta mentioned that Egypt voted in favour of both the Russian and French resolutions to express disappointment at the international community’s passivity towards the misery of the Syrian people, driven by the conflicting interests of different key nations.

Regardless, Egypt has proven once again that it is steadfast in its political and diplomatic stances and cannot be wrestled towards any position that doesn’t involve the end of the bloodshed and peace in Syria.

Egypt is adamant in continuing to forge independent political decisions, regardless of pressure from friends or foes. The only problem with Egyptian foreign policy in the past three decades is that the Egyptian state has been refraining from asserting the full weight of its presence in front of other regional players. Maybe it is time to do that!

The writer is a political analyst, writer and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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