Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1322, (1 - 7 December 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1322, (1 - 7 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Handling Trump

Egypt should adopt a cautious, step-by-step approach in dealing with Donald Trump — one that requires significant preparation, writes Eman Ragab

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many analyses of Donald Trump’s foreign policy outlooks, based on his campaign speeches, suggest that he will apply an “isolationist” approach, especially with regard to the Middle East. If so, he will follow the Obama administration’s policy of refraining from direct involvement in this region’s conflicts. In tandem, he will give, intentionally or otherwise, greater scope to a number of Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt to exercise a more influential role in shaping crucial issues, while simultaneously permitting a greater Russian role. The future of Trump’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran remain unclear.

Nevertheless, we need to be cautious in our assessments and conjectures regarding the change that Trump might bring to US policy towards this region.

By all means we should avoid the excessive optimism of those who see the Trump victory as a “good sign” and a harbinger of “total friendship” between the US and Egypt. Firstly, the president-elect hails from outside the political establishment. He has never held a government post and his background and experience as a businessman is totally different to Hillary Clinton’s background and experience in politics and government. Also, during his campaign he voiced many contradictory and inconsistent ideas on various foreign policy issues such as Iran, US relations with Gulf countries, or relations with Russia and China. He has yet to formulate a clear foreign policy vision and has yet to complete the selection of his administration team, and especially those members that will be instrumental in formulating and carrying out US foreign policy.

In addition, he will encounter the restrictions and pressures that governmental institutions and agencies exercise on any president and that will place a ceiling on whatever change he plans to introduce into Washington’s foreign policies. The critical factor in this regard will be the extent to which those institutions and agencies believe that the changes he wants to make will serve the strategic interests of the country.

It is important for Egypt to adopt a “one-step-at-a-time” approach to its dealings with the US in the Trump era. This strategy rests on the premise that we should not expect our relations with the US to be 100 per cent warm and close, contrary to the opinion of some who point to Trump’s statement that his country will be “a close friend of Egypt and not just an ally”. On the other hand, we should not minimise the opportunities presented by Trump’s arrival to power, especially in light of his personal admiration for Al-Sisi’s leadership, while bearing in mind that differences over a number of issues could arise in the forthcoming period.

Applying this approach in our interactions with the Trump administration during the next four years involves focusing on three primary concerns in the framework of the Egyptian-US bilateral relationship. The first is how it works to support Egyptian actions in the region with regard to the conflicts in Syria, Libya or Iraq, and the extent to which it encourages Cairo to pursue ideas or initiatives that advance political solutions to these conflicts.

The second is the need to expand the scope of US investments in Egypt and redirect them to sectors prioritised by the Egyptian government. US investments in Egypt account for 33.2 per cent of US investments in Africa up to the end of 2015. Egypt is the second largest country in the Middle East after the UAE, in terms of the volume of US investments in it.

The third area of concern is the management of the war against terrorism in the region that Egypt believes should be reoriented so as not to be restricted to the fight against Daesh but rather broadened to include all terrorist organisations.

Thinking along these lines requires a new team in the circles concerned with the management of Egypt’s relations with the US. The members of this team need to be more adept at engaging in dialogue and developing ideas with the American side, better able to convey the Egyptian point of view and its ideas clearly and accurately, and more skilful in persuading the US administration.

The writer is a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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