The Delphi Economic Forum, an embryo of the Davos Forum, yet no less intriguing, held its second annual meeting in the Greek city of Delphi, home to the famous oracle of Apollo. Speaking for the god Apollo, the oracle of Delphi, Pythia, gave guidance and answered Greeks’ inquiries about religion and power. It is with this ancient Greek inspiration of wisdom and knowledge that hundreds of intellectuals, academics, and government representatives gathered in this historic site to debate the future of Europe and to argue forcefully against its potential disintegration and the invasion of populism. In this context, I was invited to speak about the stability of Egypt, its importance to the region and its necessity to Europe’s security. To be the only representative from Egypt and from the region bolstered my pride and foremost belief in the role Egypt is capable of achieving after a passing absence.
While a bet on the stability and security of Egypt as essential to the region seems an assured gain, more of a challenge remains in Europe’s willingness for a comeback. Unlike the US and its subsequent administrations, Europe is known for consistency in its policy towards the Middle East. Europe can also balance the fierce competition between the US and Russia in the Middle East, which more often than not was detrimental to the region’s stability. There are two prerequisites for Egypt and Europe to stick together; for Egypt to regain its weight and for Europe to be ready and willing to revive its role.
I did not want to miss the opportunity of reminding the audience of the origin of destabilisation in our region. Unlike many would like to perceive, the Arab Spring was not the main culprit. The origin of destabilisation goes way back to the time of the US administration in the early 1980s, when president Reagan started flirting with the Taliban insurgency to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Rising to the rescue of their brothers in faith, Muslims were all of a sudden given a mission to fight communism and to win over the so-called evil empire. This was the beginning of the end. The Wahhabi movement and the Muslim Brotherhood have been there for years, each surviving in his own way. Yet Reagan’s call and military support awakened the monster in these movements and created a new momentum and urge to be at the basis of changing history. The Wahhabis and Muslim Brotherhood are at the foundation of the rise and spread of extremism. Today, the latter have found safe haven in Turkey, which has embraced the movement to advance its own ambitions.
The 9/11 attacks sounded the alarm for the unstoppable surge of these extremists labelling themselves falsely as “jihadists” to give the impression that their fight is for God and the spread of Islam. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq did not deter these extremists. On the contrary, it rendered them more violent and unrelenting in their war against civilisation. No country is immune to Islamic extremism and terrorism.
Addressing the necessity of the stability of Egypt, one has to admit that Egypt lost much of its weight after 2011. Yet, it managed to rid itself from the spill-overs of the Arab Spring syndrome. Not only did Egypt safeguard itself against disintegration and civil war, but it stood firm against the Obama administration and many of the European countries when they gave their undue support to political Islam under the pretext of it having been democratically elected. The Egyptians admit they made a mistake in electing the Muslim Brotherhood. However, they succeeded in overturning them as quickly as possible. People do make mistakes. Today, Europe also admits its mistake of having embraced squarely and unconditionally globalisation, giving rise to populism and putting at risk the entire unity of Europe. Egypt did not shy away from fighting terrorism and extremism when the name of the game was inclusiveness.
Raising the question of what we expect from Europe, I made the point that Europe will have to deal with its so-called “parallel society” syndrome or rather watershed. The second generation of immigrants has become more aggressive and remorseless in its fight for identity. Though they are much better off than their parents, and more educated, they refuse to embrace their adopted societies in which they grew up. They have become fertile ground for Islamist recruitment. In this context, Europe has to choose one of two trajectories, either emulating the more radical trajectory of the new US administration, arousing more hate, or show more interest in the problems of the region and revert back to its former role as the conscience of the rule of law and international legitimacy. The choice and decision is for the European people to make.
Finally, while addressing the most intractable conflicts in the region, there is a dire need for Egypt and Europe to work together towards a more stable region. Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a comeback of Europe is valuable for a more balanced approach in view of blind US support for Israel. There is a legitimate interest on the part of Egypt and Europe to work together to legalise the foundation of the peace process. No need to stress that such an approach faces resistance on the part of Israel and extreme pressure from the US, going as far as threatening the Palestinian Authority (PA) with cutting aid and closing its office in Washington if the latter even thinks of deciding on such a venue. To the Americans and Israelis, going to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a no option to the PA.
We need a more opinionated Europe. Egypt, Europe and other Arab countries should be strong advocators for the well-known principles of a two-state solution and should have sensible talks with the Trump administration, if the latter is truly keen on working diligently towards a solution. Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Egypt for more coordination prior to her expected trip to Washington is instrumental in this regard. If the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unresolved, the region will not be freed from terrorism, even if we assume — hypothetically — that all other problems are resolved. It is also imperative for Egypt and Europe to work together in capacity-building for the Palestinians in many areas.
Regarding the Libyan crisis, it is equally important for Egypt and Europe to work for the stability of Libya as a priority. Egypt has left no stone unturned to work with the different fractions in Libya, but also with neighbouring countries Tunisia and Algeria in search of a peaceful solution. The Egyptian-brokered roadmap between Sarraj, the head of the National Government and Haftar, the commander-in-chief of the Libyan Armed Forces is today a step in the right direction that should eventually lead to reconciliation and elections in a year’s time.
As for the Syrian crisis, which defines the very identity of the Middle East region, Arab input is essential, and should be encouraged and supported by Europe, so as not to leave the terrain open to Iran, Turkey and Russia to decide. Egypt and Europe must also have a common interest in maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria to help precipitate an overall peaceful solution. Europe has a high priority in containing the refugee crisis, while Egypt is concerned on maintaining the Arab identity of the region and not to leave it to outside powers to work for their own narrow interest. Egypt’s interest lies more in the integrity of the region and its countries.
Lastly, and in spite of the many problems facing the EU, the Middle East region remains an advanced priority of the EU’s foreign policy. Europe should be more engaged with the problems of the region and come up with pragmatic solutions. A strong, stable and prosperous Egypt is an essential element for a peaceful and prosperous region. Cooperation between Egypt, Europe and the US is key to addressing the region’s political, economic and security challenges.
The writer is a professor of practice and director of the Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Center for American Studies and Research at the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.