Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Building bridges in New York

As head of the Egyptian delegation to the UN General Assembly President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is intent on consolidating international support for Cairo’s regional positions, writes Dina Ezzat


Building bridges in New York
Building bridges in New York

A series of meetings for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York this week is being held in the hope of enhancing Egypt’s influence in the international arena.

Top of the list comes Al-Sisi’s encounter with US President Donald Trump. It will be the first meeting between the two since last month’s cut by the Trump administration to annual US economic aid and its partial suspension of military aid.

Egyptian diplomats are not expecting a tense meeting between the two leaders who have regularly praised one another since first meeting in New York just before Trump won the US presidential election.

“I guess it’s accurate to say the honeymoon period is over and relations between the two heads of state have passed into a more pragmatic phase shaped by the differing interests of Egypt and the US and the political pressures each leader has to deal with,” said a former Egyptian ambassador to the US.

“The aid cut was certainly disappointing but Egypt is not planning to allow it to hijack the possibility of future cooperation with Washington,” said a Washington-based Egyptian diplomat.

During their meeting — expected to take place as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press — Al-Sisi was likely to seek Trump’s support for Egyptian plans to promote conflict management in the Middle East, particularly in Libya where Cairo’s influence is widely acknowledged, and on the Palestinian-Palestinian and Palestinian-Israeli fronts.

Before leaving for New York, Al-Sisi had seen the acceptance by Palestinian factions of an initial agreement sponsored by Egypt in an attempt to end the decade-long conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“The political developments of the last few days mark the beginning of a more ambitious scheme to set the stage for Palestinian reconciliation that Egypt is working on in cooperation with several influential regional capitals,” said a source close to the Egyptian mediating team.

The crux of the scheme for which Al-Sisi hopes to win Trump’s support involves Hamas and the Palestinian Authority sharing the government of Gaza. Ahead of his encounter with Trump Al-Sisi held separate meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both meetings were organised to facilitate the resumption of long stalled peace talks with an eye on pursuing a two-state solution, said Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef.

A PA source speaking from Gaza on condition of anonymity held out little hope for any serious developments in settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but said Abbas was happy to see Al-Sisi pursuing his efforts and hoped President Trump could be persuaded to pressure Netanyahu to be less intransigent.

The meetings between Al-Sisi and both Abbas and Netanyahu might not have been as conclusive as Cairo hoped but they served as a reminder of the influence Egypt has traditionally wielded in managing the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. 

“During the last few years the international community has seen Egypt immersed in domestic affairs, said a Cairo-based European diplomat.

Qatar was also expected to be high on Al-Sisi’s agenda in his meeting with Trump. Egypt, along with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, has been pressuring Doha for the last three months to end its support of groups which the ruling regimes of the four countries say are intent on destabilising the region.

The war on terror was central to Al-Sisi’s first address to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 and has remained a major concern. This year, diplomatic sources say, Al-Sisi is keen to remind his interlocutors in New York that his regime is still engaged in a difficult battle to keep Egypt stable. He will press the case for continued understanding of the “exceptional phase” Egypt is passing through, a phase that could continue for some time.

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