Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

In-Focus: Egypt in the eye of the storm

Egypt finds itself at the centre of conflicts that will likely reshape the region in the years to come, writes Galal Nassar


اقرأ باللغة العربية

Observers agree that the Middle East is seeing critical conflicts that will likely shape the fate and future of the region. These take in proxy wars, political, economic and military alliances that will mould these conflicts, the rise and fall of regional heavyweights, and the role of influential outsiders that have strategic interests in the region.

In the view of security, strategic and economic policy-makers, the Middle East is, in fact, simply a massive oil well and gas field that must be secured as a supply for global markets, especially in Europe and the US, as well as in China, Russia, India, Japan and the Asian Tigers.

Many are trying to impose their influence and grab the lion’s share of prospecting rights and partnerships in order to control these resources. The conflicts must continue because they create a need for coalitions that can protect and guard resources and secure regimes and shipping corridors for the region’s oil-and-gas wealth. They also require weapons and ammunition supplies, and military bases, and lead to the strategic goal of protecting Israel, which has not yet lost its strategic role for many Western capitals.

The Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 uncovered many of these conspiracies, which were never entirely hidden, and when the Arab peoples took to the streets and the regimes of the region crumbled, they even became more pronounced. Western think tanks focused on redrawing the region, producing “creative chaos”, engineering the rise and fall of regimes, and drawing up new geopolitical maps recording these changes. However, much of this was theoretical and needed to be tested on the ground.

Tensions, rising poverty, unemployment and injustice in some regional countries were manipulated as fuel for this process of strategic engineering, with the present conflict in Syria being a clear example. Building a natural gas pipeline from Qatar via Syria to Turkey and the European markets required getting rid of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and plunging the country into chaos or empowering the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the country and guarantee that the pipeline would be completed.

Russia, which will be harmed if this project is completed since such a pipeline would bring alternative gas supplies to the European market, understood all this. It understood that it would lose a key source of its revenues and political influence in the balance of power with Europe and the West, and as a result Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Al-Assad remaining in power at all costs.

Much has happened since 2011 in the Syrian conflict, which has extended to Iraq and the region’s Kurdish areas, and Putin last week met with the presidents of Turkey and Iran in order to decide the future of Syria based on a coalition of interests. The idea is to guarantee a strong regional hub for oil and gas after the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot alliance, set up to decide on gas resources in the Mediterranean, created a new reality for battles over energy and influence in the Middle East.

In the background are giant oil-and-gas companies that are key players in countries such as Italy, the US, Britain and China and that will fight tooth-and-nail to defend their interests. There are also regional players that have leverage over the region’s gas reserves and that seek to manoeuvre between the two alliances, foremost among them Israel.

The battle for influence over the region’s oil and gas has impacted countries such as Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf countries. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s military and finances are being depleted as it continues its intervention in the country, along with the blanket destruction of the Yemeni people. Yemen has become a battleground against Iranian influence in the region that directly threatens the Arabian Peninsula and navigation in the Bab Al-Mandab Straits and Red Sea.

In Libya, a policy of multiple decision centres and the diffusion of power across several governments has sought to distract attention until agreement can be reached on distributing the country’s immense oil wealth and installing a regime that will serve the interests of those fighting over the country.

Saudi Arabia, which is experiencing major transformations in governance and political and religious discourse, has revised its course to guarantee that these transformations are successful. This has required flexibility from the Saudi regime and for it to engage in regional economic initiatives that bring it into alliance with Egypt, Jordan and perhaps also Israel. Saudi Arabia has also launched a pragmatic dialogue with Western and other capitals such as London, Washington and Moscow in order to guarantee the transformation of the region. The Saudi-Egypt-UAE alliance is a strong and reassuring foundation because it is aimed at countries working against wider Arab interests such as Qatar, Turkey and Iran.

Amid these transformations, Egypt finds itself in the eye of the storm in every way, beginning with its foiling the rise of Political Islam in the 30 June 2013 Revolution and its efforts to halt plots to re-engineer the region that are against Arab interests. The success of the Egyptian model has undermined such plots, despite their support among the Western powers. Today, Egypt is preparing to become an energy hub on the Mediterranean, giving it a vital role and posing a threat to various interests. Cairo’s independent policies have upset some Arab and global powers because they are founded on strong military power and mass support. Attempts to put Egypt under economic siege or to distract it with talk of human rights have failed.

For Egypt, success requires a balance in its actions and alliances, as well as involvement in all regional issues, to ensure red lines are not crossed. It must continue its direct communication with all the parties in regional conflicts and not become embroiled in conflicts beyond its borders unless its interests and national security are at stake. It must unite the domestic front and address issues being manipulated by those who may be lying in wait for signs of weakness. The domestic front is Egypt’s strongest foundation that protects territories, institutions and interests at times of crisis and shields decision-makers from outside pressures.

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