Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

In-Focus: ‘A stone’s throw away’

While its national interests will always be paramount, Egypt has always defended Arab national security against outside meddling and interference, writes Galal Nassar


For many years, I was the military correspondent at Al-Ahram Weekly, which brought me close to the military institution and gave me good insight into the doctrine of the Egyptian soldier and army. This doctrine is based on a strong belief in defending the honour, land, sea borders (economic and regional), vital interests, and key resources of life of the country. Also, the historic and legal rights of the Egyptian state and people who live in this country as one of the oldest civilisations in the world, when the army was the primary pillar of the state, its existence and survival during times of prosperity and renaissance. A weak or non-existent army always led to collapse, occupation, depleted resources and wealth, domination and oppression of the people. This is something our soldiers and citizens understand well, which makes it difficult to meddle in this relationship or undermine society’s unity and stability.

While threats evolve and change, national security parameters that impact Egypt’s direct interests remain the same, along with the framework for political, security and military action, and more recently economic action, since markets are important in reviving Egypt’s economics on the Arab, Islamic, African, European and Middle Eastern fronts. The Arab Spring revealed how much Egypt’s domestic scene and interests are impacted by events on the Arab and African fronts. Also, direct can be the threats to the existence of the state and its interests, as well as rights, sources of life and stability. Egypt’s fate was decided as part of a plan for the region where several states, regimes and armies collapsed and the people were made destitute. Domestic and foreign resources also collapsed, and this struggle for survival was taken advantage of by some that pursued previously suspended projects that threaten water resources, while others penetrated borders to allow terrorists and weapons through.

The doctrine of the Egyptian soldier is not based on aggression and never in modern history did Egypt’s army seek conquest or to threaten. All battles were to defend Egypt against ambitions or in support of an Arab state to recover land and sovereignty when invaded by a neighbouring Arab country, to ensure the minimal level of Arab national security, humanity and the honour of soldiers, which was the case when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The Egyptian army also participated in peacekeeping forces under the UN and African Union in several war-torn areas around the world. Indeed, Egyptian participation is among the highest worldwide.

When there was a direct threat to the security of the Middle East and Arab world, and it became apparent there is an international and regional plot by countries that want to increase their influence in the region by politically and logistically manipulating and supporting groups and militias to destabilise key countries at the heart of collaborative Arab action, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi made a famous statement that Egypt protects and supports its brethren in the battle for existence and sovereignty. Al-Sisi added that the army of Egypt is in the service of the Arab nation’s security, using the phrase “a stone’s throw away” or “minutes away” which implies immediacy in responding to any threats to any country in the Arabian Gulf, particularly from Iran.

Egypt’s policy and decisions translated this statement into a reality by participating in joint war games and military exercises, exchanging intelligence, coordinating with Gulf countries and partaking in military operations in Yemen using air and navy forces to protect and defend the waterway at the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea, preventing an Iranian military and logistical presence. Egypt, however, refused to be involved in ground battles in Yemen, and maintained open channels with all parties to reach a political solution to rescue Yemen from Iran’s control and to protect neighbouring Gulf countries from Iran-backed Houthi militias.

This doctrine understands the importance of the Iraq-Syria eastern front in the strategic balance with Israel, and the price Egypt is paying due to the collapse of that front. The resulting instability requires political and military decision-makers to make key adjustments in arms relations, armament policies and diversifying to guarantee availability, maintenance, supplies of ammunition, training, development, as well as amending strategic training and transportation. Also, redrawing theatres of operation along land and sea borders that must be paired with independent decision-making and clear definitions of red lines that must not be crossed by anyone, whether friend or foe.

Many observers, myself included, understood that “a stone’s throw away” means the readiness of Egypt’s army to prevent any threat to any friends in the Arabian Gulf if their territories or sovereignty or existence are under military threat. Also, that it will not be involved in any battles that do not serve Egypt’s higher interests. Egypt also declared a firm position of protecting the “national state” across the Arab world, their identity and sovereignty. It warned against penetration and increasing influence of outside countries such as Turkey and Iran, and their blatant interference in deciding the fate of Iraq, Syria and Libya, in cooperation with the emirate of Qatar which is playing a functional role in the plot to undermine the national state.

This explains why Cairo rejects Arab and non-Arab interference in the affairs of Syria and Libya, and the presence of foreign or Arab troops on the ground in either country is a threat to the national state and the right of those people to decide their own fate. A constitution approved by the people and freely choosing governing bodies is the path to restoring the national state, security and stability. The presence of outside forces imposes foreign agendas, ambitions and influence of non-Arab countries, which contradicts the doctrine of the Egyptian army and its soldiers who always stand on the side of justice and the national state in defence of Egypt’s higher interests.

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