Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Principles of foreign policy

Egypt’s foreign policy in the Arab world has been consistently guided by six basic principles reflected in its approach to current regional conflicts, writes Mohamed Ezz El-Arab

Egypt’s approach to the conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria has been governed by a set of principles that have been consistently reflected in speeches by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the actions of the Foreign Ministry and the roles played by the Armed Forces. 

There are six main principles in play, the first being respect for the territorial unity and integrity of the state. The survival and institutional development of the nation state in the Arab region has long been one of president Al-Sisi’s key themes in speeches both at home and abroad. As he has often noted, the threat to the unity of the Arab states comes not only from the spectre of collapse, but also from the rise of alternative ideas, such as the Islamic caliphate that the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) advanced in mid-2014. Even if this project had met its demise by the end of 2017, threats of terrorism and militant non-state actors remained. 

The Egyptian view is that non-state entities in the Arab region have begun to vie with official state security and military institutions in the performance of their conventional roles and functions. In many places they have become militant opposition groups rejected by society in most Arab countries, especially after having been made into political instruments used by outside powers to destabilise and weaken states in order to acquire power and influence.

The second principle is the need to disarm militias and extremist groups. Egypt maintains that the complete or at least partial disarmament of violent non-state actors is a prerequisite for stability domestically and regionally. Over the past six years, national armies in the Arab region have in many cases lost their status as the sole legitimate holders of military force. 

Irregular armed groups have acquired influence such that they are now sometimes referred to in the political literature as “parallel armies”. They have arisen from the remnants of regular armies, local or tribal militias, sectarian paramilitary organisations, revolutionary organisations and other such non-state bodies to become the “private-sector armies” of the Middle East. 

Many of these parallel armies have succeeded in seizing control of extensive tracts of land in densely populated areas in some central countries in the region. They have acquired control over important economic resources and weapons capacities, and they have conducted “foreign relations” with states and other non-state actors. 

In the process, they have taken advantage of the collapse of states, power vacuums, weak governments, porous borders and the rising influence of economies that thrive on domestic conflict. All of this has enabled them to sustain small wars of attrition that have facilitated their survival and expansion and contributed to the cycle of chaos and instability in the region. 

The third principle is the need to fight terrorism as a whole and not in part. It has long been a principle of Egyptian foreign policy that terrorism and terrorist groups have to be confronted holistically. Their sources of funding, arms, military and logistical support, and propaganda and recruitment machinery need to be uprooted and destroyed, while security is strengthened along land and maritime borders and around naval and air ports and other strategic sites. 

It is also necessary to take into account the frequent alliances and cross-fertilisation between organised crime and terrorist organisations manifested in the growth of “conflict-dependent economies” on the local level.

Egypt believes that all terrorist organisations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the branches of IS, the Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram and the Taliban, should be lumped together as versions of the same phenomenon that needs to be confronted in its entirety instead of selectively targeting one or other organisation while ignoring the rest. These organisations have funding and armaments programmes not dissimilar to those of standing armies, and they receive support from regional and international powers, as president Al-Sisi explained at the Arab-US Summit held in Riyadh on 21 May.

The fourth principle is that there are peaceful solutions to armed conflicts. Some regional conflicts are dragging on with little sign of a solution on the horizon. Although the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya have lasted more than seven years, the parties have not yet reached what US commentator William Zartman has called the “ripeness” stage typified by conditions that propel the warring parties to enter into negotiations capable of leading to a permanent settlement or lasting solution as opposed to fragile and volatile ceasefires.

 Egypt’s position here is to support “proxy peace-making” as opposed to the “proxy warfare” that some regional powers have been engaging in. It is for this reason that Cairo has consistently supported local reconciliation efforts between combatants in Syria and Libya, just as it has supported Oman’s efforts to promote the resumption of the Yemeni peace process while simultaneously contributing naval forces to support the Arab Coalition in the Storm of Resolve Operation launched in March 2015 to restore the legitimate government in Yemen and safeguard maritime routes from the Bab Al-Mandeb Straits to the Suez Canal. 

The fifth principle is the need to reconstruct collapsed states. One of the most crucial challenges countries face in the post-conflict phase is the need to address what has been termed “the complexities of the day after” engendered by the destruction of infrastructure, the displacement of local populations (often replaced by terrorist organisations or one or other of the warring parties) and other consequences of the conflict.  

Enormous efforts are required for reconstruction and for securing and cleansing liberated areas, which throws into relief problems such as which parties should oversee the reconstruction process, the sources of reconstruction funding and how they should be allocated, how to engender common political and social interests in the reconstruction process so as to facilitate a lasting solution, and how to ensure that the state regains its monopoly over the legitimate use of arms. 

Egypt attaches great importance to the need to promote peace initiatives and the mechanisms that can prevent renewed outbreaks of conflict and contain flare-ups. Such mechanisms include mutual confidence-building measures, deconstructing hostile stereotypes, promoting exchanges of expertise and social dialogue, supporting the role of regional organisations in safeguarding international peace and security (since they are closest to and most familiar with latent tension zones), and supporting the pre-emptive deployment of peacekeeping forces under the supervision of regional and international organisations.

The sixth principle is the rebuilding and restructuring of national armed forces. Cairo’s initiative to unify and restructure the Libyan armed forces is a manifestation of Egypt’s commitment to this principle. 

Egypt launched this initiative in the second half of 2017 under the supervision of the Egyptian Committee for Libya chaired by Mohamed Al-Kishki. It has prioritised the need to resolve the Libyan conflict as of all the Arab conflicts this is the one that most impacts on Egyptian national security. It has hosted military delegations from eastern and western Libya with the aim of creating and then training a unified military force. It has simultaneously supported commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar. 

Finally, with respect to Syria Egypt does not support the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, but it does defend the right of the Syrian National Army to fight extremist militia forces.

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