Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

US-Egypt ties back on track

Al-Ahram Weekly

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Cairo late last week confirmed that relations between Egypt and the United States are back on track. The strategic ties that have marked relations between the two countries over the past 40 years have been a cornerstone to maintain relative peace in the region, and they should continue to do so.

Due to the close coordination between Egypt and the United States, more Arab countries joined the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process in the early 1990s. After former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1990, Egypt quickly adopted a principled stand, and together with US forces played a vital role in liberating the Gulf nation and restoring its legitimate government. Consecutive US administrations have also recognised Egypt’s vital role in fighting terrorism and the fact that it has sometimes paid a heavy price for doing so. 

Given the current turmoil in the region, the disintegration of several key Arab states, the increasing danger of terrorist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda, the negative Iranian influence in the region, and the stalemate in the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process, maintaining the close cooperation between Egypt and the United States is crucial to serve the interests of the region and those of the two countries.

Egypt, more than any other country in the region, wants America to be “a force for good in the Middle East,” as Pompeo stated in his speech at the American University in Cairo last week. This was a positive sign that the US secretary of state recognises Egypt’s efforts in fighting terrorism and the hard work that president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has done in promoting religious tolerance and the equal treatment of the followers of all three monotheistic religions.

Yet, as Pompeo himself stated, words need to be followed by actions based on the sincere and objective advise that Egypt and the moderate Arab countries that are America’s partners in the region have been providing. As Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri has stated, in order for Egypt to continue its positive role in the region in combating terrorism and promoting a peaceful settlement of key regional conflicts, whether in Palestine, Libya, Syria, Yemen or Iraq, more political and economic support is needed from the United States and the international community alike.

US decision-makers, and particularly the new Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives, should not use the military and economic assistance that Washington has been providing to Egypt since 1979 to pressure Cairo to adopt policies that might create more chaos in the region or weaken the Egyptian state in its fight against terrorism, particularly in Sinai. Pompeo’s recognition of the mistakes committed by the previous US administration, led by former president Barack Obama, is a good starting point. It would be very harmful to repeat the same policies again, including by threatening to cut US military aid to Egypt or reducing other forms of coordination, whenever the two countries disagree over certain policies or priorities.

Egypt shares US concerns over Iranian intervention in the Middle East region, which poses a threat to key Arab allies in the Arab Gulf region, as well as to the stability of countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Egyptian officials have taken part in the coordination meetings that it is hoped will lead to the establishment of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA). However, Cairo sees no need, or use, for any escalation that might lead to a military confrontation. This is one of the key lessons to be learned from the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Wars in the Middle East region only make the situation worse, create new problems and increase the threat of terrorism.

Cairo has also been pushing for a more objective US role in settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Peace will not be achieved just because Israel’s prime minister has visited a key Arab country such as Oman, or an Israeli minister has taken part in a sports tournament in the UAE during which the country’s national anthem was played. As has been the case in previous years, many Arab countries have been keen to confirm that they would welcome normalising ties with Israel. However, real peace will not be achieved without an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories and Syria’s Golan Heights.

Thus far, the Trump administration has supported Israel’s extremist policies, including the wrong decision of recognising Occupied East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, tolerating the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and even calling upon the Palestinians to forget forever their right of return to the homes they were forced to leave after Israel’s creation in 1948. 

The US decision to withdraw from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, allegedly for their siding against Israel, the decision to cut US assistance to UNRWA, and the decision to close the PLO mission in Washington have all been steps that will do much to prevent any Arab or supporter of legitimate Palestinian demands from seeing the US as a “force for good in the Middle East”.

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