Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Building more bridges?

Doaa El-Bey examines foreign policy after a year of Mohamed Morsi in office

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Foreign policy under Morsi has seen a shift,” claims a book published by the Muslim Brotherhood in April. Its 124 pages cite Morsi’s support for Gaza and an estimated Israeli loss of 2.5 billion shekels because of Palestinian resistance rockets to substantiate the claim. It is an analysis with which many disagree.

Morsi may have visited Arab, African, Asian and even Latin American countries, says Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, chairman of the opposition leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party, but he has achieved nothing tangible. No new alliances have been built, Shukr told Al-Ahram Weekly. The visits were no more than a protocol exercise.

Egypt’s foreign policy over the last year has not exhibited any long term goals, says Mohsen Zahran, professor of political science at Alexandria University. “And besides, whatever short term vision it espouses is not the president’s but the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau’s.”

The appointment of Essam Al-Haddad as presidential advisor for foreign affairs made it clear that the Brotherhood would be playing a big part henceforth in formulating Egypt’s foreign policy. Al-Haddad, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Office, is viewed by many commentators as Egypt’s real foreign minister.

Morsi arrived in office last June promising a foreign policy that would depart the Mubarak-era and Egypt’s excessive dependence on the United States. That the promise remains unfulfilled was exemplified by Morsi’s recent U-turn on Syria and the severing of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Damascus.

“Historic relations between the two states should have prevented the Morsi-regime from taking this step,” says Zahran. “Even states that openly help the Syrian opposition have not taken this drastic measure.”

Keeping embassy doors open, he argues, allows for consultations in the future as the need arises. And there are thousands of Syrians currently living in Egypt who have started to participate in the local political scene. “Cutting relations with their country can only worsen the situation,” says Zahran.

The decision, says Shukr, provides clear evidence that Morsi is following Washington’s lead in his dealings with Syria.

One month after taking office Morsi made his first foreign trip. Saudi Arabia was the destination. On arrival, Egypt’s new president set about reassuring his hosts that the Muslim Brotherhood had no plans to export Egypt’s revolution to the Gulf. Meeting the Saudi king and crown prince Morsi announced that the two states represent an alliance of moderate Sunni Islam.

At the same time he appeared keen to improve relations with Iran. Morsi visited Tehran in August for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement yet managed to embarrass his Iranian hosts by condemning Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. 

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned the visit in February, arriving in Cairo for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It was the first time an Iranian president had visited Egypt since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Despite signs of a thaw between Cairo and Tehran, few analysts expect relations to normalise in the face of opposition from Washington and the Gulf states.

“It was an attempt by Morsi to improve relations and open the door to Iranian tourists. US and Salafi pressure forced him to stop,” says Shukr.

Visiting Al-Azhar Mosque Ahmadinejad was publicly criticised by his hosts during a news conference. They accused Shia Iran of discriminating against Sunnis and of seeking to spread Shia thinking in Arab countries.

Morsi’s attempt to co-opt Iran and Saudi Arabia into an alliance to resolve the Syrian conflict was doomed to failure. The Arab quartet initiative which gathered Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, collapsed after the Saudis walked out after the first meeting after failing to find any common ground with Tehran.

There was a sense of déjà vu during Morsi’s August trip to China. As in Mubarak’s time the president arrived with a bevy of businessmen and a good proportion of the cabinet. The only difference was that the 80-man trade delegation was packed with Muslim Brotherhood, rather than NDP, tycoons.

The trip resulted in seven industrial and technological cooperation agreements being signed.

In September Morsi travelled to Ankara at the head of a delegation of 72 businessmen who held bilateral meetings with their Turkish counterparts to explore joint ventures. Morsi’s trip to Brazil earlier this year showed the same focus: he was once again accompanied by businessmen keen to elicit Brazilian direct investment.

Although relations with Israel are less cosy than under Mubarak there has been no major post-revolution shift. Calls may have been made for annulling the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty but according to Morsi there is no need to even revisit the 1979 accords.

Morsi’s only substantial foreign policy success came with the Israeli attack on Gaza in November 2012 when Cairo managed to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. The agreement was viewed as Cairo’s first serious pro-Palestinian position in decades.

Egypt’s long neglect of Africa came back to haunt Morsi when Ethiopia began to divert the Blue Nile last month in preparation for the building of the Renaissance Dam. While the results of Cairo’s failure to engage with Africa for decades can hardly be blamed on Morsi, he has not, says Shukr, done much to correct the mistakes.

We have the resources to help African states in their quest for development, especially the Nile Basin states, but we haven’t offered anything till now, argues Shukr. “A visit by the president or the foreign minister is not a replacement for an active role in Africa. We can restore that only by offering real help.”

Zahran describes Morsi’s Western overtures — trips to the US for the UN General Assembly last year, meetings with EU officials in Brussels and visits to Italy and Germany — as exercises in protocol visits that have failed to generate any tangible support for Egypt.

Morsi’s attempts to build bridges with other states have done nothing to diminish Cairo’s reliance on the US. In March US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that America would provide $250 million emergency assistance for Egypt, $60 million of which is to create a fund to support small businesses. The US also still provides Egypt with military aid of $1.3 billion annually.

The money was granted on condition that Morsi seek agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on economic reforms. Talks with the IMF have lasted for over a year without a breakthrough. The IMF wants Egypt to raise taxes and cut energy subsidies in return for a $4.8 billion loan package.

Foreign policy, says Zahran, has been neither consistent nor successful in the last year. “Success could have been reflected in resolving domestic problems. Had he been able to establish genuine rapprochement with some foreign power they could have helped him in resolving domestic problems like fuel shortages.”

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