Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mehleb’s African mission

With Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s African tour, Egypt is once again setting its eyes on the continent, writes Gamal Nkrumah

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s current African tour is intended to improve bilateral relations with key African countries. His choice of countries to visit, Chad and Tanzania, might appear perplexing at first reckoning. But on closer inspection the whistle-stop safari makes perfect sense.

His one-day stopover in Chad is critical. Chad straddles crucial Saharan crossroads, and this sprawling, albeit sparsely-populated, country, which borders Libya and Sudan, is awash with weapons smuggled into it in the aftermath of the fall of Libya’s late leader Muammar Gaddafi.

An impoverished backwater only a decade ago, Chad is now an important oil exporter.

Tanzania, a Nile Basin East African nation, has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. As part of a flurry of diplomatic activity designed to put Egypt back on the African political map, Mehleb is scheduled to inspect Egyptian development projects in Tanzania. 

Inherited grudges may complicate Egypt’s relations with certain African nations, but both Chad and Tanzania enjoy warm bilateral relations with Cairo. Strategically, Chad is vitally important to Egypt because smugglers of arms, ammunition and militant Islamist terrorists from countries further afield use the country as a springboard from which to enter Egypt.

Setting the benchmark in African economic cooperation and integration is Mehleb’s goal. But security cooperation, especially with Chad, tops the agenda.

Under the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt played a pivotal role in African affairs. However, relations with African countries became more difficult during the rule of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, who refused to attend African Union (AU) summits after an assassination attempt in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

In more ways than one, Mehleb’s tour is something of a peregrination, and African affairs are due for a revival. Cairo’s relationship with key African nations deteriorated in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution and particularly after the decision of the African Peace and Security Council to ostracise Egypt following the 30 June Revolution. Mehleb is now making up for lost time.

His African tour follows Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi’s visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Nigeria earlier this year. Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Samad Loza also visited Ghana and Gabon in February.

The idea is to identify areas of economic opportunity. However, “Mehleb’s Africa tour has an important political aspect,” Mahmoud Saad, Egyptian ambassador to Chad, told reporters in the capital Ndjamena. “Egypt is pursuing an effective role in the central African region,” he added. 

The prime minister’s forthcoming visit to South Africa to participate in the second summit of the economic groupings of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community highlights Egypt’s determination to redefine its Africa policy and amend its absence from the African arena.

Cairo does not intend to restrict its relations to the Nile Basin nations, but is also keen to cement ties with countries further afield. Particular attention will now be given to the difficulties facing Egyptian investors in some African countries.

In the final analysis, Mehleb’s African tour is meant to gauge whether Egyptian overtures will yield results. In the Nasser era, Egypt was touted as the bedrock of the African liberation struggle and Egyptian firms such as the Nasr Company had an office or several offices in almost every country on the continent.

In this light, the prime minister’s current tour could be regarded as an attempt to redeem Egypt’s reputation in the continent.

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