Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Sisi’s African signals

Egypt’s role as an integral part of Africa was rekindled last week when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi addressed African Union leaders as part of a continental tour, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi made his first trip abroad last week to the African countries of Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan. There was a deliberate purpose to each visit and as a whole the visits summed up Al-Sisi’s determination to strengthen relations with the African continent as a whole.

Algeria was the first country that Al-Sisi has visited as elected head of state, perhaps because Al-Sisi, serious about combatting militant Islamist terrorism, knows that Algeria has long experience in this field. Not only has Algeria contained the militant Islamist threat to its secularist institutions, but it has also witnessed the full grim panoply of Islamist extremism.

Both Algeria and Egypt have fought off formidable Islamist enemies, and the two countries could help to contain the current political mayhem in Libya. Algeria is also a major supplier of natural gas to Egypt, making the economic interests between Egypt and Algeria inextricably intertwined with the political ones. Egypt also ranks first among countries investing in Algeria in sectors other than energy.

The Egyptian military, like its Algerian counterpart, is tightly disciplined. The Egyptian and Algerian military institutions have not only survived the vicissitudes of recent years, but they have also been strengthened over the decades and now help to determine the political patterns and dynamics in the two countries as well as the leading ideological orientations.

The proliferation of arms in the Saharan and Sahelian belts that followed the demise of the Gaddafi regime in Libya also concerns both Egypt and Algeria. A Joint Algerian-Egyptian Higher Committee has been established to cement bilateral relations between the two countries in security and political matters.

The historical ties that bind Egypt and Algeria are important, and Al-Sisi may also have been looking to Algerian support in Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over the latter country’s proposed Grand Renaissance Dam on the River Nile, even as the Ethiopian leadership has acknowledged Egypt’s concerns over possible water shortages and stressed that Ethiopia has no interest in sabotaging Egypt’s water security.

Viewed more nostalgically, Egypt under late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser was also a staunch, perhaps the staunchest, supporter of the Algerian liberation struggle against France under the leadership of Ahmed Ben Bella.

Al-Sisi has acknowledged Algeria’s significant role during the 1973 War when Algeria dispatched a squadron of MiG-21s and Su-7s planes to Egypt. The rekindling of the traditionally fraternal relations between the two countries is of particular importance to both at this historical juncture.

From Algeria, Al-Sisi flew to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, to attend the 23rd African Union (AU) Summit. The visit was symbolically very important, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was in exuberant mood in her address to the 25th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council in Addis Ababa before her departure for Equatorial Guinea. “We warmly welcome the delegation of Egypt, our dear brothers and sisters, back home,” she declared.

Al-Sisi received a warm reception from his African counterparts in Malabo, and he met with and accepted an invitation to visit Addis Ababa from Ethiopian prime minister Haile-Mariam Desalegn. Egypt and Ethiopia also pledged to launch a joint committee to enhance bilateral relations, Al-Sisi making it clear that he was determined to mend fences with Ethiopia in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.

This was the cohesive spirit that made Egypt so valued a partner in Africa at the time of Nasser, and in his address in Malabo Al-Sisi paid tribute to the founding fathers of the Pan-African body, Nasser and Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah, also praising the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Sudan was Al-Sisi’s last stopover on his African tour before returning to Cairo. In the past, Egyptian leaders such as Anwar al-Sadat, Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi paid only lip service to African solidarity. Al-Sisi, by contrast, pledged a return to earlier days when cooperation with Africa on several fronts was seen as essential to Egypt’s foreign policy.

Under Mubarak, when Egypt virtually stopped attending African summits on a presidential level, the country’s absence from AU meetings at the highest level was resented throughout the continent, which expected Egypt to play its traditionally important role in African affairs.

Egypt was not directly involved in the Sudan Peace Process, for example, hosted in Kenya under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Had it been so, it could have helped to broker a more satisfactory outcome in Sudan than the division of the country.

Under the regime of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, bilateral relations between Egypt and Sudan deteriorated, and there is still little love lost between the government of Al-Sisi and the regime of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. The ruling Sudanese National Congress Party has long favoured Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and ousted former president Mohammed Morsi, for example.

Al-Sisi is thus working to reshape relations with Sudan, as he is in rebuilding ties with other African countries. He has a brisk, businesslike style in promoting peace and security on the African continent, and he has many reasons to think that this is bringing the results that Egypt and its allies wish for.

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