President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (L) during his visit to Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump (R) on April 3, 2017 - File photo
CAIRO - 20 January 2018: Recently, we have seen some signs of Egyptian foreign policy successes, especially during the past four years, as Egypt’s role in the region has become more powerful.
Since January 2011, internal restrictions were imposed on Egypt, due to economic decline and crises which continued until 2013. However, Egypt managed to rebuild its military, and is now on the path to economic development.
Though Egypt has not declared it a specific political aim to lead in the region, like Turkey and Iran, Egypt’s foreign policy principles have smoothed the path for dealing with many regional issues. This indicates how the Egyptian role changed from focusing on internal issues to actively and strongly influencing regional issues.
Egypt and development
Egyptian decision-makers have adopted a twofold vision: strengthening the economy, and increasing military capacity.
To reform the economy, Egypt had to adopt economic programs that would reverse losses previously incurred and undertake national megaprojects that primarily benefit Egyptian national security, like constructing road and power networks, as well as other Upper Egyptian development projects.
Military capacity building
As for military capacity building, Egypt sought to acquire both military and economic capacities, which should empower it to confront any potential threats. It opened new horizons in its relations with Russia, China, France and Germany, and did not limits its relations with the U.S.
Weapons that Egypt has procured from Russia included an R32 Molniya missile corvette, K-52 Alligators, air defense missile systems (Buk and Tor), an Antey-2500 anti-ballistic missile system, and a T-90 tank.
Egypt’s deal with France included procuring Dassault Rafales, Gowind corvettes and a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. Egypt also joined the race of establishing naval bases in the Red Sea, when it formed the Southern Fleet that will be deployed in the Red Sea and which also reflects Egypt’s intention to build its naval capacities. Egypt now owns one of the largest fleets in the region, and it has further strengthened it with the two Mistral-class ships from France and Ka-52Ks from Russia.
Why did Egypt procure weapons from different sources?
On the one hand, these deals reflect Egypt’s endeavor to limit its dependency on the U.S. as an exporter of weapons, but on the other hand and perhaps more importantly, it sends a message asserting Egypt’s power in the Red Sea. This is especially important with all the challenges and threats facing the region, and the unstable power balance between the different countries in it.
This coincided with the Iranian Chief of Staff’s declaration that it will strengthen its maritime power by planning to establish two naval bases in Yemen and Syria. An Iranian navy base in Yemen, which overlooks the Mandeb Strait would make it more powerful in the Red Sea. It would also help it support its allies through providing logistical support or shipments of arms, and make it easier for Iran to provoke Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, Iran will undertake developing its fleet. This fleet is weak, but it is attempting to further strengthen it by developing ballistic missiles systems, and appropriating some boats and ships for military purposes, as they carry out swift operations in Gulf waters led by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Since Iran’s nuclear powers have become limited, it will seek to strengthen its navy and establish maritime bases in different areas, to promote its presence in the Red Sea, Africa and East Asia. There are Saudi, Emirati, Djiboutian and Eritrean bases, as regional powers competewith Iran for influence.
Egypt Asserts its Power
It has become necessary for Egypt to asserts its power in the Red Sea, through strengthening its South Fleet with advanced defense and attack capacities that are up to date with the rapid developments in the region. One reason behind the establishment of the South Fleet was developing the Safaga Port, as it carries great potential for the development of Upper Egypt and the Red Sea. Other reasons are related to strengthening Egypt’s regional role further.
This Egyptian policy was adopted while the region was plagued by conflicts and interventions by foreign powers. Yet, some have accused Egypt of diminishing its role, and that it is alienating itself from the region. However, when closely examining the Egyptian role since 2014 to date, it is clear that Egypt was not alienating itself and focusing on internal affairs, but was paving the way to play its role again on both regional and international levels.
This means that throughout this period, Egypt played an active and independent role, the role of internal development. It took decisions on the international level to serve Egypt on the local level. This is what we called implementing development diplomacy, with the goal of strengthening commercial and diplomatic ties with all world countries.
Signs of the Egyptian Role’s Influence and Effectiveness
Egypt deeply influenced two main issues in the region, which motivated other regional players to follow in its footsteps, despite their initial objections. The first issue is the Arab stance against Qatar, the second is Palestinian reconciliation.
Since 2013, Qatar has been interfering in Egypt’s affairs and the affairs of other countries in the region through its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2016, Arab Gulf countries took the same Egyptian stand, and demanded that Qatar renounce its regional policy. The Arab Quartet’s terms for relations to resume normally with Qatar agree with the initial Egyptian vision.
As for the Palestinian reconciliation, Egypt could push for it again, as regional and international powers have supported and praised this move. This shows Egypt’s ability to restrict Qatar and Turkish moves in Gaza and Palestine in general, as Egypt remains the approved mediator by both Palestine and Israel.
Finally, like the roles Egypt played in the 1960s (supporter of national liberation movements and peacemaker in the world), we now see it undertaking more than one role. It is a mediator in many regional conflicts. It also plays a counter-terrorism role, as it heads the Terrorism Committee in the Security Council. Moreover, it plays a role in fighting terrorism in Libya, Sahel countries and the Sahara, with the goal of promoting security and peace in Africa. It also announced an initiative to establish an African Center for Building and Development to work in African areas plagued by conflict.
Therefore, we conclude that having an effective regional role requires building one’s own power. The Egyptian leadership has so far worked on building its power to be able to confront any future challenges related to the power balance in the region.
Hoda Raouf is a political science researcher.
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