Alwaght- Last week, the head of the Egyptian intelligence agency Abbas Kamel secretly visited Syria and talked with senior Syrian officials. The visit was significant as it signaled bigger Cairo support for Damascus and it happens as the Syrian war against foreign-backed terrorism is reaching its final stages and simultaneously the Arab world is undergoing changes and embracing a new regional order and balance amid regional rivalry and even political transformation in some Arab countries.
Political and security stability; el-Sisi’s top goal
The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who assumed the power in 2014, beside efforts to improve the largely failing post-uprising home economy using austerity measures and borrowing from the international creditors focused on political and security stability as an essential aim. Security and stability are the two keywords of President el-Sisi in many of his speeches. This shows that the Egyptian leader is much obsessed with security and political stability of the country.
Since the 2011 uprising that toppled the long-serving Hosni Mubarak, terrorism expanded in Egypt and mainly in the Sinai Peninsula, causing huge problems for the Egyptian security. The government responded to them with several military campaigns, so far improving the security conditions in the affected regions.
In addition to terrorism, the Egyptian government has problems with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and the support he offers to the Muslim Brotherhood, labeled terrorist by the Egyptian government. An Islamist movement with reformatory agenda, the Muslim Brotherhood spreads across the Arab world and has the backing of Turkey and Qatar.
Egypt, with lowest level relations with Turkey since the dismissal of Turkish-favored, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamad Morsi in 2013, now has picked confrontation with Turkey in the war-ravaged Libya, a neighbor whose unstable security definitely influences the Egyptian national security. The confrontation between the two sides now is at the level of providing military support to the warring sides. Egypt now more than any other time feels danger from Turkey, an actor that increasingly plays close to the Egyptian gates.
Cairo seeks further closeness with some Arab countries like Syria to set up alliances with them as part of a broader strategy to more seriously counter Turkey for the good of the Egyptian national interests. This policy was adopted since the beginning by el-Sisi who took an approach to the Syrian crisis and government different from that of Morsi, though this approach resulted in some cleavage in the el-Sisi policy with his key regional ally Saudi Arabia.
Reviving Arabism; el-Sisi’s key foreign policy point
Even though Egypt is an ethnically united country, its geopolitical position and Arabic language over its history put it in a difficult way of defining its dominant identity. Over various periods, the ruling governments unveiled new definitions of their country’s identities. For example, the Egyptian identity under Gamal Abdel Nasser was way different from that under Hosni Mubarak.
Past experiences prove that whenever Cairo adopted Arab nationalist policies and took decisions within the circle of these policies, it gave itself a bigger chance of taking the initiatives and won more support and leadership among the other Arab governments and the public.
After the 2011 uprising, the government institution in Egypt was undermined and as a result of severe economic troubles, the country went in relative isolation, forcing Cairo to perforce focus only on dealing with economic and security challenges. This situation has changed now as el-Sisi administration managed to relatively improve the situation and achieve its set goals. Now, el-Sisi is mutely defining and unveiling a new economic-security strategy in his foreign policy. In the foreign policy, Egypt moves to Arab cooperation and in the economy it moves to African partnership. Also, Egypt sought Germany and Russia investments as it presided over the African Union. Arranging Africa-Germany economic summit and also the Africa-Russia summit is part of this strategy.
The root cause of Egypt’s economic shift towards Africa is the awareness of the Saudi and Emirati volatility of support to Cairo under regional developments. At the same time, the Egyptian government has tried to take the initiative in the future and decrease the effectiveness of the pressure tools adopted by the Persian Gulf Arab states used against Egypt under various conditions.
Under the new approach, the Egyptian leader presses toward Arabism with a wider open hand. Now it is attempting to form an Arab alliance against Turkey. Syria, as a Frontline in the combat against the Turkish regional policy, has been the first Egyptian choice for this alliance.
The alliance seems to have a third angle which is Algeria. This can be understood from recent remarks by the Algerian President Abdel Majid Tabun. During the last week's visit of the Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit to Algeria, the Algerian president told him that he wanted the next Arab League summit to be different. He warned that if the Syrian seat at the summit remains empty, Algeria as the current president of the Arab bloc and the host would not hold the summit.
According to the Rai Al-Yaum newspaper, the delay of the Arab League leaders-level summit was not really because of Coronavirus outbreak but to give chance to efforts seeking the return of Syria to the Arab bloc and thus remove this black mark from the common Arab record.
Diversification of military partners by signing arms deals with Russia beside the US and defining an economic outlook based on cooperation with Africa are part of the new Egyptian strategy. This is mainly aimed at talking pressure instruments off Riyadh's hands and taking the initiative in the Arab world. This policy is ushered in by efforts to form an Arab coalition to take on Turkey as a serious threat to the Egyptian political and security interests.