Egypt’s Foreign Policy and Its National Security
The observer of Egyptian foreign policy over the last few years, following the coup d’etat on July 3rd. 2013, can trace an apparent change compared to the reign of former President Hosni Mubarak, as well as President Mohamed Morsi’s one-year in office. We can refer here to several key features of this policy that may help in the assessment of current Egyptian foreign policy and the primary role it should play in achieving Egypt’s interests and protecting its national security.
The Egyptian diplomacy, represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the current Minister Sameh Shoukry, is witnessing remarkable activity compared to the Mubarak era, and of course compared to the period of Dr. Morsi in office – when the Egyptian Foreign Office abstained from providing support to the presidential institution in enhancing Egypt’s foreign relations and providing an appropriate international cover for the first democratically elected civilian president after the January Revolution.
After the coup d’état of July 3rd., and due to the cracking of the Egyptian regime’s internal legitimacy, as well as the fragility of its internal situation, the intensive activity of the Egyptian foreign ministry mainly focused on the re-positioning of Egypt in the international system in order to secure the largest foreign support for the ruling regime with a vision of strengthening and legitimizing it externally. Therefore, the activity of the foreign ministry has been employed for seeking a legitimate cover that could be provided by the international community to the regime.
Another key feature of Egypt’s diplomatic activity can be seen clearly in terms of both the files handled by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and those administered by the General Intelligence Service. That is the adoption of a policy that could conflate diplomacy activities – such as efforts to achieve rapprochement and enhance relations with foreign countries – with blackmailing practices at the same time.
Following are examples of earlier stances that show this feature:
– Egypt’s Relations with Saudi Arabia: In spite of the current rapprochement between the two countries, the regime attempted to establish relations with the Houthis in Yemen or releasing ‘quiet’ statements on Iran.
– Egypt’s Relations with Turkey: where the Egyptian side has recently released positive remarks on the possibility of restoration of bilateral relations. However, these positive signals came in coincidence with bringing charges against Ankara in the so-called “espionage for Turkey” lawsuit.
– Egypt’s relations with Italy: In order to reach an understanding and consensus on the issue of the murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, the Egyptian regime used to practice pressure on the Italian side through constant hints of the ‘illegal immigration’ file.
– Egypt’s relations with the United States: Even the United States was not an exception. Despite the state of convergence of relations between the two sides after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, yet the Egyptian regime went in quite an opposite direction by enhancing bilateral relations with Russia and signing an agreement which would allow the two countries to use each other’s airspace and airbases. Also, Egypt’s relations with the United States did not prevent the regime from developing close cooperation with North Korea which was only halted after the U.S. decision to freeze part of the aid provided to Egypt.
In fact, there are so many examples that show clearly the Egyptian regime’s policy of rapprochement that is associated with blackmail.
In spite of the growing Egyptian foreign relations with many international powers – such as the growing relations with Russia, the relations with Britain, which witnessed a positive development last year, as I noted in a previous article titled “Britain and Egypt: new or old policies?”, as well as relations with Germany and France, as well as the regime’s success in the removal of human rights and freedoms files from the course of diplomatic relations – however, these relations remained within the framework of the Egyptian regime’s performance of functional roles on behalf of these powers to ensure its survival and acquire legitimacy in the international arena. This was reflected on the Egyptian foreign policy orientation toward the simmering regional crises, which were addressed within the framework of the overlapping interests of the international powers.
Although the Egyptian diplomacy was able to create good relations at the international and regional levels through its functional roles, however its role in protecting Egypt’s national security remained limited and almost nonexistent. This can be directly assessed by evaluating the Egyptian foreign policy toward neighboring countries which represent Egypt’s critical area:
– Egypt’s relations with Sudan and Ethiopia are still experiencing constant tension because of the crisis of Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that touches on Egyptian water security and threatens national security at the core, as well as the regime’s involvement in issues related to internal crises within Sudan and Ethiopia.
– On Egypt’s western borders, the regime spoiled the Libyan file in favor of retired Maj. General Khalifa Haftar, which resulted in the government’s inability to control borders.
– The relationship with the Gaza Strip and Hamas has fluctuated over the past few years. Even when it started to take a positive course through Egypt’s sponsoring of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas – so that the Egyptian role remains strong and prominent – vague steps have recently been taken to undermine these efforts, apparently in favor of the requirements of the so-called “Deal of the Century”.
We can conclude that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was able to establish supportive foreign relations based on protecting the regime and enhancing its international legitimacy and stability; while in terms of promoting and protecting Egyptian national security, failure has been the main headline of the Egyptian foreign policy with regard to its borders and strategic depth. This was reflected on the decline of Egypt’s leading role in the region in favor of the development of the Saudi and UAE role, as well as the role of Iran, Turkey and Israel. It is worth mentioning here that the American ‘Pew Research Center’ conducted a survey in the spring of 2017, which showed that “Majorities (more than 60%) across five Middle Eastern and North African countries agree that Russia, Turkey and the United States are all playing more important roles in the region than they did 10 years ago.” However, Egypt was the only country whose influence declined during the last decade, as only 19% see that its influence increased, compared to 53%, 46%, and 41% for Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, respectively.
The clear conclusion is that the system of international relations established by the Egyptian regime cannot be viewed from the perspective of actual success as it is mainly linked to supporting the stability of the regime. However, when the moment comes to withdraw support from this regime as a result of regional changes or due to domestic and internal variables dictated by the state of tyranny, repression, and failure of the regime on all fronts, all these foreign relations will be completely exposed. In fact, there are currently no strong or stable relations based on strategic and national interests with any foreign party. The Egyptian foreign relations have been mainly based on securing the interests of the current regime, and achievement of benefits for regional and international powers; playing functional roles in their favor, rather than establishing strong and sustainable alliances and relationships. Moreover, the current regime is incapable of addressing the existing crises that directly threaten the country’s national security from the east, west and south.