Authors: Dr. Mohamed A. Fouad & Ahmed Elbasuoney
Since 2011, political commentators have dismissed Egypt as irrelevant in the Middle Eastern political scene. The Arab world’s most populous nation has seen its role shrink as it faced mounting pressures on all borders.
In the past 6 months, it seems that a change of fortunes is in full progress as Egypt has consistently been gaining grounds at different diplomatic fronts. From Libya, Sudan, Gaza, Iraq, Turkey, to Qatar, and the United States, the country seems to be scoring consecutive points.
For years, Egypt’s foreign policy has been following the same footsteps of the UAE-Saudi alliance. With the 2017 wave of normalization between four Arab nations and Israel, many commentators have noted that Egypt will be relevant no more to the peace process, as Egypt will be crowded out with its strongest leverage to the West: the Camp David accord with Israel.
After the successful Egypt-brokered ceasefire in Gaza last week, all eyes were again on Egypt. During these regrettable events, Egypt has emerged as a true winner. The claim that the 42-year-old peace treaty is Egypt’s strongest asset no longer held true. First, it was Egypt’s strong presence in the conflict and its high-level diplomatic and intelligence coordination that led to ease of tension. Secondly, Egypt’s role in putting an end to the conflict, has prompted US President to take the first move towards Egypt’s President Sisi, breaking the ice with a phone call for the first time since Biden’s inauguration. Biden’s call to his Egyptian counterpart came not once, but twice in the same week. Many commentators never saw this move coming!
Faced by the threat of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt has also revived historical alliances with neighbouring Sudan which is also destined to be severely affected by the filling of the Dam. Recently, Egypt and Sudan held joint military drills under the name of “Guardians of the Nile” aimed at “dealing with threats that both countries are expected to face”. In Iraq, Egypt is seeking to maximize its developmental presence in the country as part of the oil-for-reconstruction bid.
In Libya, Egypt has taken a different position than its long-term ally, the UAE. In February 2021, Egypt received Libya’s interim Prime Minister Dbeibah, and in April of the same year, the Egyptian Prime Minister, headed a delegation of 11 ministers, for a the first visit since the eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011.
The exchange of diplomatic visits has sparked plans to reopen the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli, resuming direct flight between both countries, the return of Egyptian labour to Libya, and the signature of 11 MoUs related to cooperation in number of fields including infrastructure, IT, energy, and transportation.
Sisi’s Egypt has also recently scored some political points with its traditional political rivals: Qatar and Turkey. Both countries displayed cold relations with Egypt since the ouster of former president Morsi in 2013, and have hosted dissident Muslim Brotherhood leaders, effectively serving as a launchpad for political smear campaigns targeting the incumbent Egyptian regime. Both countries are now approaching Egypt to open a new chapter after years-long feud.
Three weeks earlier, a Turkish delegation met with Egypt’s Foreign Affairs officials. On the 26th of May, a Qatari delegation has arrived at Cairo to meet with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. A day later, Secretary Blinken has visited Cairo as part of a Middle East tour to meet with the Egyptian President.
These unfolding events certainly suggest that Egypt has resumed its leading regional role. A change of fortunes which was apparently made possible as the country started distancing its positions from its closest allies.