Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Egypt's Foreign Relations on Tightrope
By Nicola Nasser
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 2, 2013
The internal crisis in Egypt has indulged the country in its
most critical foreign relations test since these relations were shaped by
the U.S. sponsored Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Israel in
An indicator is the warnings against travel to Egypt from east
and west, which are exacerbating the rapidly shrinking tourism industry.
Stopping production in Egypt by industrial giants like General Motors,
Toyota Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. is a second indicator. Summons of
foreign envoys to Egypt by their governments, which invoked similar Egyptian
reciprocal summons, is a third indicator. A fourth was cancelling the U.S.
military’s participation in next month’s Operation Bright Star in Egypt and
delaying the delivery of four fighter jets to the country. Suspension of the
sale of military equipment used for “internal repression” by the EU was a
fifth. Threats to cut or suspend aid to Egypt by the U.S. and EU was another
more important indicator.
In the immediate proximity, and three days
after the ouster of the elected president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, the
Peace and Security Council of the fifty – four member African Union decided
“to suspend the participation of Egypt in AU activities until the
restoration of constitutional order.”
On August 20, South Africa, a
leading member of the AU as well as the BRICS five – member association,
issued a statement to remind the “interim government” in Cairo that its
“principled position is based on the Constitutive Act of the African Union,
where any unconstitutional change of government – whatever the premise – is
specifically rejected” immediately.
So far, the AU reaction is
ironically the only concrete international diplomatic measure taken in
defense of the western widely trumpeted rule of law and democracy. The
African “sphere” is traditionally only second to the Arab one as a
cornerstone of Egypt’s foreign policy.
However, Denmark announced
the suspension of aid to Egypt. The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on
Monday announced the suspension of all British joint programs with the
Egyptian intelligence services and the export of “some” items to Egypt.
Germany’s development minister, Dirk Niebel, said Monday that Egypt will get
“no further pledges this year” of aid from Berlin and added he has decided
“that we won’t negotiate this year” on any debt relief for the country. A
day earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that her country would halt
previously approved arms shipments to Egypt, but as part of a coordinated EU
Most likely the U.S. allies’ final reaction will wait
until the U.S. administration ends its open –ended stance, but while U.S.
allies follow in its footsteps, the U.S. rival world powers grudgingly dealt
with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the leaders of the
“Arab Spring” changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya as a fait accompli;
the removal of the Egyptian MB from power is a welcome development.
Ahead of their meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, French Foreign Minister
Laurent Fabius said that “no options would be off the table” at the meeting
of his counterparts of the EU 28-member countries. Presidents of the
European council and European commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel
Barroso, warned jointly on Sunday that further escalation could have
“unpredictable consequences.” The European Union threatened that it will
“urgently review” its aid to Egypt, but, like the U.S. threat, it’s just a
warning that has yet to materialize.
The EU and its member states
last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid
Russia, China on Sidelines
Meanwhile, Russia and
China are waiting on the sidelines to invest in what could evolve into a
historical turning point in Egypt’s foreign relations.
maintained what a writer in “Asia Times” described as a “stony silence,”
until August 19 when the foreign ministry in a statement urged “dialogue”
among “all” political players “without any foreign interference,” but the
Egyptian embassy in Moscow said that Cairo counts on Russia’s assistance in
“this trying time, as it used to in the past.”
In 2010 the volume of
trade and economic cooperation between the two countries amounted to $2.1
billion. The number of Russian tourists visiting Egypt in 2010 alone was
estimated to be 2,855,723, making it the number one country in providing
Egypt with tourists.
Similarly China remained relatively quiet. On
August 15, the foreign ministry in a statement said the country was
following “closely the situation in Egypt,” urged “maximum restraint” and
“dialogue” to “restore order and social stability.”
Jilie, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a State
Council affiliated think tank, said that the Egyptian military “had no
choice” but to “control the situation,” otherwise “the credibility of the
interim government and the military would be undermined.”
Sino-Egyptian trade rose to US$8.8 billion, a 30 percent increase from 2010,
according to Xinhua. Last
year it rose to US$9.5 billion.
U.S. Regional Strategy Unraveling
Short of designating the ouster and detention of Morsi a “coup” and
short of condemning the dispersal on August 14, by what critics described as
an “excessive use of force,” of two MB – led sit – ins in Cairo’s Raba’a al-
Adawiyah and al-Nahdha squares, as an Egyptian copy of the Chinese
“Tiananmen Square” in 1989, the un-decisive United States has put itself and
Egypt in their most testing foreign policy dilemma.
States is finding itself swaying between “cutting” its aid to Egypt and
“reprogramming” it and because it is torn between its foreign policy
rhetoric of democracy and the more realistic benefits of stability,
Washington stands now reluctant to proclaim the involvement of the Egyptian
military in the removal of Morsi a “coup.” U.S. allies are held hostage to
this U.S. ambivalent position.
The bipartisan Working Group on
Egypt, quoted by the Washington Post on August 15, demanded a shift in U.S.
policy towards Egypt; the group considered President Barak Obama’s “failure”
to cut aid a “strategic error.”
However there is a strategic U.S.
asset that successive administrations have considered an incomparable
“vital” interest outweighing this “strategic error.” Egypt expert at the
London School of Economics, John Chalcraft, had this explanation: The U.S.
military aid “is a strategic rent that comes to Egypt in return, above all,
for the ongoing Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel. So the significance of
it is political and geopolitical, more than it is economic.” U.S. State
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, on August 21, confirmed this justification
for her government’s ambivalent stance, though indirectly: "We have seen our
aid to Egypt as something that is vital for our own national security
purposes, for regional stability.”
No surprise then the United
National Security Council (UNSC), in its “emergency” meeting on August 15,
which was urged by Turkey and jointly requested by France, Britain and
Australia, had nothing to say more than urging the parties in Egypt to
“exercise maximum restraint.”
Egypt is the largest and strategically
the most important Arab country, where the U.S. regional strategy could make
Strategically, the internal crisis in Egypt has put the
U.S. strategy of courting “moderate” Islamist political movements on the
In his inauguration speech in January 2009, Obama signaled
his intention to seek a fresh understanding with Islam and Muslims. Within a
few months his “intention” had unfolded as a strategy that culminated in the
end in an “understanding” with the MB, the oldest, largest and perceived as
the most moderate among the Islamist movements.
On June 4, 2009 in
Cairo, Obama declared: “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning
between the United States and Muslims around the world.” A few days later in
Istanbul he confirmed: “"The United States is not and will never be at war
with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical …
America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot
be based just on the opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement."
His allies in Qatar and the Islamist leaders of the ruling Justice and
Development party in Turkey joined forces and played a detrimental role in
swaying the U.S. towards this conclusion.
The MB was born in Egypt.
Eighty five years later it has proved a survival. It developed into an
international organization in more than eighty countries in which the
Egyptian Muslim Brethren are still playing the leading role. With their
assumption of power in Egypt’s 2012 elections, their offshoot ruling now in
Turkey, their Palestinian offshoot Hamas ruling in the Gaza Strip, the
leading roles their brethren are playing in the governments of Tunisia,
Yemen and Morocco, the leading roles they are playing in the opposition in
other Arab countries, and with the sponsorship of the financial magnet of
Qatar, the MB has become a power per se to be reckoned with.
Following the Qatari and Turkish examples, the U.S. perceived in it a
potential ally and planned its regional strategy accordingly.
the removal of Morsi and the MB from power in Egypt, this U.S. strategy is
U.S. Allies Divided
The MB has received a
very strong blow in its Egyptian heartland together with a burgeoning MB –
U.S. regional “understanding.”
A regional U.S. sponsored Egyptian –
Turkish – Qatari axis that could stand rival to the Iran – Syria alliance is
at risk of becoming a past tense plan.
The U.S. regional allies
stand now divided between the pro – MB led by Qatar and Turkey and the anti
– MB led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The regional front against
Iran of the U.S. – sponsored “moderates,” who are united in their efforts to
enforce a ‘regime change” in Syria, is weakened as well.
is feeling relief, Iran joined its regional rivals in Qatar and Turkey as
well as Cuba, Venezuela, the U.S. and the EU in condemning “the massacre of
the population” according to a statement by its foreign ministry. The new
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday noted “how people’s
votes are forgotten and downtrodden.”
America's abrupt role reversal
from an anti-Islamist crusader to a champion of political Islam has
antagonized two of the U.S. closest Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE
who promptly emerged as the major political and financial backers of the
military – supported interim government in Egypt; on the second day Morsi
was removed, they contributed $12b to Cairo.
interference in “Egypt’s internal affairs,” Saudi King Abdullah, in a
statement read Friday on Saudi television, declared that what was happening
in Egypt was “an Arab affair.” His foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal,
during a recent visit to Paris pledged to compensate Egypt for any cut in
western aid, saying: “We will not achieve anything through threats.”
Obviously, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait, who contributed $12b to Cairo the
second day Morsi was removed, do not see eye to eye on Egypt with their
strategic allies in the U.S. and EU; their position will for sure weigh
heavily in their final stance.
Some commentators described as
“hysterical” the Turkish reaction, which led Egypt to accuse Turkey of
interfering in its internal affairs. On Tuesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan said Israel was involved in the “military coup” that removed Morsi
from power; the White House denied the accusation. Earlier he accused Saudi
Arabia and the UAE of being partners to the “Egyptian coup.” He had called
on the UN to condemn the “massacres” in Egypt and described the developments
in the country as a “conspiracy against the Muslim world targeting Turkey”
Turkey is a looser in Egypt’s latest developments.
Ankara is watching its leading regional role through an alliance with Egypt
cut short abruptly and replaced by the revival of the Saudi regional
leadership through the same alliance. Relations are expected to get worse
between the three regional heavy weights.
No Business as Usual
The U.S. is leading the western condemnation of the crackdown on the MB and
urging an “inclusive” political process that would make them an integral
part of any future restructuring of the ruling system.
This line of
U.S. thinking is creating an international environment that is fueling the
MB defiance, which would inevitably perpetuate the violence and the crisis,
the interim government in Cairo says.
This is exactly what leads the
U.S. – led west to a collision course with the incumbent interim government,
who accuse Morsi and his brethren are of leading a year – long effort of
exclusion of all the other political players. The MB exclusion policies are
said to be the major factor that led to the demise of their rule. The new
rulers insist on inclusion of the MB on their own terms.
the world’s condemnation of their “excessive use of force” as a contribution
to what some of their commentators say it is a “war of attrition” waged by
the MB against the Egyptian state, its interim government and defense
More than 100 army and police officers were among no less
than one thousand people killed since July 3rd. Michael W. Hanna, an expert
on Egypt from the New York-based Century Foundation, was quoted by AP on
Monday as saying: “Sure civil war is a possibility.”
Egypt’s post – Morsi rulers do not share the U.S. and European view of the
MB as “moderates” who could be “included.”
U.S. bilateral relations
with Egypt seem about to head to a turning point, but for sure at least
there is "no doubt” that Washington “can't return to business as usual” with
Cairo as Obama told CNN on August 23.
is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the
Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.