ANALYSIS

Egypt’s foreign policy: Why is Sisi seeking ties with Portugal, Slovenia?

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (R) and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi listen to the national anthems at the Belem monastery on the beginning of the state visit in Lisbon, on November 21, 2016. (AFP)

For the first time in 20 years, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an official visit to Portugal. Two weeks later, Sisi received the president of Slovenia in Cairo. The two visits were given extensive media coverage in Egypt and were greeted by many as the first steps toward a new foreign policy the current regime is planning to adopt. The choice of countries, however, aroused considerable curiosity and made many wonder if Egypt is drifting away from the leaders of the European Union and forging new alliances that in the long term could be quite beneficial or whether this new approach is a reaction to the uncertainty that shrouds Egypt’s relations with superpowers.

Political analyst Moataz Abdel Fattah believes that interest in Portugal could be related to the similarities between them, particularly between the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the June 30 protests that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. “It was the army that toppled Salazar’s dictatorship and General Spinola became president later on,” he wrote. “The Portuguese people took to the streets to support the ‘coup’ and this turned it into a ‘revolution.”’ For Abdel Fattah, Portugal has gone through “a political and economic cycle” that is very similar to what Egypt is going through at the moment and that explains why the two countries are getting closer. “Through dealing with very similar conditions to ours, Portugal eventually managed to reach the relative stability it is currently enjoying.”

Professor of political science Asharf Singer noted that Nasser’s Egypt had very strong ties with Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia was part, under Josip Tito so current relations are some sort of extension of this historic alliance. “As part of the Yugoslav union, Slovenia was a strategic industrial base and this continued after it gained independence then joined the EU in 2007,” he said. “In addition to economic cooperation, Slovenia is one of the countries that identify with the transitional conditions through which Egypt is going at the moment and Egypt needs this kind of support in the European Union.” Singer also added that Donald Trump’s wife is of Slovenian origins. “Establishing ties between Egypt and Slovenia will, therefore, be beneficial in US-Egyptian relations,” he said. He did not, however, explain how exactly the two issues are linked.

Professor of political science Gehad Ouda argued that Sisi’s visit to Portugal and the Slovenian president’s visit to Cairo reveal a new strategy he is following as far as foreign policy is concerned. “Sisi is replacing countries in the European Union that still have reservations on their relationship with Egypt such as France and Germany,” he said, adding that while France sells weapons to Egypt, there is no real partnership between the two countries. “Egypt has problems related to tourism and investment with several European countries including France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.” Sisi, explained Ouda, is accessing Europe through “untraditional paths.”

The recent rapprochement with Portugal and Slovenia also revealed other significant changes in Egypt’s foreign policy that are not related to either country. For example, Sisi announced his support for the Syrian army on the Portuguese TV network RTP: “The priority is that we support the national armies to impose control over the territory, deal with the extremists, and impose the necessary stability in Libya, Syria and Iraq,” he said.  According to Tyler Durden, this shift is not only significant in the way it reveals a tendency towards supporting the Russian position on Syria, but also because of the way it alters the entire global perspective on the Syrian conflict: “In the West, the war in Syria has been widely believed to be a conflict between Sunni and Shia forces... Now the largest Arab Sunni state has taken the side of Syria’s government to become a coalition ally with Russia. The sectarian interpretation of the conflict is not valid anymore,” he wrote, adding that such transformation is bound to impact the balance of power in the region: “a regional anti-terrorism entity or even a military block independent from the US might emerge at some point in future.”

Journalist Mohamed Abul Fadl said that the new shift in Egypt’s foreign policy is directly linked to three major lessons that Egyptian diplomacy has learned lately. “First, you cannot bet on one horse since there isn’t one single party that is capable alone of resolving a conflict or ending a crisis. Second, there is no place for political feuds and wars no longer erupt to settle old scores. Third, it is important not to put all the eggs in one basket through being fully allied to one country or group of countries because part of power is always having alternatives,” he wrote.  Journalist Moustafa al-Saeid argues, on the other hand, against Fadl’s theory, which according to him does not work for a long time. For Saeid, Egypt has been shifting between too many parties, which made its foreign policy seem too confused. “No matter how good you are at maneuvering, you can never satisfy all parties or send mixed signals because in real crises, avoiding polarization is extremely difficult,” he wrote. Saeid said that Egypt is not currently in a position to take risks in its foreign policy because it already has too much on its plate domestically. “At this moment, Egypt could simply detach itself regionally and internationally and only get involved when there is a direct threat to its security,” he explained. “Otherwise, Egypt should better focus on education, healthcare, and unemployment.”

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Last Update: Sunday, 11 December 2016 KSA 11:01 - GMT 08:01
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Egypt’s foreign policy: Why is Sisi seeking ties with Portugal, Slovenia?
The recent uptick in relations with Portugal and Slovenia were given extensive media coverage in Egypt
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