The current issue of contention with the Nile River’s water raises a very important matter regarding Egyptian-African relations: Where is Egypt in relation to Africa? And where are African countries in relation to us?
In the past, during social and geography lessons, we were taught about the circles Egypt is linked to - the Arab, African and Muslim circles as well as non-aligned movement states. In the past, we also read and enthusiastically followed up on Egypt’s stance in support of African liberation movements. We also knew names of African leaders and followed up on the cause of freeing Africa. All this was in the past as the African issue and relations with African countries are no longer our primary concern, it seems. It seems as though the phase of warm relations with Africa has passed. We can here recall the many African conferences held in recent years and check Egypt’s representation in them. We can check the retreat of Egypt from the meetings of the Organization of African Unity or of the African Union which replaced it, and would discover the gaping hole of Egypt’s absence. If we also compare the frequency of our foreign affairs officials’ visits to African countries with their visits to European countries and the U.S., we would also realize how we neglected the African file for many years.
This situation has created a state of vacuum. Africans’ growing feeling of negligence made them look for alternatives I feel. The vacuum has found someone to fill it - from Israel to China to European countries and the U.S. as well as other African countries which wanted to fill this vacuum Egypt left behind.
In Egypt, we eyed up European countries and forgot African onesAbdel Latif el-Menawy
One of the major problems we confronted during recent decades is a misheld perspective towards foreign relations. Is it in our interest to have good relations with our neighbors even if they are of a lesser economic status? Or is it better to forge ties with neighbors who are more developed than we are on the economic and technological levels? Instead of looking around us, it seems we decided to look to those superior countries. I believe that we didn’t reach equal relations with them and thus lost those around us for a long time because we failed to see them.
Eying up Europe
This happened, and is happening, to us in Egypt and other Arab countries as we eyed up European countries and forgot African ones. When it’s time for the next Arab-African summit, we should correct this common mistake. You don’t have to be friends with rich men to become rich, and just because you’re friendly with poor people or with people with low income, it does not mean you will become poor like them. Richness is the ability to balance your ability to meet the needs of others and those surrounding you with those who can sometimes accept better circumstances.
The African market remains one of the important and major markets for raw materials and food products. More coordination of relations between Arab countries - Egypt in particular - and African countries may yield us more results than we can imagine.
The orientation adopted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi since he took over power shows that there seems to have been a real realization of this truth and that a new policy that understands the importance of Egyptian-African ties is finding its way back to the forefront.
All I ask of the dear readers is to look forth on the map of Africa and the Arab world and imagine how this vast geographic area can become if it’s linked by united economic relations. Such relations would lead these countries to have a better presence in the world’s arena. In this case, all of these countries could be rich thanks to their mutual ties.
This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 31, 2014.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy