Egypt and the Gulf, a time-tested relationship

There have been several periods in the past when Egypt, in alliance with Gulf states, has played a critical role in stabilizing the political situation in the Arab world, and warding off threats to the sovereignty of regional countries.

This all changed with the Camp David accords, which led Egypt to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. There was a subsequent lack of political pragmatism in the region among certain leaders. Largely ineffectual initiatives ensued such as the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front, driven by opportunists seeking to make names for themselves.

There is no doubt that past alliances between Egypt and the Gulf states have helped to balance out competing forces in the region, in particular after the downfall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Egypt has also certainly had a major influence on political and cultural movements in the Arab world, going back to 1954.

There is currently a power vacuum in the region, post the Arab revolutions. Iran is expanding its sphere of influence and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been weakened by Qatar choosing to operate outside security agreements.

The GCC and Egypt have to institutionalize a system of organized bilateral and collective action based on trust and transparency

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

An added problem is that the United States has disengaged from the Middle East because of shifting priorities. America is heading east because of new political and economic interests and challenges in South East Asia and China.

America has a notorious reputation for taking decisions that would benefit it, regardless of principles involved. Its current moves have also been driven by a reduced dependence on Middle East oil because of the discovery of its own shale gas deposits, and oil fields in South America. This has always been the American way.

Developing strategies

For the naysayers, there is clear proof of American political disengagement and disenchantment in this region. Look no further than its involvement in Iraq, which has a distorted political system because of the U.S. administration’s confusion; and American hesitance and conflicting statements on the Syrian crisis.

This situation requires countries in the region to develop their own strategies to shore up their defenses. Egypt can play a key geopolitical role here. The Suez Canal remains vital because two-thirds of the Gulf’s oil passes through its pipelines. There are three million Egyptians working in GCC countries representing an important foreign currency earner for its economy.

On the diplomatic front, any tensions that arose because of the Muslim Brotherhood seeking closer ties with Iran have now receded. It was also the Gulf states that stepped in with economic aid shortly after the June 30 revolution, demonstrating that they had not forgotten their long history with that country.

This lifeline has not gone unrecognized, with many sections of Egyptian society publicly expressing their gratitude. In a speech, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah affirmed that the Kingdom wished to have close ties with Egypt. The king’s reassurances have helped to bring about a greater sense of unity among leading Arab states.

New era

The kingdom has also certainly been proven correct in supporting Egypt after the June uprisings. An exciting and hopeful new era beckons. But there needs to be concerted effort from both sides to make this work in practice, to ensure long-term economic benefits and a guarantee of a balance of power in the region.

This requires a high level of cooperation and coordination between the various governments, business sectors, civil society organizations, media and intellectuals.

The GCC and Egypt have to institutionalize a system of organized bilateral and collective action based on trust and transparency. These are the demands of modern alliances. If they can achieve this, the rewards are prosperity and political stability for their people, which is no mean feat in this troubled region.

This article was first published in Arab News on March 19, 2014.

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Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

 

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