Egyptian foreign policy stages comeback after Gaza summit

Analysts: Summit hints at the confidence comeback of the Egyptian authorities

Shounaz Meky
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A donor conference in Cairo on Sunday aimed at rebuilding Gaza could be seen as a comeback for Egypt’s role in regional affairs, and hints at the confidence of the country’s authorities, analysts say.

Dozens of envoys convened to the Egyptian capital on Sunday to attend a one-day international donor conference chaired by Egypt and Norway to raise funds for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip which has suffered massive destruction due to Israeli strikes on the enclave over the summer.

Egypt, which brokered a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians on Aug. 26, is now returning to its role in regional affairs, and the Palestinian cause, analysts say.

During Sunday’s summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Israel to reach a lasting peace deal with the Palestinians - a condition that makes several countries wary of providing aid to Gaza in the absence of a peace treaty between the two sides.

“I call on the Israeli people and the government: now is the time to end the conflict... so that prosperity prevails, so that we all can have peace and security,” Sisi said in his opening remarks, Agence France-Presse reported.

Sisi also stressed that there is no alternative for comprehensive peace talks.

Egypt makes a return

Egypt has over the years been associated with overtures to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

During his speech, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed Egypt’s hosting of the conference and its efforts to achieve the recent ceasefire. He also stressed on the importance of Egypt’s role in progressing in peace talks.

Egypt is an important player in the conflict, due to the historical and geographical ties the nation has had with it over years, according to Saeed Sadek, an Egyptian political sociologist.

“Geographically speaking, Gaza is located between Egypt and Israel, so no one can intervene for a ceasefire or supply aid without going back to Egypt,” Sadek told Al Arabiya News.

Ibrahim Nahas, a Riyadh-based political science professor at King Saud University, told Al Arabiya News that the part Egypt played in brokering the latest ceasefire was the beginning of a “major and effective role” it can play in the future.

“The Palestinian president tried to convey a direct international message to listeners that Egypt has a major and effective role in solving the Palestinian issue, by virtue of being its neighbor, and its long history in supporting the Palestinian cause. It is a direct confirmation of the role of President Sisi in this stage,” said Nahas.

“During the aggression on Palestine, the Egyptian foreign policy has proven that Egypt is able to reach a very important agreement,” he added.

Legitimacy to Sisi

Some 30 ministers attended the donor conference in Egypt - an act that in itself lends legitimacy to Sisi’s government and signals Egypt’s path towards stability, analysts say.

According to Nahas, the conference signifies “a return for Egyptian foreign policy” in regional affairs.

“The return of Egypt to play its role in the Palestinian and Arab affairs is very important,” he said.

“It is also a return for Egyptian foreign policy, showing the whole world that Egypt is stable, and moving in the right direction to build the Egyptian state, building a people's democracy, with the support of major countries in the region,” said Nahas, referring to the conference being hosted on Egyptian soil.

The attendance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also an indication that Egyptian-American relations “are back to normal” and with them, Kerry is “asserting Egypt’s role” towards Gaza, Sadek added.

“This is a big political demonstration in support of Egypt’s role, its new government and regime,” said Sadek.

Gaza’s economy

While its hosting of the conference has been dubbed by commentators as a significant step, Egypt’s role towards Gaza does not end there.

Egypt’s role also involves its reconciliation efforts between Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. It is also expected to shore up the role of the Palestinian Authority in the civil administration of Hamas-controlled Gaza, and ease its blockade on the Gaza strip.

“The aid has to go through Rafah border and this shows the importance of the Egyptian role,” Sadek said.

A political settlement needs to be pushed for by Egypt, Washington, the European Union and Gulf allies to end this conflict, Sadek added. “It is pointless to have aid going to Gaza without a political settlement along with economic aid. Otherwise it will be a vicious circle of violence and destruction.”

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