Sisi’s policy towards Syria

Egyptian President-elect Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi dedicated most of his electoral campaign to addressing domestic issues

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Egyptian President-elect Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi dedicated most of his electoral campaign to addressing domestic issues and Egyptian citizens’ concerns. He did not say much about world affairs, Libya’s stability and defending the Gulf.
Some websites affiliated with the Syrian regime began to say that the new Egyptian president stands with Syria on the basis that he’s against extremist Islamist groups and that he stood up against the Muslim Brotherhood.

So, do we know what the president-elect thinks regarding regional issues? No, not yet. Personally, I only visited Sisi once. It was three years ago, when he was head of military intelligence and a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that ruled Egypt following Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power. I met him in his office shortly after the revolution. I did not get the sense that he is a hostile figure or that he has any aggressive thoughts. He seemed realistic, calm and worried about Egypt’s future as he feared that it would be hampered by chaos.

I think President Sisi will bolster support for closest allies such as Saudi Arabia and will support the Syrian revolution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

We don’t know yet where Sisi stands in foreign politics, but we expect Egypt to overcome its isolation and to begin, in the upcoming weeks, to deal with the several foreign issues after the long absence which began when Mohammad Mursi was ousted last year.

In order to understand Sisi’s policy towards the most difficult and thorny issue in the region, that is of Syria, we must first ask: what is his stance on Iran? For Egyptian reasons, we expect Sisi to be more hostile towards Iran than ousted President Hosni Mubarak was. During most of his presidential term, Mubarak had severed relations with the cleric’s regime in Tehran. The Muslim Brotherhood had a long-lasting connection with the Iranian regime and Mursi opened up Cairo’s gates for them for the first time since the fall of the Shah in 1979. The Iranian regime, out of concern, sent a security and an administrative team to aid Mursi in running the state. Mursi took their advice and tried to imitate them by taking over the judiciary, security and media. However, it was too late.

Sisi’s stand

If Sisi really views the Iranian regime as an opponent, it is certain that he stands by the Syrian revolution and particularly by the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army. He thus stands alongside Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and the rest of the moderate Arab states. Syria is Iran’s long hand in the region and it’s the supporter of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah who support Tehran.

However, a year ago, a man affiliated with Sisi’s camp said they are with Assad because there’s a foreign conspiracy to eliminate Arab armies. He said Saddam Hussein’s army was eliminated and Assad’s army was besieged and that the Egyptian army will not accept this conspiracy. I think it’s unlikely that regional disputes will be simplified as such. During the eras of Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army was a mere presidential force. It lost all its battles with Israel, including the October 1973 war. It also lost while confronting the Israelis in Lebanon. It became an occupation force after it was brought into Lebanon as a separating force and it suppressed most of the Syrian people for more than 40 years. It cannot be compared with the Egyptian army - the institution which maintained Egypt and imposed a balance and which is viewed by Egyptians as their own army. As for relations with the Brotherhood, the Assad regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah supported it against the governments of Mubarak and Anwar al-Sadat.

I think President Sisi will bolster support for closest allies such as Saudi Arabia and will support the Syrian revolution and will switch the formula against Iran, not because he’s against Iran and against the Muslim Brotherhood but because it’s also important to redraw the region into alliances which reorganize the region and provide stability. By doing so, Sisi will obstruct those wreaking havoc in the region and those who were behind sabotaging the Egyptian revolution during its first weeks. I am referring to those who snuck into Egypt from Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and who released prisoners convicted on terrorism charges from jails. Therefore, all roads will lead to Damascus.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 4, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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