Egyptian President Sisi’s foreign policy
After one hundred days under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, it is time to assess his time in power
After one hundred days under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, it is time to count or denigrate the country’s achievements, depending on a person’s political position. But no one, not even Sisi’s opponents, can deny that he has taken very risky decisions on the domestic front and was able to implement them. He removed subsidies on vital goods, such as fuel, and reduced subsidies on bread. Yet, Egypt remained strong and present and the Egyptian people were able to bear the price increase, based on the government’s promises that it was the only way to save the country from collapse.
We were waiting for President Sisi to revitalize Egypt’s role on the foreign policy front, but it is clear that his interests are mostly directed toward the country’s internal issues unlike his ousted predecessors, Mohammad Mursi and Hosni Mubarak.
Sisi strengthened his relations with his original allies, those he fostered ties with before he assumed the presidencyAbdulrahman al-Rashed
This gives several indications to the outside world. Firstly, the new president does not run away from internal problems to international issues as others have done. Secondly, he sent a message to external powers that he is in control over internal issues, including matters of security and living conditions. Thirdly, he does not seem to be looking for attention, since most of his interviews with world leaders have been limited and related to internal issues or to Egyptian issues in the region. We believe that it is a temporary situation until the country moves forward and the president will turn his attention to regional affairs.
The most important crisis was the recent war between Israel and Hamas, during which President Sisi showed that he is not driven by the media and street opinion which called on him to intervene. He only intervened when he ascertained that there was a particular role that Egypt could play. Also, he was able to draw the line with the warring parties Israel and Hamas and made sure they did not attack Egypt or blackmail its leadership. This is why Hamas returned to Cairo on Egyptian terms, withdrawing a series of inappropriate remarks when it found that Iran, Turkey and Qatar did not help with anything. The Egyptian intervention was the only way to reach the final agreement. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister was only welcomed in Cairo after he stopped threatening a ground invasion on Gaza to coax right-wing Israeli parties.
The real challenge
In my opinion, the real challenge is Libya. The country is in a continuous state of institutional collapse and a quasi-civil war. It represents a direct threat to the security of Egypt. It seems that President Sisi did not want to get involved in a dispute between brothers in Libya, so he distanced himself. However, at the same time, he couldn’t allow the fire to reach the borders of his country. This is why he recently decided to reach an agreement with Libya’s second major neighbor, Algeria. It is clear that the restoration of stability and supporting legitimacy, the government and parliament, top the list of the political and security activities of the two countries. Algerian-Egyptian cooperation is the only guarantee that the situation in Libya can be controlled and foreign interference can be blocked.
As for Iraqi and Syrian issues, President Sisi chose to stay away from such crises, except for limited participation in the international declaration against ISIS. This step helps in the war being waged against armed opposition groups in Egypt and justifies Sisi’s right to prosecute the Muslim Brotherhood, especially as the Brotherhood stood against the war on ISIS.
On the other hand, Sisi strengthened his relations with his original allies, those he fostered ties with before he assumed the presidency, mainly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia. The cooperation drastically increased over the last one hundred days, for the benefit of his internal reform program. This alliance has enabled him to reinforce his stance against critics from Western governments in general. In fact, the Americans and the European Union have given in to the new reality in Egypt. Finally, they announced that they accept the government in Egypt, withdrawing their earlier-stated disapproval.
The foreign policy direction that is not fully established is the cooperation with Russia, even if it comes at the expense of Egypt’s long-held relationship with the United States. Does President Sisi really want to change history for the third time? The first time was when late President Gamal Abdel Nasser shifted to supporting the Soviet Union against the American camp, via the Czech arms deal. The second was when late President Anwar al-Sadat expelled Soviet experts from Egypt and restored positive relations with the Americans. We are not sure if Sisi’s policy is a drastic shift towards Moscow or simply a calculated move to serve temporary needs.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 19, 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.
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