Sisi back from Jordan and off to court China

Abdallah Schleifer
Abdallah Schleifer
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Reading the official communiques coming from both Jordan and Egypt following last Thursday’s official visit of Egyptian President Al-Sisi to Amman and his meeting with King Abdallah II provoked a curious nostalgia.

It was not nostalgia for such communiques that held true to the typically sweeping generalizations of this literary form which at best implicitly hints at the actual content of such talks per se, but rather for my first years in the region as a young American journalist living in then Jordanian controlled Jerusalem and working as managing editor of The Jerusalem Star, one of Jordan’s two English-language newspapers. I would frequently have to labor on editorials endorsing such communiques that came my way from Amman. It was a tedious labor but nevertheless a labor of love, for I loved Jerusalem and Jordan and I was thrilled when at press conferences in Amman King Hussein would call me, without any prompting, by my first name.

The Jerusalem Star would be renamed the Palestine News in a consolidation of Jordan’s privately owned newspapers by then Prime Minister Wasfi Tell shortly before the June 1967 War, and the subsequent Israeli occupation, which ended the short but happy life of my newspaper.

As for Wasfi Tell -- a very intelligent and fascinating Jordanian politician who was personally very kind to me -- he was gunned down in the streets of Cairo by a Palestinian hit-squad taking revenge for Black September several years later.

To return to the latest Jordanian-Egyptian communiques which contained an implicit hint of what must have been the most serious, but not directly mentioned aspect of this week’s summit meeting in Amman – the Muslim Brotherhood.

On one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood – which is not only banned in Egypt but officially designated as a terrorist movement – does operate in Jordan (in its political manifestation as the Islamic Front) and enjoys the status of legal official opposition with an impressive presence in the Jordanian parliament until the MB boycotted the most recent election.

On the other hand, shortly before President al-Sisi’s visit, the government arrested the deputy leader of the Jordanian MB. But then again, a government spokesman made a point in insisting that this was a specific response to the unsavory remarks of this one MB leader denigrating the UAE for its repression of the UAE branch of the Brotherhood and for its support of al-Sisi, and not a measure, according to the Jordanian spokesman, taken against the MB as a movement.

Not that the royal court has any love for the MB, but in earlier times the legal presence of the MB in Jordan was mutually beneficial, given the difficult relationship that King Abdallah the First and then his grandson the late King Hussein had with both Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Syrian based Baath party.

But of greater importance is al-Sisi’s commitment to rebuilding Egyptian alliances that atrophied in Mubarak’s last years, and rapidly eroded during the chaotic years that followed the fall of Mubarak. I assume that the King and the President, who is a former General, bonded well, given that every Jordanian ruler from Abdallah I to King Hussein, to his son and present ruler Abdallah, had a close relationship with Jordan’s armed forces – the jaisch al Arab. Both the late King Hussein and his son, Abdallah II, were trained and formally served in the Jordanian armed forces, and the first King Abdallah had led a Hashemite armed force from Arabia after World War One into what would become first Transjordan and then Jordan.

One indication of the sensitivity and veiled significance of the actual agenda for the meeting of Abdallah II and al-Sisi was the subsequent remark of an Egyptian spokesman that “what affects the Egyptian national security affects the Jordanian one, and vice versa.”

Far more obvious in outcome will be President al-Sisi’s trip to China scheduled to begin on December 23rd. The Egyptians are seeking a strategic relationship with China, and the Chinese welcome the idea. That should translate into significant Chinese investment and a delegation composed of several Egyptian ministers is already in China for preparatory talks.

If the White House – which now seems intent on challenging China for its increasingly strong naval presence in what is, after all, the South China Sea, when a more legitimate question might be what is a strong American naval presence doing in the South China sea – is bothered by Egypt seeking such a relationship, it deserves to be bothered. Consider the mind boggling stupidity with which the White House courted the Muslim Brotherhood since at least 2009. And that strange romance may still prevail given the peculiar inability of the White House to recognize that in Libya the MB is in an open alliance with al-Qaeda elements participating in the MB –dominated Libya Dawn militia alliance that drove the legitimate government of Libya out of Tripoli after the MB did badly in the last parliamentary election. Or for that matter the half–hearted way America pursues the air war against ISIS, flying five to seven sorties a day, whereas when the US Air force bombed Serbian armed forces and Serbian infrastructure on behalf of the Kosovo Uprising against Serbian rule the U.S Air Force was running more than a 100 sorties a day.

Meanwhile Egypt’s Transport Minister has already announced that Egypt and China are near to closing a deal whereby the Chinese will install a high –speed railroad system connecting the coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo, Cairo to the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut, and Assuit to Aswan. And both officials and well -informed observers here in Cairo are convinced that this is just the beginning.

Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

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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