Christina Kausch in an article published within the book Geopolitics and Democracy in Middle East(West Asia) has maintained that “Cairo’s successful efforts to reinstate its positioning as a regional bulwark against terrorism is embraced by Egypt’s allies, and it boosts the country’s regional profile and shields Sisi’s human rights clampdown at home.”
Egypt’s financial sources are too limited to allow Cairo pursue its interests in the region, however, the country enjoys a high political profile. Such a profile includes the country’s position in the heart of Arab world, Africa and the East. The positive profile also covers Egypt’s control over the Suez Canal and the country’s large population and large territory. Egypt’s biggest geopolitical opportunity is its capacity of playing role in many of Middle East’s conflicts.
Egypt’s interests revolve around three major fields:
1. Guaranteeing military, energy and funding security
2. Improving Cairo’s regional profile and mending its relations with key powers
3. Closing the way of spillover of the neighboring countries’ political and security instabilities.
Old and new allies
Guaranteeing a financial stability has turned out as a “daunting challenge” for Cairo, though the ongoing Persian Gulf’s states’ funding, loans and investments have saved the Egyptian economy from collapse.
Additionally, “the sources of foreign aid- and the leverage rising from it for donors- have changed significantly”, added Kausch. While up to the popular revolution of 2011 the US stood as Egypt’s major military and financial supplier, at the time of Morsi’s presidency Qatar and Turkey undertook as Cairo’s major supporters. After Morsi’s removal, the commitments made to Egypt by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait were worth ten times that of the US.
Up to 2014, the US administration has withheld further aids from Egypt. But since 2015, the Washington has resumed aids supply to Cairo, aiming at strengthening the Egyptian government in its battle against the terror group ISIS. This US’ move indicates how the prioritization of security in US Middle East policy works in Sisi’s favor.
Kausch adds that “although clearly uncomfortable with the ethical implications of return to military rule in post-Mubarak Egypt, Europeans have been quick to come to terms with the re-establishment of the status quo ante with Egypt, as larger regional concerns like conflagration of jihadism and state failure across the Mediterranean Southern Littoral have soared to the top of their agenda.”
Furthermore, Cairo, so far, has taken advantage of Moscow for pressing Washington to resume arms supplies to Egypt.
Concerning the Iranian nuclear deal with the world powers, Egypt sees the accord as working in favor of peace in the Middle East. Such a vision could drive towards good Tehran-Cairo ties.
“Following the restoration of military rule in mid-2013, Cairo has gone to great lengths to portray Islamists from ISIS to the Muslim Brotherhood as a monolithic block under the common label of terrorism- the eradication of which Cairo has sought to put at the center of any regional collective security efforts”, Kausch continues.
Cairo’s security concerns in the region are, to a large extent, realistic and legitimate. The country shares borders with a collapsing Libya from the west, a lapsing Sudan from the south and always-engaged-in-war Gaza and the Israeli regime from the east.
One of the challenges of all of Egypt’s governments has been to make compromise between a strategic alliance with the Israeli regime on the one hand and the pro-Palestine public opinions on the other hand.
The existence of the collapsing Libyan government, the uncontrolled borders, the proliferation of arms and growing radicalism in Libya have made a security threat to Egypt.
Still on the other side, Egypt’s intervention in Libya’s internal policies has made Libya another scene for proxy wars of the regional powers. Cairo tries to send a message, saying that Egypt would not side with UN’s efforts for striking a comprehensive and nation-wide peace deal in Libya.
Although out of control security threats at home and out of the Egyptian borders could pose risks to the country’s internal stability, the existence of a small and persistent level of insecurity in the region could work in favor of President el-Sisi. It could give the Egyptian president a pretext for suppressing the home tensions, as it could ensure continued political and financial backing of the major regional and international powers for Cairo.
Egypt under el-Sisi has returned to the authoritarian rule of the government. Besides, Cairo has restored role as a stabilizing regional mediator. A guaranteed home stability along with regime survival make up the central pillars of the government of el-Sisi’s foreign policy.
EL-Sisi’s internal attitude of suppressing the opposition from different political leaning to a degree runs counter to his external behavior, which seeks saving the significant allies. The Egyptian president has set high on the agenda creation of diversified alliances with a variety of regional players, while some of them are actually Egypt’s rivals.
El-Sisi’s improved position in Egypt is, to a large extent, an outcome of Egypt’s playing the role of a bulwark against extremism amid turmoil. The emergence of ISIS has prepared the ground for conducting opposition suppressions at home, and consequently, el-Sisi’s rule over Egypt for years to come has been guaranteed. Additionally, Egypt’s president boosting ties with Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE has resulted in scaled down Washington’s strains on Cairo.
Despite the recent Egypt’s successes, the country’s foreign policy could backfire while influenced by the internal conditions. Rising tensions with the major allies concerning the regional moves have tarnished Egypt’s image as a stabilizing and trustable ally.
Finally, it must be said that it is still not clear how the Persian Gulf Arab states’ leverage over Egypt could see an increase especially that a prospect of winding down tensions between the US and Iran as a result of the nuclear accord has ramped up the geopolitical tensions across the region.