As Cairo hugs the year 2021, observers say that the new year may witness a redrawing of the map of Egypt’s foreign relations with many countries.
Observers expect that the new year will witness many changes in Cairo’s relations with the Emirates, Turkey, Libya, the United States, Qatar, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran as well.
Emirates warm zone
The significant interactions and transformations that the Middle East is witnessing in recent times represent a substantial bet on Cairo, especially in engineering its relations with Abu Dhabi during the new year. Observers say that the UAE has become a direct threat to national security and Egyptian interests and that the two regimes’ differences have begun to escalate.
The Egyptians gained from the alliance of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed nothing but thorns over a period of about seven years, which increased in intensity with the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel and its repercussions. The UAE announced plans targeting the vital role of the Egyptian Suez Canal and its ports. Moreover, Abu Dhabi did not use its relations with Ethiopia for Egyptian interests in the GERD issue and dwarfing Cairo’s historic role in the Palestinian file. Regionally, Abu Dhabi pushed Al-Sisi to support its regional allies, and to engage in political and military confrontations with Turkey, especially in the Libyan file and the gas exploration areas in the eastern Mediterranean, at the expense of Egyptian capabilities and wealth.
Observers believe that the positions and actions of the UAE have become a threat to Egyptian national security and that there are indications that may affect the warmth of relations between the two countries in the new year, which would impose an alternative map of allies in the region.
On the other hand, politicians say that the disengagement between the UAE and Cairo is not easy. The UAE contributed to the support of the military coup on 3 July 2013. It was among the international powers that arranged the coup, as the UAE made direct secret transfers to benefit the armed forces and some of their leaders before the coup. However, the increased spending on the Egyptian regime, and disputes over several files, made Abu Dhabi weary of the Egyptian regime’s burden.
Turning west in Libya
Libya could witness one of the most prominent Egyptian transformations, as the Egyptian regime began to give successive signals of its shift towards the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which controls Tripoli (western Libya). Since Sisi came to power, he has supported the militia of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, which calls itself the Libyan National Army (LNA). Despite Egyptian support, along with the UAE, France, and Saudi Arabia, Haftar failed to seize the Libyan capital, and his defeats sequenced dramatically. Later, Cairo received the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord in Cairo, and an Egyptian delegation arrived in Tripoli on a surprise visit.
Following that visit, the Egyptian Foreign Minister made a phone call to the GNA Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala, amid news of the imminent reopening of the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli. The Egyptian shift towards the West coincided with the Egyptian-Emirati disputes over a number of files, including Libya’s position.
Reconciliation with Qatar
In late 2020, Cairo gave its latest data on reconciliation with Qatar, as Cairo again sent positive signals to support reconciliation. The official spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Ahmed Hafez, said in a statement published on the official page of the ministry on Facebook that Egypt always seeks to support sincere efforts made to preserve the unity of the Arab ranks and reach reconciliation.
December 2020 witnessed an acceleration in the wheel of Gulf understanding; as Kuwait announced early December, fruitful results had been reached to bridge the rift between brothers. Although it did not agree to reconciliation with Qatar, Observers say that the Egyptian regime admitted that its continuation of the boycott of Qatar unilaterally had no meaning.
The Egyptian regime knows that its economic losses from the boycott of Qatar are more than its gains. Still, it depended on its staying within the Saudi-Emirati alliance that would guarantee its financial support. Riyadh was quick to welcome the approaching Gulf reconciliation with Qatar, and the Egyptian-Emirati differences are increasing, which means that the alliance has become part of the past.
Rapprochement with Turkey
The year 2020 witnessed positive signs of a possible rapprochement between the Egyptian regime and Turkey. Since the military coup in 2013, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opposed overthrowing the country’s first democratically elected president. On the other hand, the Egyptian regime considered Turkey as the first regional enemy.
The Egyptian regime built political and economic relations with all of Greece and Cyprus in spite of Turkey. Al-Sisi concluded an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders with Cyprus and Greece, excluding Turkey, which further tense the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. But with the proximity of reconciliation with Qatar (The regional ally of Turkey), observers say that Doha may be a mediator working to accelerate the building of relations between Cairo and Ankara.
The Egyptian regime knows that Turkey’s economic relations are more beneficial than Greece and Cyprus’s relations. They suffer (as Ciro) from economic conditions. Al-Sisi’s relations with both Cyprus and Greece did not protect him from the harsh European criticism of human rights conditions. Al-Sisi’s regime has become in dire need of economic agreements and relations to compensate it for the UAE, its ally, which is moving away. At the same time, the Turkish regime aspires to disrupt the anti-Turkish alliance led by Abu Dhabi.
Biden: the coming danger
The Egyptian regime spent four years enjoying exceptional relations with the American administration under Donald Trump’s presidency. The US administration refrained from issuing any criticism of human rights violations in Egypt. US President Donald Trump has described General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as his favorite dictator. However, with US President Joe Biden’s arrival to power, Egyptian-American relations will witness a noticeable difference. Biden pledged during the presidential race that he would not give blank checks to Trump’s favorite dictator.
The Egyptian regime began its preparations for Biden to take power on January 20, and hired companies to improve its image in the United States and put pressure on decision-makers in Washington. Media loyal to Al-Sisi’s regime considered Biden as the most critical danger next four years and described him as a Muslim Brotherhood ally.
Iraq … and maybe Iran
Observers say that the Egyptian regime’s need for economic relations during 2021 will push it to a strong rapprochement with Iraq, which has already started during 2020. It could also be a gateway to the Egyptian regime’s rapprochement with Iran, especially if the situation between the Egyptian regime and Washington turns into declared hostility. The Iraqi regime has strong relations with Iran, which has tremendous influence in Baghdad.
Observers say that the Egyptian-Iraqi relations may in the future become a cover for economic ties between Cairo and Tehran. The Egyptian regime is looking for possible alternatives to Trump. Vladimir Putin and the mullahs’ regime in Iran may constitute an alternative if it does not find any new option.
Although the year 2021 may witness radical changes in the regime’s foreign relations, all these transformations remain dependent on the interest of Al-Sisi’s administration and are not final or absolute, and all of them are linked to a degree about securing the Egyptian regime’s survival in power.