On the 31st of May 2016, the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA), in cooperation with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), held a Joint Seminar to discuss a Paper prepared by H.E. Ambassador Dr. Muhammad Hijazi, ECFA Board Member, and entitled “Towards an Egyptian Initiative for Regional Security and Cooperation”.
The Seminar was attended by H.E. Ambassador Dr. Mounier Zahran, ECFA Chairman, H.E. Ambassador Dr. Ezzat Saad, ECFA Executive Director, as well as Counselor Dr. Muhammad Es-Saeed Idris, who attended on behalf of the ACPSS, and a number of ACPSS researchers.
The discussion covered different dimensions of the topic being deliberated, namely: Middle Eastern Dimension of Egypt’s Foreign Policy, African Dimension, Gulf Dimension, Iranian Dimension, Turkish Dimension, and themes of Energy and Economy.
•H.E. Ambassador Dr. Mounier Zahran, started by welcoming the cooperation between ECFA and ACPSS, expressing his contentment with the Seminar agenda, noting, in particular, the following:
- The need to make a clear distinction between what’s possible and what’s impossible in Arab-Regional Relations, since what’s possible is trying to study the issue in a serious manner so as to arrive at specific recommendations that would help identify the challenges facing the region.
- Searching for a lucid vision of the relations among the States of the region. A vision that allows for drawing-up new relations among different States. He referred particularly to the (Egyptian–Turkish) relations.
- At the opening of the Seminar, H.E. Ambassador Muhammad Hijazy presented the elements of the Paper he submitted, and explained that it basically suggests the urgent need for Egypt to adopt a regional initiative, in light of what the region is witnessing of unprecedented grave events, conflicts and violence. The essence of such initiative is to lay down new foundations for security and cooperation relations between the surrounding Arab World, consisting of States Members of the Arab League on one hand, and the geographically neighboring States, especially Iran and Turkey, whose harmful interventions in the region’s capabilities and internal affairs has resulted in many conflicts, on the other hand.
- He pointed out that no geographical area or territory exists without having a set of principles and values, which governs the relations amongst its Member States, as is the case in Europe. Hence, he calls in his Paper to recognize the importance of adopting a “Regional Declaration of Principles”, that upholds the values of good-neighborliness and peaceful coexistence, and non-interference in internal affairs of other States.
At the end of his speech, he wondered whether there is a State, other than Egypt, with its leaders, rulers and historical leadership of the region, that could assume the role of leading the security system in the Arab region.
•On the first theme of discussions, the one regarding “The Middle Eastern Dimension in Egyptian Foreign Policy", Dr. Muhammad Es-Saeed Idris and H.E. Ambassador Ezzat Saad made the following statement:
- When discussing Middle Eastern Regional Dimension and Egypt's role in activating cooperation with States neighbours of the Arab region, Dr. Muhammad Es-Saeed Idris stressed the following two main points:
The first point relates to Egypt’s role in activating such cooperation and the inevitability of this role, contrary to the opinions of those who deny it, in an attempt to take Egypt back in time to the era of shrinkage, seclusion, and neglect of interests. Any talk of Egypt’s regional role remains empty, without being decisive on the inevitable return of Egypt to its role as Leader and Pioneer, starting with its role in the Arab World.
The second point relates to the regional projects competing with our absent Arab project, and the repercussions of such projects on shapes of regional alliances and conflicts, including the need to be aware and well-informed of the opportunities of whether or not to launch an initiative for regional cooperation and security, and Egypt’s possible role in such an initiative.
He noted that the paper, he put forward for discussion on this theme, stems from the basic premise that the current Arab situation is very bad, especially with regard to the serious developments that are related to the Question of Palestine, as well as the other hot Arab crises that threaten the mere existence and survival of many Arab States. The paper concluded that these developments compel Egypt to lead the process of launching an initiative that aims at “Achieving Regional Security and Cooperation on a backbone of Four Arab States, led by Egypt, together with Two Regional Powers, namely, Iran and Turkey”, definitely excluding the Zionist entity until it fully implement the UN Resolutions on the Legitimate Non-alienated Rights of the Palestinian people.
He noted that discussing this hypothesis has prompted dialogue to consider Egypt’s Arab and Regional Role, in terms of its inevitability, urgency and dimensions. Egypt’s role which is now the target of what could be described as the “second wave”, aiming at abolishing it and ultimately eliminating it as a necessity and as Egypt’s legitimate national aspiration.
- H.E. Ambassador Ezzat Saad pointed out that despite his agreeing with H.E. Ambassador Hijazy’s vision on the need for some sort of a framework for security cooperation in the region, he is of the opinion that the following elements should not be ignored:
Egypt has led the Arab States ever since League of Arab States existed, and has launched countless initiatives and ideas for developing and enhancing joint Arab action. However, there are some State Members of the League that have always endeavoured to maintain the Arab cooperation ceiling at a low level that should never be exceeded, which has greatly harmed Egypt’s efforts and frozen numerous reforms Egypt tried to introduce. He also noted that some Arab parties tended to call upon Non-Arab neighboring States and International Powers for help and/or assistance, which has considerably weakened the joint Arab action. Additionally, he noted that the future of the Arab League would be at risk in case of adopting ideas like Dr. Hijazy’s Initiative, especially in the face of current Arab weakness and fragmentation, and the decline of Egypt’s role in the Arab World.
Egypt’s Foreign Policy towards the Middle East region is going in the right direction within its broader Foreign Policy that is geared towards independence, balance and diversification of choices. No one can deny the fact that Egypt’s relations with the main States in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, are vital and necessary for restoring security and stability in the entire region. Additionally, the four States have enormous interests and would gain mutual benefits as a result of maintaining closer ties amongst themselves. However, we must not ignore the restrictions and limitations preventing Egypt from developing its relations with Turkey and Iran, as the Political Regime in the two States is governed by certain ideologies that are not incompatible with Egypt’s own interests.
We must also recognize the fact that throughout its modern history, the Middle East region has always been a ‘security importer’, in the sense that it has not been able, depending only on its own capabilities, to guarantee its security, as after security risks in this region were the result of tensions and conflicts among its States, major threats to security in the region now come from within its States, and thus the region will remain dependent on International Powers outside the region.
Social Movements and Extremist Ideological Organizations have become the main factor of instability, as they rely on support of States from within and outside the region. In fact, the Arab Region, has became home of many foreign military bases, the latest of which is Turkey base, hosted by Qatar.
We should not ignore the other fact that Egypt’s ability to play the desired regional role, is limited due to its economic crisis and associated social difficulties. Therefore, all Presidential Institution’s external moves are aimed, primarily, at accelerating the process of economic recovery, with its decisive impact on both Political Stability and Internal Security.
H.E. Ambassador Saad concluded, by stating that the aforementioned factors are considered elements which restrict or limit the launching of Regional Initiatives for Security and Cooperation at the current stage, including the initiative suggested by H.E. Ambassador Dr. Muhammad Higazy.
• On the second theme related to the “Gulf dimension”, Dr. Muhammad Azab Al-Arab, Dr. Eman Ragab, and H.E. Ambassador Muhammad Qassem, made their statements as follows:
- In his speech, Dr. Muhammad Azab Al-Arab, stressed a number of points, including:
H.E. Ambassador Hijazy’s Initiative included parties that represent sources of internal instability, and States that support certain terrorist groups or armed militias. This could not contribute to the stability of the region.
Divergence of views on the conceptual definition of terrorism and its sources represent a hindering factor to the success of this initiative, and this certainly applies to the major powers.
Lack of any specific motivations for major regional Powers, Egypt for example, to create a system for Regional Cooperation, makes them more interested in flexible arrangements, rather than cooperation and dialogue in institutional frameworks with neighboring States.
What the Initiative suggests regarding the existence, among these States, of geographical, cultural and historical similarities that would facilitate implementing the initiative, is inappropriate.
Egypt’s launch of this initiative currently may give an impression to some regional States, particularly Saudi Arabia, that Egypt is in a weak position and is aiming with its initiative at establishing a dialogue with Iran.
-While presenting her own Paper, Dr. Eman Rajab, commented on the main Paper, stating that opportunities for Gulf States to support this Proposal, in light of their foreign policy shifts during the current phase, depend on three main determinants:
The first determinant relates to previous experience in connection with the existence of frameworks that bind Gulf States with Egypt, which are mostly outside the framework of Arab League.
The second determinant is expressed by the group (6 + 2 + 1), which included six Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt and USA, launched by Washington on the 16th of January 2007, and then joined by Iraq in 2008.
The third determinant relates to the extent of difference or the compatibility between Egypt on one hand, and Gulf states on the other.
In light of these determinants, Dr. Eman was of the view that the chances for the Gulf States to support the Initiative, in particular Saudi Arabia and UAE, being the most actively supportive of this proposal, might be limited.
- H.E. Ambassador Muhammad Qassim noted that success of the Initiative is linked to necessary conditions that are not currently available:
Existence of a strong national state in the Arab region.
Existence of Arab consensus among active Arab States on the Egyptian initiative.
International welcoming of the initiative (not available in Israel’s absence from the initiative).
• On the theme of “Iran’s Dimension”, Mr. Muhammad Abbass Najy, and H.E. Ambassador Khairud-Deen Abdul-Lateef, stressed a number of points, including:
Iran is considered a major regional Power in the area, whether its interests and policies have differed or agreed with Arab States, and this is due to various historical, strategic and civilizational considerations. Therefore, opening channels of communication with Iran remains an urgent necessity for Egypt’s national interests, together with a need to work out specific conditions for those relations between the two States.
Iran’s Policy in the region is not conducive for its integration into any regional arrangements for cooperation, especially in the Arab Gulf region at security, political, military and economic levels. The predominance of sectarianism over existing conflicts and Iran’s proxy wars lessen Iran’s chances of controlling the whole region due to the difficulty of establishing Iran’s legitimacy in a Sunni world.
Egypt is not yet ready to launch a regional cooperation and security initiative, in light of serious challenges and threats that are facing it and affecting both the core statehood and institutions of the State.
It is possible to work through experts, research centres and civil society organizations to: (i) build a perception of the common entity (based on the comprehensive handling of security and cooperation issues); (ii) initiate confidence-building measures; and (iii) build perceptions for dealing with the region’s issues and problems.
• On the theme of “Turkish Dimension”, Mr. Muhammad Abdul-Qader and H.E. Ambassador Mahdi Fathallah stressed the following points:
Turkey has become a source of threats and unrest in the Arab world. Its interventions in Egypt’s internal affairs have become a threat to the country’s national security and an incitement of terrorism. The same goes with its roles in Libya and Syria as well.
The importance of Egypt’s interaction with Turkey in an informal setting, together with the consideration of files related to cooperation, as well as regional dialogue, among a group of strategic experts from both sides, on political, economic and development issues.
Turkey’s territorial ambitions in the region stand as an obstacle in the way of forming any alliances among States on the region, especially if led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and any move made by Egypt will be seen as a threat by Turkey.
By virtue of geography, history and fait accompli, Turkey is an important State in the Middle East, and we cannot ignore including it within the proposed Initiative.
Turkey under Erdogan sees itself as a major regional Power, and cannot enter under any regional mechanism in the region at an initiative of another State, in particular Egypt. Therefore currently and in practical terms, this means that, Egypt cannot establish relations of cooperation or rapprochement, neither bilaterally nor multilaterally.
• On the theme of “African Dimension”, H.E. Ambassador Marwan Badr and Dr. Ayman El-Sayed Abdul-Wahab emphasized several points, including:
Egypt-Ethiopia interactions, regarding the Renaissance (Al-Nahdha) Dam, represent an indicator of and a model for the level of either cooperation or conflict. Egypt's launch of a three-faceted proposal for security triplet, namely food security, human security and water security, could represent a solution for several urgent dossiers and conflicts issues witnessed by the Nile Basin region and the continent as a whole.
The terrorism dossier could be an important thematic focus for regional cooperation frameworks and a trigger to activate Egypt’s role within the African Union Institutions, as well as the role of Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD) as instrument and framework for Egypt’s Foreign Policy, to the extent that it can provide added value to Egypt’s role amidst a state of ferocious struggle and international competition for the continent’s resources.
We must take into account the following: (i) risks of international competition and the struggle of global companies to invest in the Nile Basin Region; (ii) the repercussions of that on the conflict over water; (iii) the need to highlight Egypt’s position on the Red Sea, being a scene for conflict and competition as well as the importance of effective Egyptian presence in the Red Sea as an Arab sea.
• On the theme of “Energy and Economy”, Dr. Ahmad Qandeel and H.E. Ambassador Sumayah Saad noted a number of points as follows:
It is possible to talk of development and peace as an umbrella to discuss security conditions and regional cooperation, with the aim of improving the living conditions of the region’s peoples, satisfying their needs of energy, water and food, and supporting intra-trade.
Focus must be on the common gains that would benefit the region as a result of implementing the approach of development and peace in the region.
Proposed initiative is not of ethnic nature, like the Arab League, nor is it of geographical nature, like the European Union (EU) or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), but it is rather geographically, denominationally and ethnically selective, and hence complex and represents a political challenge.
In conclusion, the following question was raised: “Is it in Egypt’s own interest to launch a regional cooperation initiative, in light of the economic challenges that Egypt is facing, especially that the other regional Powers, invited to join Egypt’s initiative, are already applying the comprehensive standards enjoyed by any Economic Powers.