Analysis: Sisi presents the Egyptian agenda to an indifferent world

Egyptian president puts squarely on the table the issues confronting the Middle East as seen by his country.

September 29, 2015 14:10
4 minute read.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi waves as he arrives to the opening ceremony of the New Suez Canal. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As the 70th session of the UN General Assembly opens, the eyes of the world are focused on Syria and the Russian military presence there; America is looking to implement the nuclear treaty with Iran, in effect making that country the dominant power in the Middle East; and the pope is extolling humanitarian values and ignoring the plight of whole Christian communities eradicated and massacred.

Yet the Egyptian president managed to make his voice heard, however briefly. In a lengthy interview to the Associated Press on Friday, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed once more that comprehensive cooperation between Arab states and the West is needed to defeat the growing terrorist menace that has already destroyed a number of countries and is now threatening the land of the Nile.

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It was not necessary to belabor the point.

Islamic State is progressing almost unchallenged in Syria and Iraq in spite of the feeble efforts of a ramshackle coalition of Arab and Western countries doing little more than conduct some ineffective air raids. Three semi-autonomous regions and two rival governments are fighting over what used to be Libya, with any number of feuding militias tearing the country apart – and dispatching weapons and terrorists to Egypt and neighboring states; a hapless UN representative is futilely trying to achieve some sort of compromise.

In Yemen, pro-Iranian Houthi rebels are defying a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and with the support of Egypt, and there is no end in sight.

The much needed comprehensive cooperation that Egypt is calling for will not be forthcoming.

Though all know how dire the situation is, but Middle East countries as well as the great powers are still guided by their own narrow interests. America has abandoned the region to the tender mercies of Iran; and last week, France at long last agreed to send its warplane to bomb Islamic State, but only in Syria, and not in its Iraqi strongholds. Iran is asserting its dominant position, Hezbollah grows stronger, Russia is sending weapons and warplanes to Syria in a move that threatens what’s left of the stability of the region.

The West is scrambling to adjust to the new reality.

Bashar Assad, who is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of his own people, is now “part of the solution” and the West which had been clamoring for his departure is ready to engage in talks. Of course, the civil war is driving millions of Syrians to look for a brighter future in Europe...

A strong Egypt is vital for Western interests – that was part of the unspoken message of President Sisi. He said that relations with Washington “were improving” and that they were “strategic and stable.” This is a diplomatic way of showing his disappointment with White House policies: Military aid to Egypt was only restored some weeks ago, after having been frozen for many months though it was desperately needed to help the country repulse the onslaught of Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula who have sworn allegiance to Islamic State. Joint “Bright Star” military exercises with Egypt and other Arab countries haven’t resumed yet. And Egypt is still waiting for special equipment and instructors to train Egyptian troops for anti-guerrilla warfare. Furthermore, the White House still has close links with the Muslim Brothers, Sisi’s bitterest enemies since they were toppled from power by a popular insurrection backed by the army.

The Brotherhood is still relentlessly trying to throw the country into chaos.

The Egyptian president made it clear that more should be done to solve the Palestinian issue. Such a solution, he believes, would be a game changer in the region and would lead to the peace treaty with Israel being extended to other countries. This was probably addressed to pragmatic Arab states and Saudi Arabia, to the Gulf states and even to Morocco, Egypt’s traditional allies – and perhaps silent allies of Israel in its fight against a nuclear Iran; Sisi would like them to exert pressure on the Palestinians to renew negotiations with Israel without useless preconditions, with a view to coming to a reasonable compromise. A very positive view, the Israeli prime minister was prompt to say.

In this remarkable interview Sisi put squarely on the table the issues confronting the Middle East as seen by his country. He may have been trying to stress that Egypt was still the greatest and most important Arab state, implying that should it be overrun by radical Islam the results would be a disaster not only for the region but for Europe, which has begun to realize what a flimsy barrier the Mediterranean Sea is, and even for the United States.

Is anyone listening to this most serious warning? It is unfortunately doubtful. The so-called great powers will stick to their narrow views and narrow interests, determined not to see the elephant in the room.

The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

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