Egypt quietly warms relations with Syria in fight against ISIS

Both countries face a Sunni Islamist insurgency that includes Islamic State, and both have a common enemy in the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

(photo credit: ISLAMIC SOCIAL MEDIA)
Egypt is carefully trying to toe the line between the Shi’ite axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and the opposing Sunni forces led by Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi may sympathize with fellow Arab strongman Syrian President Bashar Assad since they both face a Sunni Islamist insurgency that includes Islamic State, and both have a common enemy in the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists throughout the region.
According to a report last week in the London based Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a rapprochement between the two countries is in the works. In a separate report on Saturday in the same paper, an Egyptian diplomatic source said Egyptian security ties were not cut off with Syria.
ISIS released video of attack that kills five members of Egypt"s security forces.‏
But Sisi must balance any signs of closer relations with Tehran or Damascus with the interests of his Gulf backers, which have propped up his regime with billions of dollars since he came to power.
Sisi’s latest meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow and reports that they intend to improve economic ties and cooperation in other areas, mean that both Egypt and Syria are turning to Russia for backing as relations with the US remain strained.
“What we want, in the first phase,” Assad said in an interview with Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV last week, is that Egypt not be a launch-pad against Syria or against others in the Arab countries.
But, in the second phase, we want Egypt to play the role of the important country that helps the other Arab countries.”
Assad added that Syria believes it stands in the same trench with the Egyptian army and its people against terrorists.
Prof. Lawrence Rubin, a Middle East expert from The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told The Jerusalem Post that while Egypt and Saudi Arabia cooperate on many important regional issues like in Yemen and Iran, their policies do not exactly align over Syria.
“Since Sisi came to power, Egypt has prioritized fighting Islamic militants and crushing other forms of domestic dissent. This has meant that Egyptian foreign policy follows its domestic political needs,” said Rubin, author of Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics.
For example, continued Rubin, Sisi sees regional conflicts such as Libya, Syria and Iraq through the same prism – how will these conflicts affect the immediate threat to political stability in Egypt? Egypt’s attempt to balance multiple interests has put it at odds with the their strategic partners, the Saudis, who have called for the end of Assad’s rule and have supported various rebel groups.
“Egypt, which is usually the coordinator and consensus builder on many Arab issues, has not fulfilled that role for the Saudis on this issue,” said Rubin.
Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and is currently a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to this newspaper, told The Post alliances in the region are blurry.
“I believe that its [Egypt’s] position is that there should be a vast coalition against terror in the region. But since the US is still reluctant to work with Sisi and is in the process of disengaging itself from the Middle East while empowering Iran, Egypt prefers a political settlement in Syria.”
This position vis-à-vis Syria corresponds with its new ally Russia, Mazel said, adding that the problem is Saudi Arabia, its staunchest ally, does not like its position on Syria and hence Egyptian policy in the region is being kept low key.