Some signals show that Egypt’s president, Al-Sissi, is trying to adjust his regional policy, especially regarding the Syrian issue.
Indeed, the recent visit of the Head of the Syrian National Security Agency Cairo, the Egyptian vote in favor of the Russian draft resolution to the Security Council, the presence of Cairo’s representative at the Lausanne meeting, and Al-Sissi’s public support for the Syrian army are all indications that the Egyptian government is working to make the country a major player in the Middle East.
Last week’s official visit of General Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security to Egypt, confirmed the prevailing optimism over a more effective contribution from Cairo in the settlement of the Syrian crisis. This visit is of great political importance and conveys many messages; the most important of which is the clear announcement of Egypt’s position towards the Syrian conflict, to opting for a political in lieu of a military solution.
Already, unofficial sources report upcoming military cooperation between the Syrian and Egyptian governments in the fight against terrorism, even going so far as to claim that Cairo has already sent military forces to Syria.
In addition, another report indicates the arrival of a group of Egyptian army officers in early November to Tartus, a city on Syria’s Mediterranean, to train with Russian military advisers.
Although the Egyptian, Russian, and Syrian armies have not confirmed this information, it is no coincidence that they emerge when Cairo seems to be heading towards another regional policy less aligned with that of the Washington – Tel Aviv axis.
It is also certainly not coincidental that the Rafah crossing, the border between Gaza and Egypt, was reopened for a few hours in mid-November after several weeks of closure. Similarly, a high-level delegation of the resistance movement “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” leaders were received in Cairo on the same day in order to discuss the evolution of the Palestinian situation and its relationship with Egypt.
But certainly, the event of paramount importance is the Egyptian president’s support of the Syrian army on a Public Portuguese television channel, RTP, during his state’s visit to Portugal on Tuesday, November 22nd.
Indeed, responding to a question concerning a probable Egyptian role in maintaining the peace in Syria under UN sponsorship, the Egyptian president said that “the priority” of his country is to “support national armies “in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. To the journalist who wanted to know if it was the Syrian army, the president replied “yes.”
Thus, this is the first time that Abdel Fattah al-Sissi takes a public stand in favor of the Syrian national army and thus of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But this reorientation of Egyptian foreign policy does not please everyone, including the Saudi ally with whom relations have been considerably strained.
Indeed, despite their efforts to preserve an apparent unity, significant disagreements arose between the two countries on various issues, mainly the opening of Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt considers as enemies. Also, the indication of a possible rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, and Egypt’s position on Syria. Saudi Arabia is also very disappointed by the limited scope of Egypt’s cooperation in the war against the Houthis in Yemen and Egypt’s inability to implement the transfer agreement of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which were to be transferred to Riyadh.
The Saudi anger was also triggered by the participation of a large Egyptian delegation, headed by: Egyptian Mufti Shawki Allam, Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, and Al- Sissi’s advisor Ossama Al-Azhar in a conference of Muslim clerics in Grozny in late August 2016. The Saudi religious leaders were not invited to this meeting; the final declaration issued a condemnation of Wahhabis and Salafism, excluding them from the Sunni framework of Islam. Saudi Arabia considered this conference as a conspiracy against its status as a leader of the Sunni world and criticized Egypt for its participation in this event.
Egypt’s support of the Russian resolution draft blatantly revealed the existence of a conflict with Saudi Arabia on the Syrian crisis, and resulted in the country being placed outside of the Saudi camp. The Egyptian position on the Syrian crisis resolution now appears closer to that of Russia, an ally of Damascus, than that of Riyadh.
As a result of these differences, the Wahhabi kingdom began to take economic measures to anger Cairo. Thus, two days after the vote on the UN Security Council, the Saudi oil company, Saudi Aramco, suspended its supply of oil to Egypt, while Saudi Airlines, Saudi Arabian national airline, did not approve of “ EgyptAir” flights to Saudi Arabia.
In Egypt, these decisions were considered as economic sanctions from Riyadh, and in response, Cairo has sought other oil suppliers, especially since Iran and Venezuela are already possible suppliers. Rumors refer to a “secret visit” by the Egyptian oil Minister to Iran, while the Egyptian press advocates a normalization of relations with Iran.
These retaliatory measures are all the more felt as the country is shaken by a violent economic crisis; leading to this week’s International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) decision to grant a credit line of $12 billion to Egypt in exchange for austerity measures that will certainly set back a population already plagued by the crisis.
It is obviously premature to say that Cairo has left the American fold, but it seems clear that the Egyptian government is reorienting its regional policy in a new direction.
Although its economic dependence on the West makes it very difficult, the Anti-Zionist Party wants Egypt to become once more, and as soon as possible, a major player in the Middle East, recovering its full sovereignty in order to defend the interests of its people as well as the oppressed people of the region.
No one doubts that the Zionists are closely watching the situation because they know that if Egypt were to join the axis of resistance, the face of the entire Middle East would change.