The first tripartite gathering between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus was held in 2014 and quickly turned into a broad alliance fostering cooperation across a range of economic, political and strategic interests.
Last week’s visit by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Greece and Cyprus lent impetus to the process, boosting relations and enhancing cooperation between the three states, especially in the energy field.
Professor of political science Tarek Fahmi says the tripartite gathering is already working for the benefit of the three countries, and for the region in general, especially after the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) was established.
Egypt is seeking to become a major regional hub for the production, processing and trading of natural gas.
“We have the resources to process Cypriot gas in the Edku and Damietta liquefaction plants and the road networks and ports necessary to re-export it,” says Fahmi.
Egypt signed an agreement with Cyprus in September 2018 to connect the Aphrodite gas field to liquefaction plants in Edku and via a marine pipeline.
During his visit, Shoukri discussed ways to boost stability and development in the eastern Mediterranean with senior officials in both Greece and Cyprus.
“In this respect, Shoukri said he is looking forward to holding the seventh summit between the three states in Cairo soon to serve the best interests of the peoples of the three countries,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry during the visit.
Energy ministers from eastern Mediterranean countries attended the second meeting of the EMGF in Cairo last month following which the forum’s founding members — Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority — issued a communiqué affirming their “commitment to elevate the forum to the level of an international organisation that fully respects the members rights to exploit their natural resources in accordance with international law”.
The meeting also discussed the possibility of admitting France as a member and, at a later stage, Lebanon.
EMFG held its first meeting in Cairo in January.
Major natural gas finds off the coasts of Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon have made cooperation between the countries increasingly necessary and the forum is shaping up to be a new global energy player.
Among the discoveries is Egypt’s Zohr gas field, the largest in the Mediterranean, which is expected to meet most of Egypt’s natural gas demands for decades. Zohr already produces two billion cubic feet per day, the equivalent of 365,000 barrels of oil.
EMGF is in many ways an offshoot of the tripartite gatherings. It was established on an initiative from the leaders of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece during last year’s summit in Crete.
Although energy is high on the agenda of all three countries other regional issues — the unification of Cyprus, establishing the Palestinian state, the situations in Libya and Syria and terrorism — are also addressed at the summit. Several agreements have been signed between the three countries promoting tourism and protecting heritage.
Relations with Turkey also feature heavily. Ankara has rejected the maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Cyprus that allows for gas exploration and is threatening to pursue plans to drill for gas in Cypriot waters.
Other areas of difficulty include tensions between Lebanon and Israel, and the attendance of EMGF meetings by countries from outside the region. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for instance, attended the forum’s most recent meeting.
“Israel’s relations with other member states can be an obstacle to full cooperation,” said Fahmi, “though the fact that relations within the forum are based on economic rather than political interests can work in favour of cooperation.”
Cooperation among the three countries extended in April when they took part in Medusa-8, a joint naval and air exercise conducted off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
The drills, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, aim to boost military cooperation between the three states “in the framework of the annual plan for joint exercises by the [Egyptian] Armed Forces to promote and support military cooperation with brotherly and friendly countries”.
In 2015, Egypt and Greece took part in Medusa 5, their first joint military exercise.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Successful triangulation