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Saturday, 16 January 2021

The year of the Mediterranean

Last year saw the return of the Mediterranean as a world geopolitical space and highlighted the strategic importance of Egypt and Greece

Ioannis Kotoulas , Friday 8 Jan 2021
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The year 2020 with all its negative connotations associated with the terrible Covid-19 pandemic was also a fruitful year on a geopolitical level, especially for Egypt and Greece.

This was the year that decisively marked the return of the Mediterranean as a focal geopolitical space on a world level and highlighted the strategic importance of Egypt and Greece. The internal unrest in Libya and the new power landscape in the Mediterranean drew the attention of the international community. Regional security challenges and energy cooperation projects in the Mediterranean emphasised its renewed geopolitical importance on a global scale.

In January, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), while France will become a member of this in 2021. The EMGF is a fundamental new international organisation in energy security and a new financial power bloc that will be able to cooperate with the European Union. The EU, US and UAE will also become permanent observers.

In August, Egypt and Greece signed a maritime demarcation deal establishing the respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of each country in the Eastern Mediterranean southeast of the island of Crete and northeast of the Matrouh governorate in Egypt. According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, the EEZ deal between the two countries “permits Egypt and Greece to go ahead with maximising benefits from riches available in the exclusive economic zones of both countries, particularly promising gas and oil reserves.” It expresses the joint will of the two states to overcome unfounded territorial claims in the Mediterranean by revisionist and aggressive state actors.

In November, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi made an official visit to Athens, confirming the excellent bilateral relations between the two countries and their will to move forward in new fields of cooperation. He stressed the identity of views between Egypt and Greece on matters of security, stating that “there is a consensus” between Egypt and Greece to stand against regional threats and to cooperate on various levels.

Bilateral relations between Egypt and Greece have grown steadily against the background of a global redistribution of power and regional challenges. In November and December, the Medusa joint aeronautical exercise was carried out that saw military forces from Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, the UAE and France operating off Alexandria. This was a clear manifestation of the ability of these states to confront any outside interference in the Mediterranean.

What could happen in 2021, and what is the way forward? In 2021, Greece will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution against the former Ottoman Empire. In 2022, Egypt will mark the 100th anniversary of Egyptian independence. History is our guide, but the creation of the future is our duty.

On a diplomatic level, the emphasis on the Mediterranean will remain a steady pattern. The EEZ Agreement signed in August between Egypt and Greece is a partial one, and there is more work to be done on full demarcation. On the situation in Libya, Egypt’s proposals concerning the future of this war-torn country are the only sensible path forward.

On a financial level, the evolution of the EMGF and energy cooperation are fundamental not only for economic gains but also for regional stability. On a military level, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus will be able further to upgrade their cooperation and ties. Egypt has a powerful military due to president Al-Sisi’s reforms and initiatives, while Greece is upgrading its air force with the inclusion of Rafale and F-35 jets.

Greece, as a NATO member, could put forward Egypt’s role as a valuable partner in Africa and the Mediterranean. Egypt and Greece could establish a joint force for patrolling the seas and safeguarding common interests. This force could extend its operations from off the coast of Libya to Cyprus.

The Mediterranean is no longer an area of secondary importance, and instead it has become an international focus and a pivotal area of geopolitical importance. The countries of the region can reap the fruits of cooperation and regional alliances. The strategic orientation of Egypt and Greece has shifted towards this ancient sea that has been the home of Egyptians and Greeks for thousands of years. The Mediterranean will be essential for international security in the years to come.

*The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens, Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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