In the past two weeks Egypt participated in four multi- and bi-lateral military manoeuvres. The Phoenix Express drills resumed this year, after having been cancelled last year due to Covid-19. Conducted off the coast of Tunisia, Phoenix Express 2021 (PE21) brought together naval units from the US, Tunisia, Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, and Spain. The multinational naval drills aimed to promote the exchange of expertise in planning and carrying out joint naval operations to ensure maritime safety and respond to unconventional threats.
Meanwhile, Egypt and Pakistan continued their first joint air defence drills this week, dubbed Sky Protectors-1. The activities started with a preparatory phase to promote the interoperability of Egyptian and Pakistani air defence units. Lectures and practical training sessions enabled participants to discuss various aspects of advanced air defence systems and the air defence weapons and systems of both sides. This was followed by a series of intensive joint tactical drills in which participants displayed great precision.
In the Gulf region, Egypt and the UAE continued the two-week long Zayed-3 military drills. The agenda included a preparatory phase with theoretical and practical sessions aimed at unifying training concepts, and honing interoperability between participant units. Drills focussed on reconnaissance activities, methods of urban warfare and confronting terrorist operatives.
Last but not least was the Guardians of the Nile, the Egyptian-Sudanese joint military exercise that kicked off in Sudan at the end of last week.
Following orientation activities to unify concepts, participants from special forces units executed a series of conventional and unconventional sharpshooting tasks. Their performance reflected high levels of mutual coordination and precision in taking out targets from different sighting positions. Paratroopers performed various free-fall training exercises. The joint training programme aims to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries, promote the exchange of expertise and develop closer collaboration between their forces.
Though not the first time Egypt has engaged in military training activities simultaneously and in different strategic directions, three of the four sets of manoeuvres did set precedents. This was Egypt’s first participation in a drill in Tunisia, and in the framework of the qualitative multinational Phoenix series conducted by AFRICOM, which brings together northern and southern Mediterranean partners and may eventually expand to include other NATO members. The exercises are designed to promote capabilities to respond to mounting threats in the Mediterranean region, including irregular migration, illicit trafficking, organised crime, and terrorism.
Although Egypt took part in two successive Nile Eagles joint military exercises with Sudan recently, the Nile Guardian drills mark a qualitative leap in bilateral military cooperation. Whereas the Nile Eagles series involved members of the two sides’ air forces, the Nile Guardians brought on board naval and elite commando and paratrooper forces. The growing closeness between Cairo and Khartoum is also evidenced by several exchanges of visits between high level military officials which culminated in a number military cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding being signed. The two sides face a number of common threats, not least from the proliferation of militias and mercenaries in Libya and Chad, and mounting threats to the Red Sea from the Horn of Africa.
In light of the multidimensional and overlapping nature of the threats, Egypt has extended coordination with countries across the Sahel and Sahara. Next door, in Libya, Egypt has helped shape the army as a professional national institution which is now key to maintaining security in eastern Libya, an area that until recently harboured terrorist groups and militias that posed a direct threat to Egyptian national security. Egypt is also involved in the comprehensive political process that aims to steer the country away from conflict and towards durable peace.
Though Egypt has a long history of military and security cooperation with Pakistan, recent developments represent a qualitative leap. In March, Cairo and Islamabad agreed to fast-track cooperation in armament manufacture. Lieutenant General Ali Amir Awan, Chairman of Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), visited Egypt, using the occasion to announce that his country planned to take part in the 2021 edition of the Egyptian defence exhibition. This occurred shortly after Egyptian Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki visited Pakistan and met with Pakistani military leaders, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi. During the visit President Alvi issued a statement praising Egypt’s efforts in supporting regional and international security and stability, and described the relationship between Pakistan and Egypt as “strategic”.
Egyptian military experts agree that these recent developments are the fruits of a comprehensive programme of military diplomacy that seeks to strengthen individual and collective defence capacities to counter multiple threats and challenges. Other nations are drawn to working with Egypt not only because the Egyptian Armed Forces are ranked among the foremost armies in the world but also because of Egypt’s reputation for promoting regional security and stability. Egypt has kept itself from becoming embroiled in any of the region’s military conflicts and instead follows a policy of “strategic deterrence”. A prime example is the red line Egypt drew in Libya to compel the regional powers intervening there to stop fuelling tensions and hostilities. As Egyptian military experts point out, Egypt does not create threats, it works to contain them. This is another reason why its partnership is sought in military defence and counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly