Egypt’s foreign service has a long history and accumulated experience and weight. It is perhaps one of the very few government bodies where aptitude is central to recruitment and career advancement and where favouritism is almost sidelined.
For the most part, irrational diplomatic moves were associated with moments when the doors of the foreign ministry were open for non-career diplomats who were inevitably lacking in necessary skills and qualifications.
Traditionally, the foreign service provided the head of the state with necessary and effective advice. And also it traditionally acted to airbrush any unfortunate presidential choices.
It is against this backdrop that one is left to wonder about some of the actions undertaken by this long-standing and prominent foreign service.
In a recent act, Egypt was the only country in the 15-member seat UN Security Council to abstain from voting for a resolution designed to penalise blue helmets and other UN sponsored peacekeeping soldiers if involved in cases of sexual harassment during their missions.
It was certainly a defaming decision. Why should Egypt be the only country to abstain from voting for this resolution? And what is the world supposed to gather from this decision? Are we telling the world that we tolerate harassment?
Shortly after, Egypt came under a heavy attack form several US and international human rights organisations for its track record of human rights violations. And this was followed by the demand from the spokesman of the White House for Egypt to better observe human rights standards, added to direct criticism of Egypt’s record on human rights from the US secretary of state.
The Egyptian reaction was certainly unfortunate, as the Egyptian foreign minister launched an attack against the US over its human rights practices. Worse still, the head of Egyptian diplomacy chose to attack the US over deporting an Egyptian student who had made an open threat on social media against the life of US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
This style of verbal assault has been for long outside the pale of diplomatic norms.
We know, as the rest of the world does, that we are in an unfortunate situation when it comes to observing human rights standards. Therefore, the only meaningful reply was for us to acknowledge the problem and to underline commitment to improve human rights standards in Egypt.
We could have said that we sense that the criticism was exaggerated, and that we would examine whatever allegations are made. But certainly we should accept that we need to work on improving our observation of human rights standards.
We also failed to come up with the right reaction to the overwhelming vote in the European Parliament critical of the human rights situation in Egypt, in relation to the brutal torture and killing of an Italian postgraduate student in Cairo.
In fact, it was shocking to read the details of the debate in the European Parliament over the situation of human rights in Egypt, detailing the violations to which Egyptians are subject at the hands of their government.
When one looks at the pattern of voting and the recommendations made in favour of a harsh position against Egypt, one realises the deep trouble — or rather the dark tunnel — we are in.
The fact that the European Parliament declined to receive an Egyptian delegation is very alarming.
I think we are looking a disaster in the eye.
There have been incidents during past decades where Egyptian presidents made impulsive decisions and it was always the foreign ministry that used its skills to accommodate to the situation. Today, however, we face a situation where the foreign service is playing the role of an obedient servant.
We cannot ignore the fact that we are part of the world. And we cannot either ignore the fact that we are currently in a very vulnerable situation due to our economic and political problems, and also because of our violations of human rights.
We need to carefully examine the situation that we have landed ourselves in and we need then to be poised in our reactions.
We need to work on gaining people on our side, rather than jumping to irrational political reactions that only gain us more enemies.
The more enemies we have, the lesser our chances to encourage tourism and investment. And this is not something we can afford at this point in our economic problems.
We need to better manage the situation.
The foreign ministry needs to present the president with sound advice on what needs to be done and what should be avoided, rather than leaving crucial matters to the limited means of poorly experienced officials at the presidency.
The foreign minister needs to be a lot more forthcoming in offering his views and analysis to the president.
This article was published in Al-Masry Al-Youm on Tuesday, 22 March.