The vision Egypt presented at the Munich Security Conference meeting last weekend focused on vital issues at the core of regional security and international peace. It drew particular attention to the critical situation in North Africa where ongoing crises have been further perpetuated by the actions of countries such as Turkey which, driven by expansionist and material ambitions, has insinuated itself into Libya in ways that aggravated the already grave threats to northeast Africa.
In his extensive contributions at the international forum, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri addressed the many challenges posed by the spread of terrorism and extremist groups, political instability, impediments to development, the impacts of climate change and illegal migration, and other dangerous phenomena. He also outlined Egypt’s guiding principles in its efforts to remedy such problems, such as the need for a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to the fight against terrorism that includes a drive to renovate religious discourse in tandem with a range of social and developmental projects. He also emphasised the importance of African solutions to African problems, a principle that Egypt had advocated throughout its chairmanship of the African Union.
The foreign minister drew attention to the need for concerted efforts to cut off funding for terrorist groups and for serious measures to bring countries that support terrorist groups to account. In this context, he called for efforts to safeguard state institutions in countries in the process of political transformation, so as not to give extremist groups the opportunity to fill the institutional vacuum. Addressing another dimension of the challenges, he urged an effective collective strategy that would enable countries of the region to optimally manage their natural resources. Closer cooperation between these countries on the management of shared water resources was particularly necessary in order to deal with the combined challenges of water scarcity and population growth.
While the foreign minister and other Egyptian officials have mentioned such ideas before, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is growing increasingly worrisome as conflicts that beg for a resolution are perpetuated by the machinations of certain regional powers set on asserting themselves into the picture to the detriment of all others. For example, there is strong and abundant evidence that Turkey has been transferring jihadist mercenaries from Syria to Libya to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in flagrant breach of international agreements calling for an end to attempts to provide shelter for terrorists and mercenaries and facilitate their movements across borders. One of the main reasons that Turkey has been able to get away with this is the fragmentation of the international front against terrorism due to the prevalence of self-serving agendas over the common welfare. This should not be allowed to continue. The facilitated movement of mercenaries to Libya to join forces with the terrorist groups that have already proliferated in the Sahel and Sahara region has created an extremely perilous situation in North Africa and raised the spectre of the resurgence of the Islamic State group.
The need to cut off funding sources for terrorism and to restrain the ambitions of powers determined to advance their agendas by supporting radical Islamist forces is a priority for Egypt, which is why its views have attracted considerable interest in international forums. The international community, today, needs to see the bigger picture in North and East Africa. As developments in the region have made palpably clear, it does not serve the welfare of the international community to leave state institutions helpless in the face of extremist and terrorist movements, opening paths for ruthless militia groups to seize control of key government organs, ruin economies with their violence and tyranny, and endanger the welfare of all in a region whose oil and gas resources and strategic straits and maritime routes are vital to the global economy and where waves of illegal migrants and refugees have been of mounting concern to countries north of the Mediterranean.
Egypt’s appeal for an effective strategy for the collective management of natural resources, and water resources above all, is significant in that it comes at a time when Egypt has been working in the negotiations over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project to safeguard its rights to Nile waters. Egypt strongly believes that the cause of peaceful coexistence is best served when countries that share watercourses work together to optimise the utilisation of this vital resource.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.