Al-Sisi delivering his speech at the 74th UN General Assembly last week at New York (photo: presidential spokesperson)
While in New York for the inauguration of the 74th UN General Assembly, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with 13 presidents, seven prime ministers, the UN secretary-general and the director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and attended a banquet hosted in his honour by the US Chamber of Commerce. The meetings offered opportunities to strengthen Egypt’s regional and international profile, clarify Cairo’s position on many issues of concern to the international community and to respond to campaigns spearheaded by certain governments bent on undermining Egyptian interests.
Counter-terrorism topped the Egyptian leader’s discussion agenda with his counterparts. Egypt is among those countries most affected by terrorism in the past decade and its success in delivering debilitating blows to terrorist organisations in Sinai mean many countries are eager to learn from Egypt’s security, military and intelligence experience.
Al-Sisi’s meetings with the leaders of the US, France, Italy and the UK were particularly important in this regard. Cairo needs their military and political support. Thankfully, they all regard terrorism as a direct threat to their national security.
Egypt hopes that these countries will fully grasp the magnitude of the danger posed by political Islam, and its chief exponent, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has designated as a terrorist organisation. Disagreement between Egypt and these countries on the subject is still sharp. They continue to offer a safe haven to the Brotherhood despite the evidence Egypt provided of the connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and organisations these same countries designate as terrorist.
President Al-Sisi’s meetings with foreign leaders also allowed Egypt to reaffirm its position on the Libyan crisis. Cairo is keener than other countries to restore stability to Libya because of the cross-border threat posed by terrorist groups that are exploiting the anarchy beyond Egypt’s western border.
Cairo believes differences between France and Italy over how to remedy the Libyan conflict have hampered efforts to find a peaceful solution. Egypt could play a pivotal role in bridging the French and Italian points of view by building on UN Security Council resolutions and the peace-making efforts of the UN special envoy to Libya.
Cairo also believes a lack of clarity on the part of some countries over Turkish and Qatari meddling in Libya, and Ankara and Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and related groups, poses a major obstacle to a lasting settlement in Libya, serving to prolong Libya’s vulnerability to influxes of terrorists who are taking advantage of poor security. Not only does this present a threat to Egypt and Europe’s security, it exacerbates illegal migration to Europe via Italy’s long and unmonitored coasts. President Al-Sisi drove home the need to act quickly and eliminate the obstacles to a solution to the Libyan crisis which would help stem both terrorism and illegal migration.
President Al-Sisi was also determined to press the Palestinian cause while in New York. He met with PA President Abu Mazen and reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to doing everything it can to help the Palestinian people regain their legitimate rights and establish an independent state in accordance with established international frames-of-reference. This was a clear response to one of Turkey’s and Qatar’s smear campaigns against Egypt. Ankara and Doha have tried to circulate the lie that Egypt has been pressuring the Palestinians into accepting the so-called Deal of the Century that Washington is promoting as a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
President Al-Sisi’s meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was important in this regard. Norway was the chief mediator in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel in 1993 which lead to the Oslo Accord. The fate of this agreement, which established the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, hangs in the balance as Israel continues to threaten to annex a large portion of the West Bank, in violation of the Oslo agreement which states that the fate of occupied Palestinian territories must be determined within the framework of that agreement. Norway can play a central role, in cooperation with the EU, in offsetting the Deal of the Century and promoting the negotiating process and a two-state solution.
Al-Sisi’s meeting with other African leaders came in the context of Egypt’s current position as chair of the African Union, and within the framework of Egypt’s efforts to secure the support of African nations in resolving the dispute between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which threatens Egypt and Sudan’s water security. President Al-Sisi has made it clear Ethiopia cannot turn a blind eye to Egypt’s wellbeing and that if necessary, Cairo will press the international community to intervene in order to resolve the conflict in a manner that safeguards the interests of both sides. President Al-Sisi’s meetings with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Djibouti President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh were especially important. The two countries have good relations with both Egypt and Ethiopia, placing them in a position to mediate between Cairo and Addis Ababa.
Al-Sisi’s meetings with leaders from Jordan and Iraq were part of Cairo’s ongoing efforts to promote inter-Arab coordination in the face of the threats posed by Qatari and Turkish backed terrorism and Iran’s regional designs.
Egypt’s economic influence and interests were also central to the president’s meeting. He took advantage of his meetings with prominent representatives of the US business community to promote Egypt’s recently launched mega projects as an investment opportunity and major gateway to African markets.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.