LIBYA: A possible breakthrough is in the works for one of the most pressing issues facing Cairo.
Following a tripartite meeting this week with Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar, and Libyan Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced the Cairo Declaration, a joint political initiative that seeks to end the conflict in Libya.
In an attempt to ensure the initiative does not meet the same fate as earlier attempt to broker peace, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri is coordinating with UN Secretary-General António Gueterras, Chairman of the African Union (AU) Moussa Faki, and the foreign ministers of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Niger and the UAE.
Egypt has long sought a political solution in Libya that includes all active political parties and preserves the unity of the country.
COVID-19: The coronavirus pandemic has presented new challenges to foreign policy-makers across the world.
Egypt has launched a number of initiatives to raise awareness of the dangers posed by the virus. As chair of the African group at the UN’s Geneva headquarters, Egypt organised a series of meetings with the heads of international humanitarian organisations last month to coordinate their support for African states as they face the fallout from the virus.
Egypt has also led an international campaign at the UN to reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the money remitted by expatriate workers to their home countries.
In collaboration with Egypt’s National Council for Women, the Foreign Ministry has spearheaded attempts to mitigate the impact of the virus on vulnerable groups of women and take preventive measures to reduce its effects.
TERRORISM: Egypt’s war on terrorism has been one of the abiding features of the last six years. Cairo has raised the threat posed by terrorism at every international meeting, including the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development.
Government efforts to combat terrorism seem to be working. Egypt dropped out of the top 10 countries affected by terrorism in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2019 Global Terrorism Index issued in November.
Deaths from terrorist attacks fell 90 per cent in 2019, with the report attributing the fall to the success of counter-terrorism operations in Sinai.
Last week, Shoukri took part via video conference in a meeting of foreign ministers from states committed to combating the Islamic State, and stressed that measures were urgently needed to halt the growth of the group’s influence in west Africa and the Sahel, and stop it from restructuring in Iraq and Syria.
At the opening ceremony of the 33rd AU Summit in Addis Ababa in February President Al-Sisi proposed an African summit on fighting terrorism. In a later, closed session, African leaders agreed to convene a special meeting to discuss establishing a continental counter-terrorism force.
EGYPT IN AFRICA: Building relations with African states has been a top priority for the last six years, and Egypt’s chairing of the AU in 2019 gave Cairo an opportunity to address challenges to the continent head on.
Last year ended with two meetings at which Egypt tried to make the African voice heard: the first round of the Aswan Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, and the G20 Compact with Africa summit.
In addition to taking part in international forums and voicing African concerns, Cairo has continued to play a vital role on the continent, contributing peace-keeping forces, taking part in preventive diplomacy, and promoting conflict resolution in flash points like South Sudan and Burundi.
During its 2019 presidency of the AU, Egypt championed the African Free Trade Area Agreement tirelessly.
NILE BASIN: One of the main aims of Egypt’s foreign policy is to establish strong relations with Nile Basin countries and President Al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukri have paid frequent visits to Nile Basin countries over the last six years.
Relations with Nile Basin countries began to sour when they signed the Entebbe Agreement in 2010. Tensions escalated when Ethiopia began work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which will limit the flow of the Nile, Egypt’s main source of fresh water. Addis Ababa claims the dam, which will double Ethiopia’s electricity generating capacity, is critical to its development efforts.
After years of tripartite talks, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan failed to agree a timetable for filling the dam’s reservoir, or how much water should be released during periods of drought and prolonged droughts.
In the hope of finding a solution Egypt has sought third-party mediation, a suggestion Addis Ababa refused until November last year when the US Treasury Department hosted ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan in Washington for talks on the GERD. The World Bank attended the talks as an observer.
The talks were supposed to lead to a comprehensive agreement by the end of February. However, Ethiopia did not turn up to the final meeting.
In March Shoukri embarked on a round of shuttle diplomacy to African, European and Arab states to resume the tripartite negotiations and reach an agreement before the filling of the dam begins. Ethiopia has declared it will begin filling the reservoir next month regardless of whether an agreement is reached.
Sudan has repeatedly tried to bring negotiations back on track, efforts that seemed to bear fruit this week when the ministers of irrigation of the three states met on Tuesday.
COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA: In the wake of June 2013 relations with Russia improved markedly.
President Al-Sisi turned to Moscow in 2014, when US-Egyptian ties were at their lowest ebb. Since then, Egypt and Russia have cemented ties in a number of ways, arms deals among them.
In 2015 Egypt reached a deal with Russian state energy firm Rosatom to construct a 4,800 megawatt nuclear power plant at Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast. Under the deal, Moscow is loaning Egypt $25 billion over 35 years to finance the construction and operation of the nuclear plant.
In 2017 Vladimir Putin visited Egypt for the signing of the Dabaa deal, a trip that was expected to open the doors to other areas of cooperation.
Moscow halted flights between Russia and Egypt in October 2015, following the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai that killed all 224 people on board. Since then Egypt has adopted tighter security measures at its airports to meet Russian demands, and the two sides agreed to hold meetings in April 2018 to discuss the resumption of flights from Moscow to Egyptian resort towns on the Red Sea. Before the plane crash Russians had accounted for a fifth of Egypt’s tourist traffic.
On the political level, there is continuous coordination and consultation between Cairo and Moscow on bilateral and regional issues. Shoukri called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week to discuss regional developments, including the situation in Libya and the Palestinian territories.
PARTNERSHIP WITH CHINA: Cooperation between Cairo and Beijing has proceeded apace. Relations began their upward trajectory with Al-Sisi’s visit to China in December 2014, and continued with China’s announcement of its Belt and Road Initiative, and growing investments in major development projects in Egypt.
Recent years have seen the establishing of a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Egypt, and a series of cooperation agreements in the field of trade, the economy, aerospace industry and energy.
Contacts between Chinese and Egyptian officials is continuous. Last week, Shoukri called his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss bilateral and regional issues.
Shoukri briefed Wang of the latest developments on GERD, and Egypt’s willingness to resume tripartite negotiations in the hope of reaching a comprehensive agreement.
China is in a strong position to press Ethiopia into being less intransigent: Beijing is one of the main financiers of hydropower projects in Ethiopia.
GREECE AND CYPRUS: Security in the Eastern Mediterranean has steadily climbed the regional agenda in recent years. Egypt has developed alliances with Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy to pursue mutual interests. Following a virtual meeting last month they issued a strongly worded joint communiqué denouncing illegal Turkish activity in Cypriot territorial waters.
They called on Turkey to respect the sovereignty of Mediterranean states, and strongly condemned Turkish military interference in Libya after Ankara moved mercenaries from Syria to Egypt’s troubled western neighbour.
In a meeting held in January the foreign ministers of the five states said November’s signing of memorandums of understanding between Turkey and Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s Presidency Council, violated UN Security Council resolutions and international law, and further undermined regional stability.
Tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus began in 2014 with the goal of promoting neighbourly relations, regional stability, peace and prosperity.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Balance and diversity