Egypt and the US: Building on connections

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 20 Apr 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly reports on the latest exchange of official visits between Egypt and the US.

Building on connections
Al-Sisi with the congressional delegation


Developments on the Palestinian front were the focus of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s Saturday meeting with a delegation from the US Congress led by Senator Richard Shelby.

Al-Sisi underlined Egypt’s commitment to reaching a just and comprehensive solution that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people, and stressed the importance of maintaining constant communication with Congressional leaders and other US officials to facilitate coordination on issues of mutual concern, said Presidential Spokesperson Bassam Radi after the meeting.

Radi’s words succinctly describe the purpose of last week’s meeting between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington. The regular exchange of visits, said Shoukri, targets the boosting of bilateral strategic relations.

“The strategic partnership between Egypt and the US over four decades has been mutually beneficial… there is much more work for both of us to do to further strengthen the relationship and also to deal with the various challenges,” he said during a joint press conference.

Tarek Fahmi, political science professor at Cairo University, said Shoukri’s visit, like his previous trip to Washington in November 2021, would have focused on pressing files, and in the case of the latest trip have included developments in Jerusalem after Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday.

It is significant, says a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, that the meeting failed to produce any kind of denouncement of Israeli practices let alone calls for a return to the peace process. Although Blinken said during the Negev summit last month that conditions must be created for negotiations on a two-state solution, no action has been taken to translate this into action, the diplomat continued.

Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, was unsurprised at the outcome. “The Biden administration has said it supports a two-state solution but has done nothing to translate that support into action,” he said.

The talks of Shoukri and Blinken included Libya, and the measures taken by Cairo to complete the transitional phase, after the US, says Fahmi, finally realised the important role Egypt plays.

They would also have addressed Egypt’s position on Iran after Cairo declined to sign up to any alliance at last month’s Negev summit, and on Ukraine. According to Fahmi, there were fears in Washington that Egypt would support Russia in its war.

Climate change was also on the agenda, as Egypt prepares for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), scheduled to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November. Shoukri met with David Thorne, the senior adviser to US special presidential envoy for climate, during the visit.

In February, Shoukri and John Kerry, the presidential envoy for climate, launched the US-Egypt climate working group during Kerry’s visit to Cairo. The group aims to enhance bilateral and multilateral climate goals ahead of COP27.

Last month, Shoukri and Kerry highlighted the importance of activating the climate working group at the earliest opportunity.

Human rights would also have been discussed after the issue was also raised during the launch of the Egypt-US strategic dialogue in November last year.

Blinken said then that Egypt had more work to do on human rights. Shoukri responded by saying human rights must be balanced with other considerations, and emphasised the importance of stability. He referred to positive development in the file of human rights, highlighting the development of Egypt’s national strategy for human rights in Egypt, and the recent decision to cancel the state of emergency.

On the sidelines of his visit, Shoukri met Robert Malley, the US special envoy to Iran, to exchange views on the situation in the Middle East. He also participated in a roundtable discussion at the Middle East Institute, discussing strategic ties, Egypt’s view on regional issues and challenges, and its regional and international role.

Last week marked the centennial of Egypt-US diplomatic relations, established in 1922.

“There is a lot of history but, I hope, a lot of good history we can actually make together in the months and years ahead,” Blinken said during a joint press conference.

To mark the occasion, Blinken handed Shoukry two official letters as a gift from the US, one  a letter recognising Egypt’s independence from US President Warren Harding to King Ahmed Fouad, the second a letter from US State Secretary Charles Hughes to congratulate Egypt’s prime minister Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Pasha on independence.

The Egypt-US Strategic Dialogue was launched in the mid-1990s, but came to a halt in 2009 before resuming again in 2015. Last November’s session was the first since 2015.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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