Egypt-Cyprus: A lifeline to Gaza

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 14 Feb 2024

Coordination between Egypt and Cyprus is needed now more than ever.

Shoukri and Kombos during the press conference
Shoukri and Kombos during the press conference

 

The possibility of establishing a maritime humanitarian corridor from Cyprus to Gaza was the focus of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos last week in the Cypriot capital Nocosia.

“As humanitarian needs escalate so does the need to act,” said Kombos. 

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides visited Egypt and Jordan in December to discuss the possibility of establishing the corridor, meeting with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan to discuss ways to increase the flow of aid to Gaza. The three leaders agreed to coordinate in order to promote the corridor initiative. 

Ahmed Kandil, head of the International Studies Unit at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says both Egypt and Cyprus share concerns about the deteriorating situation in Gaza and are committed to cooperating to ensure more aid reaches the war-torn Strip. 

Ali Al-Hefni, a former deputy foreign minister, agrees, noting that Shoukri’s meeting was held as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was threatening to widen military operations in Gaza to include a ground offensive in Rafah where 1.3 million Palestinians are crammed. 

“Coordination with Cyprus is required on the bilateral and, with Greece, trilateral levels,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly

The planned corridor will run from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to Gaza. Humanitarian supplies will be collected, inspected and stored in Cyprus before being shipped to the beleaguered Strip. The success of the initiative, says Al-Hefni, remains contingent on “how much pressure the international community is willing to put on Israel to allow the uninterrupted flow of aid.”

Shoukri and Kombos also highlighted the urgent need to step up international efforts to secure an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire to ease the suffering of the Palestinians and prevent the conflict from further destabilising the region. A political process to reach a permanent and just solution to the Palestinian cause through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 4 June 1967 is long overdue, they said.

Discussions also broached political and security developments in Libya and Syria. On the bilateral level, Shoukri discussed with his Cypriot counterpart ways to enhance economic cooperation in trade, investment, and tourism and stressed the importance of cooperating on energy.

The value of Egyptian exports to Cyprus increased to $76 million in 2022, up from $45 million in 2021, according to data released by Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.

Shoukri and Kombos also tackled ways to enhance cooperation with Greece and consolidate the tripartite framework that has grown in the wake of natural gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). The EMGF was established on an Egyptian initiative unveiled during the Crete summit between the leaders of the three countries in 2018.

The special relationship between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece and recent improvements in Egyptian Turkish relations — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to visit Egypt this week — have raised hopes that Cairo can play a mediating role in resolving outstanding differences between Ankara on the one hand and Nicosia and Athens on the other.

According to Kandil, Cairo is well-placed to play a role in bridging the gap between Cyprus and Turkey and could mediate the demarcation of Turkey’s maritime border with both Cyprus and Greece given that it has postponed the demarcation of its border with Turkey until Greece and Cyprus settle their dispute.

Erdogan was scheduled to pay Egypt a one-day visit on Wednesday following his participation in the World Government Summit in Dubai. After years of tense relations, Egypt and Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations to the ambassadorial level in July 2023.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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