The age of the Mediterranean

Ioannis Kotoulas
Tuesday 2 Aug 2022

The Mediterranean is becoming of greater and greater strategic importance for the countries of the region, predominantly Egypt and Greece, writes Ioannis Kotoulas

 

The Mediterranean Sea, once an area fragmented between north and south with limited contacts between them, is today gradually becoming a united geopolitical space with effective synergies. 

Over recent years, all the states of the greater region have increasingly reoriented their strategic outlook towards the Mediterranean to varying degrees. Among these, Egypt and Greece, the two most ancient Mediterranean nations, stand out. 

The strategic orientation of Egypt and Greece has shifted towards this ancient sea that has been the home of Egyptians and Greeks for thousands of years. Egypt is increasing its footprint in the Mediterranean. In July 2021, Egypt inaugurated its newest naval base, the 3 July Base, in Gargoub close to the Libyan border, while the Mohamed Naguib Base west of Alexandria is the largest in the Middle East. 

The Egyptian Navy is steadily upgrading its capabilities and is now one of the strongest in the region. Greece, with a very strong air force, is the most trustworthy EU state in the region that cooperates with Egypt, with the two countries having developed close ties. 

Special mention should be made of one particular diplomatic landmark. This month marks the second anniversary of the maritime demarcation deal between Egypt and Greece. On 6 August 2020, the two countries signed an historic deal for the delimitation of their EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones) southeast of the island of Crete and northeast of the Matrouh governorate in Egypt. The deal has been an important development for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri rightly stated at the time that “this agreement allows both countries to move forward in maximising the utilisation of the resources available in the Exclusive Economic Zone, especially promising oil and gas reserves.” Since then, the two countries have deepened their cooperation on all levels, diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural. The deal can be completed when deemed appropriate by the two states with an agreement for a full demarcation line that will safeguard the national interests of both Egypt and Greece.

The establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in January 2020 as a result of an Egyptian initiative has also created a fundamental new international organisation in energy security and a new financial power bloc that can cooperate with the EU. 

In late 2021, Egypt and Greece signed a memorandum covering three major areas of cooperation – liquefied natural gas trading, research and exploration activities, and the linking of natural gas pipelines. Egypt and Greece are already exploring bilateral plans to build a major underwater electricity transmission line connecting the Egyptian coast to Greece as a gateway to European markets. What is evident from all these activities is the increasing importance of the Mediterranean for Egyptian and EU interests, especially during this turbulent period. 

Some points of tension and instability continue to disrupt the stability of the Mediterranean, however. Libya is still trapped in a spiral of internal unrest fuelled by external interventions. The issue can only be resolved in accordance with the guidelines that have been put forward by Egyptian diplomacy. The US often adopts a narrow-minded approach in intervening in other states’ internal affairs, disregarding the need to combat international terrorist networks. The Mediterranean states do not need external interference when working out their future.

The Mediterranean states are developing new modes of bilateral and regional cooperation that traverse established perceptions of identity and create new opportunities for cooperation and alliances. The Mediterranean has been our rightful historical space for thousands of years and has long functioned as a bridge for cooperation. It will be essential for international security in the years to come.


* The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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