Location, location, location

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

Egypt’s prime geographical location astride two continents and between two seas has brought dangers as well as opportunities with it, writes Azza Radwan Sedky


Talk to real-estate agents in the Western world when they are estimating the value of property, and they will tell you that there are three things that matter the most – “location, location, location.”

If you apply this notion to Egypt, you will realise that Egypt has the best geographical location. However, today this outstanding and unique location that Egypt has been blessed with has backfired amidst the geopolitical cataclysms surrounding it, putting pressure on its economic, political, and security foundations.

If you scrutinise a world map, you will almost definitely see Egypt in the centre. The “Mother of the World” has reaped the benefits of this prime location for millennia. It sits at the crossroads of three continents in the north-eastern corner of Africa, edged on the north by the Mediterranean Sea and on the East by the Red Sea.

Nabil Fahmi, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in an article published in 2012 that “perched astride two continents, sandwiched between two seas, and watered by a river that feeds ten countries, Egypt is a nation destined to have extensive contact with the outside world.” Egypt has, indeed, played a fundamental role in connecting European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African countries together, whether historically, geographically, or politically.

However, recently Egypt’s strategic location has bestowed upon it seemingly endless challenges. Indeed, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi recently said that Egypt is facing harsh conditions on its Western, Eastern, and Southern borders.

Egypt has Libya to its West, Sudan to its South, and Israel and Gaza to its northeast. Further away, but still in the region, are Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and further still is Yemen. Across all three borders and beyond, Egypt faces critical conditions. Today its prime location has been having major adverse effects since Egypt may not have the option of not getting involved in the many armed conflicts surrounding it.

Egypt has always stood by Libya and sought to help resolve its crises. The Speaker of Libya’s eastern-based House of Representatives Aguila Salah, has said that “it is impossible for Egypt to abandon Libya, and this has never happened in the past or present.” He added that “the Libyan and Egyptian people are linked by religion, kinship, neighbourly relations, historical positions, common borders, and common national security concerns.”

But this neighbouring state and its insecurity pose a direct threat to Egypt. Even if the critical situation in Libya abates, the length of the Egyptian border with Libya, at around 1,115 km, could be infiltrated by arms-smugglers, militia factions, and dangerous jihadists. Egypt, worried about such incursions, diligently safeguards the stretched-out border as a result.

The conflict in Sudan is another difficult situation for Egypt. The war between the various blocs in the country exposes Egypt to “an increased risk of cross-border incursions by armed groups, weapons-smugglers, and human-traffickers,” says commentator Anthony Skinner of the US think tank the Washington Institute’s Fikra Forum. More importantly, Egypt has also been nearly overwhelmed by an influx of Sudanese immigrants, over 300,000 of them in recent years.

With the Gaza war now ongoing on Egypt’s doorstep in the northeast, Egypt seems to have been cornered amongst various fronts, all the results of its geographical location.

Amidst the genocide occurring in Gaza, Egypt has welcomed injured Gazans in need of medical support; however, it has also insisted that it will not take any Gazan refugees, since, first, they will likely not be allowed to return to their homes, and, second, Gaza’s sovereignty will ultimately be at stake. The Palestinians are human beings, not inconvenient things to be moved around at the whim of Israel and the Western countries.

However, Israeli ministers and public figures, Zionist supporters, and others think otherwise and have not only supported such a scheme but have also spoken bluntly about it. When asked where the Gazans should go to escape the Israeli bombardments of their homes, Nikki Haley, a prospective candidate in this year’s US presidential elections, blinded by Israeli propaganda and the Israeli lobby in the US, said that “the Palestinians should have gone to the Rafah Crossing and Egypt would have taken care of them,” which is a ludicrous way of thinking.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that Israel “must retake” the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land marking the border between Egypt and Gaza, in a clear violation of the Camp David Accords. Should Israel attempt to do so, this could shift the dynamics between Egypt and Israel and ultimately lead to direct confrontation, something Egypt has tried to avoid.   

The Israeli war on Gaza has sparked retaliatory actions on many fronts, but one of the most dangerous has come from the Houthi forces in Yemen. The Houthis have launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Israel, of which some have fallen in Egyptian territory. They have also targeted vessels heading to Israel in the Red Sea. This has prompted several shipping companies to divert their vessels from the Red Sea and thus has disrupted the flow of vessels going through the Suez Canal. Revenue from the Suez Canal is now down 40 per cent, and the number of vessels that have passed through the Suez Canal has dropped to 544 down from 777 in the equivalent period of 2023.

So where does Egypt go from here as a result of its being bordered by one confrontational challenge after another?

What Egypt is doing is onerous but sound. Egypt has a strong and effective old over its borders, and it is not going to venture into any war that it is not involved in, an undertaking that would likely destabilise it to the core and shatter its development efforts. Egypt must remain a solid and stable mediator in such conflicts and a provider of humanitarian aid and medical support. It must continue to call for peace and a permanent ceasefire on all fronts.

Egypt remains the heart of the Arab World and the Middle East, and it has played an immensely important role historically. Determined to sustain that role, it remains steadfast in providing support to its besieged neighbours, while doing all it can to negotiate peace agreements and send in humanitarian aid.


The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.

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

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