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Abdallah Hendawy

Egypt is becoming the region's hawk

An Egyptian hawk rising? [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 April, 2015

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Comment: Egypt has lost its role as impartial mediator and is instead becoming a regional hawk. But this is a potential pitfall, says Abdallah Hendawy

For decades, Egypt was an efficient peace broker in the Middle East’s conflicts. This was indeed due to its clichéd attributes as the centre of the Arab world and its cultural and political hub.

 

In possession of the most powerful Arab military and with strong relationships with the West and Israel on one hand and Arab states on the other enabled it to swing easily among warring parties to mediate during conflicts. Even on Tehran, and despite diplomatic coolness, Egypt was not part of any Sunni-Shia animosity. In addition, and perhaps most

     Egypt and its wealthy Gulf allies appear to have chosen to invest in an Egyptian hawk.

importantly, Egypt was not engaged in any open conflict in the region.

 

Impartiality, credibility, and ability to influence were then what altogether shaped Egypt’s profile as an efficient regional peace broker. However, Egypt has recently lost all three components by getting itself involved in several diplomatic rows with countries like Qatar, Turkey and Ethiopia and taking part in direct armed conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Gaza. Despite, the vindications to rationalize each of these, the moment Egypt plunged itself into such multidimensional quarrels, it lost its impartiality and thus its standing as a neutral broker.

 

Egypt’s domestic turmoil, political instability and changes in political leaderships and visions, also broke its ability to hold consistent positions with its peers and restricted its capacity to influence political factions across the region.

 

Meanwhile, regional players like Turkey and Qatar seized on Egypt’s absence and actively took part in negotiating peace deals across the region. This was evident in the latest Israeli/Hamas truce negotiations in which Egypt’s involvement was reduced to its geographical proximity with Gaza. Hamas’ leadership – who were negotiating from Qatar - had for the first time publicly rejected an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

 

Similarly, Egypt’s mediation efforts in Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen or even on its own water dispute with Ethiopia were all stumbling.

 

Surprisingly (or not), Egypt’s new leadership doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in restoring Egypt’s role as a regional peace broker. On the contrary, Egypt is rattling new cages in Yemen, Libya, Gaza and northern Sinai. There is no conundrum in this: the new leadership does not envision Egypt as a regional dove any longer. Instead, it is building an image as a regional hawks, with Egypt’s army ready to send troops wherever needed.

 

It is conceivable that Egypt’s leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is trying to kill all birds with one stone: show off Egypt’s hard power to Arab countries and thus gain their reliance and custom; then pay off the many billion dollars debt to Arab Gulf countries and thus build regional prestige.

 

Gulf countries are entirely supportive of Egypt’s new hawkish role. That could then increase the Gulf’s strategic outlay on Egypt’s military in hope to gain future support against external threats. The recent Pakistani rejection to join the Saudi-led coalition on Yemen increases Arab monarchies’ dependence on Egypt’s military more than ever.

 

Egypt and its wealthy Gulf allies appear thus to have chosen to invest in an Egyptian hawk for the region over peaceful alternatives. But this could be a pitfall. The military operations that started in Iraq, stretched to Syria, Libya and reached Yemen and will expand farther to reach other vulnerable spots in absence of a unifying and credible mediator who could resume stalled peace talks.

 

A hypothetically impartial, reliable and credible dovish Egypt capable of sealing long-term and comprehensive peace deals with warring parties could have saved the region from its new wars and Egypt itself from the debilitating war in north Sinai.

 

Egypt’s power ought to lie in its ability to reconcile and provide coherent political alternatives rather than developing its military deterrence capabilities in the name of protecting ‘Arab national security’; a term that Arabs themselves can’t agree how to define.  

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