The Egyptian presence in the region

Camp David Accords in September 17, 1978, meant that Egypt would no longer involve in the affairs of the Arabs of Asia, as king Farouk of Egypt and the president Gamal Abdel Nasser had much interest in those affairs. Furthermore, since the Egyptian officers took power, Abdel Nasser was aware that history showed that defending north of Egypt, started from the Levant. When the South Sudanese Civil War broke out in 1983 and the Pan Am Flight 103 crisis between Gaddafi and the American-European West in 1992, the Egyptian role was absent in the two crises, which meant that the Camp David Accords succeeded in excluding Egypt from involving in the affairs of the Arab of Asian section.

Here, Hosni Mubarak was the embodiment of this path, but Egypt was internally disturbed after his fall on February 11, 2011 until the military regained power after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule on July 3, 2013. After that, Cairo’s involvement in the Libyan crisis (2011- 2021) came late after countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, France and Italy. However, its involvement in the Sudanese crises (Darfur – eastern Sudan) was weak.

Here, the return of Egypt under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule was remarkable to take care of the affairs of the Arab world in Asia in light of the vacuum of Arab power there, which appeared through the crises of Syria (2011-2021) and Yemen (2014-2021), and the growing of the Turkish role in the Syrian crisis, as well as the growing of the Iranian role in both the Syrian and Yemeni crises.

Egypt entered, though with weak roles, in the two crises due to concern over the growing influence of both Ankara and Tehran, especially the first, after the military rulers in Cairo felt that Erdogan’s auspice of the Egyptian Islamists represented an existential threat to their rule.

In this regard, the intense Egyptian involvement in the Libyan crisis was remarkable after Fayez al-Sarraj, Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, signed the Maritime Boundary Treaty with Turkey and security agreements that allowed Turkey to have a military presence in Libya in November, 2019. 

Turkish direct or indirect (through mercenaries) military support enabled the forces of the Libyan West controlled by Islamists, to defeat the forces of Major General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France and Russia, which withdrew from the gates of the capital, Tripoli, to the Sirte-Jufra line at the end of May 2020.

When Egyptian President, al-Sisi announced in the following month that the Sirte-Jufra line was “a red line and crossing it would lead to direct Egyptian military intervention,” the scenario of the Egyptian-Turkish war on Libyan territory pushed Washington to curb the motives of the Libyan crisis, especially after Washington felt that the Libyan crisis is a passage for Moscow to North Africa and the emergence of Washington’s allies in Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Paris.

In this regard, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis with Ethiopia, emerged in February 2020, after the failure of tripartite talks that included Sudan, to resolve the crisis, which the administration of Donald Trump tried to resolve before the start of the first filling of the dam body scheduled for the summer of 2020 with monsoon rains, prompting Egypt to form an alliance with Sudan against Ethiopia through bilateral military agreements and joint military maneuvers. However, Egypt did not involve in the agreements concluded by the Sudanese authority with opposition military movements in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, while the role of the state of South Sudan was prominent in reaching those agreements.

In coincidence with this, there is the beginning of a new and unprecedented Egyptian interest in the Syrian crisis in 2021, although it is felt that the main motive for it, is to confront the Turkish expansion in Syria, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE remain more effective in the Yemeni crisis than Egypt.

Also, in this regard, it is noted that the Libyan crisis was a corridor for an Egyptian-Russian rapprochement that we did not witness in the era that followed Anwar Sadat’s transfer from the alliance that Abdel Nasser made with the Soviet Union in 1974, reaching Egypt’s fall into Washington’s bosom. The Egyptian President Sadat thought or fancied that he would push Washington to replace its dependence on Israel as the principal agent of the United States in the region, as the wars of 1967 and 1982, and the Operation Opera in 1981 proved.  

As a summary: Egypt has regained only a small part of its regional role, which extended not only to influence the regional picture, but to influence the interior of many capitals such as Damascus, Baghdad, Amman, Sana’a, Aden, Khartoum and Tripoli. It seems that the decision-making circles’ sense of the dangers threatening the core of the Egyptian national security, through Libyan crisis, or the GRED crisis, or through the Turkish expansion in Syria, is urging the awakening, though with limited strength so far, of the Egyptian role in the Middle East region.