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Egypt’s changing foreign policy

  by: : Hassan Nafaa

Egypt’s changing foreign policy

Tue, 03/05/2011 - 14:54

There have been clear shifts in Egypt’s foreign policy since the ouster of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, long considered a “strategic treasure” by Israel, in February. The speed of these changes has come as a surprise to many. Egypt is most visibly shifting its foreign policy on three issues: bilateral relations with Iran, the Palestinian reconciliation process, and the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi has publicly expressed Egypt’s willingness to restore normal relations with Iran, including an exchange of ambassadors between the two countries.

On Palestinian reconciliation, Egypt has adopted a more even-handed approach in its efforts to mediate between Fatah and Hamas. The result has been rapid success. An Egypt-brokered deal to end the divisions between the rival Palestinian factions has paved the way for a comprehensive reconciliation agreement, to be officially signed at the Arab League headquarters on Wednesday.

With regards to the Gaza, Egypt’s has announced its intention to permanently open the Rafah border crossing soon, effectively ending its complicity in the Israeli-imposed siege.

These quick changes in Egypt’s foreign policy are deeply disturbing for Israel, which has portrayed them as a warning sign that new Egyptian government may violate its obligations under its 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. But none of these policy shifts constitute a breach of Egypt’s international obligations. The treaty does not grant Israel the right to dictate the nature of Egypt’s relations with other countries. Israel has no authority to determine Egypt’s allies and foes, nor should it receive preferential treatment from Egypt. Instead, these shifts reflect a serious attempt on the part of Cairo to repair its foreign policy.

Former President Hosni Mubarak needed Israeli support for his plan to transfer power to his son Gamal. In return, Mubarak agreed to do Israel’s bidding. He refused to improve relations with Iran and agreed to sign a Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) agreement with Israel. He helped Israel impose an unjust siege on the Gaza Strip, and facilitated its war on Hamas. Mubarak voluntarily offered these concessions without any justification. He calculated that these gestures would help ensure the passage of his succession plan.

The failure of Mubarak's succession plan in the wake of the 25 January revolution has severely weakened Israel’s ability to manipulate Egyptian foreign policy. Egypt’s desire to normalize relations with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbollah reflects a genuine wish for good relations with some of the most influential players in the Middle East.

This does not mean that Egypt seeks an unconditional alliance with these governments and political forces, or that it will adopt their respective regional agendas. Instead, the collapse of the succession scheme, which served as the main force behind Egypt’s foreign policy decisions, means that the country's foreign policy can be guided first and foremost by its national interests.

This is a very important development that will help Egypt formulate a new vision for its regional and international role. The present shifts in Egypt’s foreign policy are only the beginning and promise to be followed by larger transformations.