- GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations.
- GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries
Egypt takes centre stage in West Asian affairs
Context: Egypt’s diplomats and intelligence officers recently negotiated the end of the 11-day Israel-Palestine conflict, with the new Israeli government looking to Egypt to manage the turbulent cauldron of Gaza.
Political & Economic changes that is propelling Egypt as leader in West Asia:
- Re-engaging Africa: Egypt, after long years of neglect, has now become active in re-engaging with its neighbours in Africa, with substantial economic and defence partnership agreements
- Opportunity for Leadership: The failure of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to achieve any success in their military interventions (in Syria, Yemen and Libya), or in the blockade of Qatar, has opened the space for Egypt to regain the influence it has traditionally enjoyed in Arab counsels.
- Strengthening Economic Base: Egypt’s increasing stature is greatly facilitated by the good management of its economy through difficult times. Economic reforms from 2015 finally provided foreign exchange reserves of $40 billion by 2018 and a growth rate of 5.6% in 2019.
- Reliance on Diplomacy: The instrument that Egypt is using to assert its diverse interests in a complex and conflictual region is not military force, but diplomacy.
- New Coalition for Cooperation: Egypt, with Iraq and Jordan announced a new tripartite grouping in June 2021 proclaiming the advent of al-Sham al-Jadid, the “New Levant”.
- Iraq would like to free itself from the Iranian grip and expand ties with its Arab neighbours.
- Jordan is unhappy with the recent Saudi role in internal affairs.
- Egypt views the partnership as an opportunity to move beyond its traditional dependence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and assert its own leadership in the region.
- Also, together, the partners constitute a near-contiguous land mass, with a total population of 150 million and considerable domestic agricultural and industrial capacity.
- Ethiopia’s plan to construct the GERD on Blue Nile: Egypt fears this project could restrict its access to the waters of the Nile, the source of 95% of its fresh water and sees this project as an “existential threat”.
- Egypt has adopted diplomatic response by having defence agreements with the “ring countries” around Ethiopia — Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya — to safeguard its interests.
- Egypt has agreed to build a major dam and hydropower project in Tanzania, so that the latter will compete with Ethiopia in the export of power in the region
- Turkey: In the East Mediterranean, Egypt, with other littoral partners, has delineated energy claims in the sea which conflict with Turkey’s claims. With neither side willing to compromise, there are serious fears of conflict.
- Also, there is differences between Egypt & Turkey w.r.t Libya & its peace process. Egypt affirmed its interest in Libya by inaugurating a new naval base close to the Libyan border.
- Domestic Economic Issues: Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, unemployment has increased, recovery has been slow, and the percentage of workers without adequate income has gone up from 55% to nearly 75%. The poverty rate in Egypt is still 2% higher than in 2015, when reforms had started
- Further deterioration in the economy could compel Egypt to seek assistance from the Gulf States, which would dilute its independent posture in regional affairs.
While Egypt’s diplomacy has already placed it in the vanguard of regional affairs, it also faces serious challenges.
Connecting the dots: