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Sisi’s leaks reveal new rules for understating Egyptian policies

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi during the opening ceremony of the 24th Ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2015
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi during the opening ceremony of the 24th Ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2015

The recent leaks aired on Mekameleen TV may help political analysts overcome the chronic imbalance in their approaches to the official Egyptian behaviour. The result of these imbalances is that they have perceived impressions of the Egyptian government making them see it in a false light and they do not see important factors behind the government’s motives that may be of utmost importance.

The roots of the imbalance

Mekameleen TV aired two leaks relating to Egyptian diplomacy. The first leak was aired earlier this month, it was a phone call between Al-Sisi and his Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry regarding Egypt’s participation in the Lausanne conference held last October to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The second leak was aired on Friday (10 February), it was phone call between Sameh Shoukry and Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer,

Yitzhak Molcho. The phone call was regarding the border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and issues related to handing over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, as well as other topics of interest to Israel, such as the Gulf of Aqaba and its freedom of movement in the Red Sea.

The imbalance in the political analysts’ perception of Egyptian policies is based on two mistakes. The first is a result of overestimating the Egyptian government, including its various agencies and institutions, and the second is falling into a state of intellectual and emotional surrender when the Egyptian leaders are perceived as rulers of a major country that has tremendous political and cultural influence and a rich history amongst the modern and contemporary Arab circles.

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Viewing Egypt as it was, or how Arabs like to see it, in order to understand its government’s policies is an historical mistake that lacks a critical sense as well as comparative historical awareness. The progression of history does not allow anything to remain the same, and pure historical knowledge tells us that the superpowers were not immune to internal decline and having things shovelled aside, as well as a decline in external ranking.

Of course, in addition to the objective reasons that were achieved in history and occurred in reality, giving Egypt its status, the successive regimes in Egypt have, for various reasons that are too many to be discussed in this article, worked on creating a national identity that make a connection between Egypt and its rulers who created the state in accordance with their vision, as well as promoted the image of the governing institutions, in order to create the misleading image that says, “a big country can only be governed by big people.”

After the January 25th Revolution and the escalation of the internal clashes, we saw the magnitude of the disregard and shovelling aside suffered by the Egyptians for the past 60 years at least. The level of wear and tear that has reached everything, the hand of state institutions were even exposed and revealed in Egyptian cinema, drama and culture.

Despair in policies and management

 The first leak reveals a means of managing Egyptian diplomacy that completely contradicts the fabricated image and shocks the Arab consciousness that was formed of Egypt throughout history. Despite the professional and diplomatic sense possessed by Sameh Shoukry while speaking to Al-Sisi, it became apparent that the shovelling operation is able to crush competency and respect and can rearrange everything to adapt.

Regardless of the political issue revealed in the leak, i.e. the details of Egypt’s invite to attend the Lausanne conference on the Syrian issue, and the related Iranian-Saudi conflict that reflected on the Egyptian role in the matter or decision to participate, the way that the topic of the participation was dealt with, which is very sensitive given the gravity of the Syrian crisis and the awkwardness of Egypt’s position on the Iranian-Saudi conflict, was improvised and lacked institutional reference.

This phone call regarding the sensitive issue did not stem from a previously set strategy that has a sense of awareness and vision. It was merely improvised decisions dictated by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi based on instantaneous variables and data given to him by his foreign minister. In addition to this, the decisions contradicted with the vision of the diplomatic expert, the foreign minister himself!

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The way that the decision of Egypt’s participation in the Lausanne conference was made, as well as the other issues covered in the phone call, including the Egyptian-Gulf relations, particularly with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, certainly does not reinforce the analyses that look at the Egyptian official performance through the perspective of its size or the perspective of the truisms possessed by state governments. Al-Sisi was not only ignorant of the Iranian foreign minister, but, according to what can be deduced from the phone call, he was also unprepared.

This leak helps in the relative understanding of other Egyptian diplomatic incidents that were confusing and bewildering. These include Egypt’s vote in favour of a Russian draft bill in the UN Security Council regarding Syria last October and Egypt’s withdrawal of the UN draft bill condemning Israeli settlements in its capacity as a non-permanent member in the Security Council.

It is true that wearing down of the so-called state institutions started to be seen since the January revolution onwards, and we can cite hundreds of examples of this, including the performance of intelligence officials and army generals, as well as that of the judiciary and political, cultural, religious, and media elites who rose to the surface and revealed a low level of performance. We could even cite Al-Sisi himself as an example as well as the documentary “Al-Asaker” (The Soldiers) aired by Al Jazeera in late November. However, we also got a rare opportunity to directly see the means of management.

The Israeli factor

 In the second leak, Al-Sisi was only present in spirit and from behind the scenes. This leak consisted of his Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry agreeing with Yitzhak Molcho on the required formulations for the demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that the agreement was between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian formulation of the agreement was Israeli, based on this leak.

From a legal standpoint, the Egyptian-Israeli agreement does not include non-Egyptian territories and in the event that Tiran and Sanafir islands become Saudi, then the agreement would not include these two islands. This is due to the absence of Egyptian sovereignty over them and because Saudi Arabia is not a party of the agreement. In addition to this, the leak also revealed the intention to bequeath Egypt’s commitments towards Israel, outlined in the agreement to Saudi Arabia. This will ultimately lead to internationalising the Strait of Tiran!

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Politically, regardless of the subject discussed in the leak, it reveals the nature of the Egyptian-Israeli relations in light of Al-Sisi’s rule, whose spirit was present in the leak, despite not being physically present. Israel seemed to know the details of the coup since its first moments, as it adopted the coup in international circles and considered Al-Sisi a miracle. It is also out of the question for Shoukry to act on his own accord in the leak, especially given his hesitancy while speaking to Al-Sisi, as shown in the first leak.

Although political requirements for two neighbouring countries may dictate that they organise their relations by means of a peace agreement that may stipulate that one country inform the other of its decisions, measures and foreign policies, this would not reach the point that the other would act as the reference for the other, as Israel seems to be for Egypt in the demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It seems that Israel’s interests are the primary concern of the Egyptian foreign minister!

One could also cite many other things to indicate the special relationship between Al-Sisi and the Israelis in a manner that exceeds relations during Hosni Mubarak’s rule. I have talked about the need to take the Israeli factor into consideration when looking at Egypt’s foreign policies during Al-Sisi’s rule in two of my articles published by Aljazeera.net, and we are now facing a live situation in which Egypt is being used to serve Israel’s strategic interests.

These two leaks confirm the need to develop new rules to analyse Egypt’s foreign policies that take into consideration the wear and tear of the state agencies. They must also take into consideration the Israeli factor, first given its proximity and peace agreement with Egypt and the importance of Israel’s influence regionally and internationally, and second given its special relationship with Egypt, that has only strengthened after Al-Sisi’s coup.

Translated from Al Jazeera, 12 February 2017

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