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What’s next for Egypt after the GCC Al-Ula summit?

January 6, 2021 at 4:11 pm

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Qatari national flag ahead of the 41st summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021 [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the Saudi Arabian city of Al-Ula has ended the blockade imposed on Qatar by the Kingdom, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017. The happy ending was not the result of Qatar committing to the conditions insisted upon by the blockading countries, but was due to US and Kuwaiti efforts as well as regional and international developments, the most prominent of which was Donald Trump’s defeat in the US presidential election.

There are a number of developments that could lead to more reconciliation and openness, especially between Saudi Arabia and a number of regional forces, beginning with Turkey initially. What’s next for Egypt, though?

Will Cairo follow suit with Riyadh, or will it maintain a wide gap between itself and Saudi foreign policy? Will it carve itself a new path that goes beyond the traditional alliance that emerged during the Arab Spring and the counterrevolution funded by the Kingdom and the UAE?

On the surface, Cairo seems less than enthusiastic about opening up to Doha, especially since the reconciliation agreement was not a product of Qatar’s fulfilment of the conditions imposed by the blockading countries; Abu Dhabi may feel the same way. However, during the past few months, Cairo has taken a more independent path from the others, chiefly Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. It did so by adopting a more open policy to deal with the Libyan crisis, which led to a de-escalation with Turkey over the past few weeks.

READ: Egypt: Opening border does not mean full reconciliation with Qatar

Cairo’s interests have clashed with its partners in the Arab Gulf on a number of issues during the past two years. It was not, for example, enthusiastic about the military campaign led by Libyan renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar against the Libyan government in Tripoli with the support of France and the UAE.

Its interests also clashed with the countries that supported the overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir in Khartoum a year ago, while a widening gap and degree of estrangement has opened up with Abu Dhabi over Cairo’s sympathetic position on the Tigrayan rebellion in Ethiopia and the UAE’s support of the government in Addis Ababa. Egypt even entered a race for influence in Khartoum with a number of Gulf States aspiring to repeat their experience in Yemen and Somalia. Most importantly, its vital interests in occupied Palestine were threatened directly by the wave of normalisation with Israel led by the UAE, creating a dangerous loophole for its suspicious economic, political and security activities.

Despite its participation in the GCC Al-Ula summit, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry signing its closing statement (after which he departed rather quickly), Egypt is most likely convinced of the necessity to draw up policy parameters that are more independent from its allies in the Gulf, taking into account its vital interests in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, the Nile Valley, East Africa, Libya, the coast, the desert, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

It needs a policy that leads to reconciliation and openness, not only with Ankara but also with Tehran. After Al-Ula, Cairo has become more liberated and open, probably more than it was before the summit.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Assabeel on 5 January 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.