Egypt suffers humiliation and defeat


Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Khalil Al-Sisi

A few years ago we wrote about the impending destruction of Egypt. The reason for that was Cairo’s inability to get its interests taken into account during the construction of the giant Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia.

The course of events confirmed that no requests, demands, threats from the Egyptians had any effect on the Ethiopians’ actions. Neither appeals to international mediators nor even the support of the Tigray separatists helped. Last autumn, the dam’s reservoir was finally filled. At the same time, Addis Ababa successfully avoided concluding an agreement that would have obliged it to guarantee Egypt and Sudan access to the Nile water they needed.

Such disregard for Egyptian vital interests is indeed a defeat and a de facto humiliation for Cairo. This example illustrates the fact that the largest Arab country, with a population of 160 million, is unable to address its critical issues. The responsibility that history and geography have placed on the Arab Republic of Egypt is far beyond its capacity.

This fact becomes even more evident in the new, extremely dynamic situation emerging in the course of the war in Gaza. This is primarily a question of ensuring the safety of navigation in the Red Sea and the problem of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip.

It is not necessary to prove that guaranteeing the stable and safe passage of ships through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal is a matter of paramount importance for the well-being of Egypt. The current authorities have strategically bet on the development of the Suez Canal zone and doubling its capacity. Huge sums of money have been invested in these projects. However, today it turned out that their payback, not to mention their contribution to the future prosperity of Egypt, is in the hands of the Yemeni Houthis, who blocked the Bab al-Mandab Strait without the slightest difficulty.

Was Egypt able to foresee and prevent this disastrous scenario for itself? Did it do anything to unblock the Red Sea? The answer is no. The Egyptian navy is not even actively participating in the Anglo-American Operation Prosperity Guardian. This means that Cairo simply does not have any serious resources to deal with a problem of vital importance to it.

Maybe it relies on the US and Britain, or is engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Houthis, Iran, Arab neighbors, or hopes that the situation will sooner or later «unravel» on its own, that the demands of global trade will overcome the stubbornness of the Houthis…. Be that as it may, Egypt’s position on this issue (so far) says only one thing: the Red Sea and the Suez Canal are not a matter of its own security for Cairo, but an «international problem» for which someone else should bear responsibility. This is a position of weakness, behind which we can see the possibility of losing independence — in favor of whoever can take responsibility for guaranteeing the safety of navigation in the region.

Of course, the Egyptians may think that their participation and approval will be necessary. But even if this is true, nothing fundamentally changes: Egypt does not have the strength to ensure its strategic interests on its own. And so it will be forced to fit those interests into the strategy of stronger and/or richer, and in fact, more effective partners. And until such a partner solves the «Houthi problem» (by defeating them or negotiating with them/their senior allies), Egypt will be forced to accept the damage.

The issue of the Sinai Peninsula and refugees from Gaza is seen in a similar vein. Cairo has repeatedly and very clearly stated that under no circumstances will it allow the resettlement of Palestinians in Sinai. This is a matter of national security, social and political stability, etc. In the event that resettlement does take place, Egypt will withdraw from the Camp David Accords, sever relations with Israel and go to war.

Sounds firm and convincing. But!

To avoid a negative scenario, it is not refugees that need to be prevented from entering their territory, but to stop Netanyahu, to make him give up the assault on Rafah. What Cairo is doing for this? Nothing! Although, logically, it should have threatened war and the breakdown of relations in the case of the Israeli operation in Rafah, and not in the case of the Palestinians moving to the territory of Sinai.

Why did Egypt take this position? It seems to be because the threat of withdrawal from Camp David is a bluff. After all, only these agreements guarantee Egypt to receive military and economic aid from the US. Cairo cannot refuse this. Not to mention starting a war against Israel: neither the Americans nor the Arab brothers will allow it.

So we should not be surprised by the information that new settlements are already being built in Sinai to accommodate the flow of refugees from Gaza. And at the same time, the leaders of the Sinai tribes are becoming more and more influential figures in Egyptian politics. All the more so because there is no alternative to Sinai: there are no more places to accommodate not thousands or tens of thousands of Palestinians, but a million and a half.

From this point of view, for the Egyptian authorities, the issue of refugees from Gaza is not so much a question of security or national interests, but a question of price. And an amazing coincidence: at the end of March, the European Union allocated 7.4 billion euros to Cairo to solve the refugee problem (however, they meant not Palestinian, but African refugees, which, by the way, are about a million and a half). And the IMF has approved a new $8 billion aid program, with the first tranche to arrive at the very beginning of April. Finally, a second tranche of $5 billion from the UAE is on its way, as part of a deal to actually buy the coast in the Ras el-Hekma region for a total of $35 billion.

If the coincidence is not coincidental, we can expect that after some time Cairo will conclude some kind of deal in which it will agree to host most of the refugees from Gaza on the territory of Sinai in exchange for guaranteed financial assistance to itself, international financing for the refugees’ own settlement, accommodation, the creation of international guarantees for the return of refugees, and the formation of some kind of international force to maintain order in the refugee settlement zone.

If such a scenario is realized, it will be another defeat for Egypt: once again it was unable to protect its strategic interests and is forced to make strategic concessions. Of course, it will get a good price for this. Most importantly, maintaining its stability will become a headache for the entire region, which means that it will be governed by someone who will take responsibility for regional stability.