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06/11/2021

A glance at Egypt: Sisi in Doha and Blinken in Cairo for the first time to shore up Palestine-Israel ceasefire

A glance at Egypt: Sisi in Doha and Blinken in Cairo for the first time to shore up Palestine-Israel ceasefire

By Nardine Ali / Cairo

Will we see Al Sisi in Doha soon?

The year of 2021 has been a solid proof that there is no forever in the science of international relations or in politics, since the Arab region has witnessed the birth of new coalitions and the death of other ones.

One of the new coalitions that has emerged in the region is the Egyptian-Qatari one, which was indicated undeniably by the visit of the Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to Cairo.

Bin Abdulrahman, who arrived in Cairo on May 24 for a two-day visit as part of a regional tour, met with a number of Egyptian officials, including his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. They discussed ways to boost the cooperation between Egypt and Qatar after the resumption of relations between the two countries in January 2021 during the Al-Ula agreement. He also met with President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi, transmitting a message from Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that included an invitation to Doha.

Al Thani hailed the strategic and pivotal role of Egypt under the leadership of President Sisi to defend the Arab nation’s issues and protect Arab national security. The Emir also applauded Egypt’s efforts and tireless endeavors to consolidate security, stability, and development at the regional level. He also praised Egypt’s efforts in ceasing fire between Palestinians and Israelis in the last clash between the two sides.

During his interview with Al Arabi TV on March 27, the Qatari official described the government of President Sisi as the “legitimate” government that represents the Egyptian people. Meanwhile, President Sisi said that Egypt welcomes the recent developments in Egyptian-Qatari relations, affirming his keenness to achieve progress in various fields.

The Egyptian political sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim told the London-based website Rai Alyoum that Sisi’s visit to Doha is likely to happen, expecting a near improvement in the Egyptian-Qatari relations as they are both brotherly Arab countries.

“Qatar hosts over 300,000 Egyptians workers, who had been treated well throughout the three-year feud,” Ibrahim said, adding that he sees no reason to stall the full reconciliation between the two countries.

The Qatari official had also visited other Arab capitals to build on the Al-Ula agreement. However, diplomats and regional sources have said Riyadh and Cairo are moving faster than Abu Dhabi and Manama to rebuild the relationship with Doha, on which bin Abdulrahman commented: “It is natural for talks to have different paces.”

The Egyptian spokesperson for foreign ministry Ahmed Hafez pointed out in an official statement that the two ministers discussed the economic and investment opportunities available in both countries in order to achieve the interests of the two countries and brotherly peoples.

“Consultations tackled the two countries’ positions regarding the main regional issues, including developments connected to the Renaissance Dam file,” Hafez said.

From his side, bin Abdulrahman valued preserving the Qatari investments in Egypt, and facilitating the residency of the Qatari students throughout the feud period, stressing that there is no much stranded issues between the two countries and there is a positive development for the work of joint committees.

On the other hand, Egyptian pro-regime anchor Ahmed Moussa announced on his show aired on Sada Elbalad TV channel that Cairo has asked Doha to deport 220 members of the Egyptian opposition, whom he called “terrorists.”

The Qatari foreign minister, saying that the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood residing in Doha has not been brought up, as far as he knows, has dismissed Moussa’s allegations.

“Qatar is not a political party. We deal with countries with legitimate, elected governments,” bin Abdulrahman told Al Araby.

The political science professor at the American University in Cairo, Jamal Abdel Jawad explained the reasons of Qatar’s tendency to accomplish the reconciliation with Cairo and Riyadh first. He said that the emirate has failed to make any radical change in the region relying on the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Qatar has failed to make any significant progress with its policies ever since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is time now to stop their hostility against the Egyptian regime,” Jamal Abdel Jawad told DW.

The political advisor at Al Ahram also pointed out to Egypt’s regional role, stating that it has been emphasized after brokering the truce between Palestinians and Israelis, which forced the western powers to establish partnerships with his administration, regardless of the human rights criticisms. 

“This role confirmed Egypt’s position as a linking bridge between all the regional axes, which changes the regional coalitions’ map,” Abdel Jawad added.

Another journalist, asked to remain anonymous, said that Egypt is now a heavy-weighted power in the region, and it’s important for Qatar to make benefit of this rapprochement with Cairo.

If Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s prophecy proved to be right, and the next few months witnessed a visit of President Sisi to Doha, another coalition in the region will fall apart: the Egyptian-Emirati coalition. The visit will spark a new alliance between the Sunni powers in the region (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) away from Abu Dhabi’s dominance. The new alliance will also enhance the four countries’ positive stance towards the Biden’s administration, which was embodied in Biden’s negotiations with Sisi, following his mediation to cease fire between Hamas and Israel, and the visit of the US Secretary of State, Anthony J. Blinken to Cairo.

Cairo hosts the first formal visit of an Israeli foreign minister in 13 years

Another foreign minister has landed in Cairo, this time to negotiate the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, where Egypt has mediated a cease fire and an accord to rebuild Gaza Strip after a relentless strike led by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met on May 30 with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry to stabilize the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the first formal visit of an Israeli foreign minister in 13 years, as emphasized by Ashkenazi.

During the meeting, Shoukry stressed the need to build on the ceasefire declaration by suspending all practices that fuel tension and escalate confrontations, especially in the Palestinian territories, and to take into account the sensitivity associated with East Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and all Islamic and Christian sanctities, according to the official statement made by the Egyptian foreign ministry.

“Minister Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s steadfast stance, which stipulates that reaching the two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as its capital, is the only way to achieve just and lasting peace, as well as the desired regional security and stability,” the statement read.

At the same time, the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS), Abbas Kamel was in Israel to convey President Sisi’s messages to both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian. He met with officials of both sides, including Netanyahu and his defense minister Benny Gantz, and the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the Hamas leader in the Gaza strip, Yahya Sinwar.

Kamel’s visit aimed to solidify the Egypt-brokered ceasefire that stopped Israeli hostilities against the Gaza Strip that caused the death of 254 Palestinians and destroyed dozens of homes. He also inspected the proposed sites to begin the reconstruction initiative of Gaza strip, as Egypt pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, in addition to 56 humanitarian aid-laden trucks to Gaza residents as a gift from Sisi and the Egyptian people.

President Sisi’s messages during the visit stressed the need to unify Palestine’s internal front under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

On June 4, Egyptian engineering equipment and staff have crossed to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.

The role that Egypt played in backing the cease fire and reviving the peace talks, as well as the country’s stance in providing the struggling strip with the needed aids, has presented Sisi as the savior of the Palestinian people, especially in Gaza. Here, his portraits were erected in its streets, accompanied by lines of gratitude. On another level, Egypt has proved that its role in the region cannot be replaced, whilst the newly normalizers with Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have resorted to silence and chosen the safest words in their statements during the strike against Gaza and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood hostilities.

While Egypt was busy negotiating the truce conditions between Israeli and Palestinian sides, the UAE settled for a statement made by its foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, where he expressed his “grave” concern over escalating spiral of violence in Israel and Palestine.

“The UAE is alarmed by the escalating spiral of violence in Israel and Palestine. We express our condolences to all victims of the recent fighting. The UAE calls on all parties to take immediate steps to commit to a ceasefire, initiate a political dialogue, and exercise maximum restraint,” the statement read, with no mention of the Palestinians’ rights in dignity and free, unified territories, or blaming Israeli for its colonial policies and building settlements on the lands of the Palestinians.

“It is the true mark of leadership in this moment of crisis to refrain from provocations and reprisals, and to instead work towards a de-escalation of tensions,” Sheikh Abdullah said, adding that the UAE stands ready to support all efforts to this end.

It is not a secret now that the region will witness a whole new phase with brand new coalitions. The main component of these coalitions will be Egypt.

Blinken: US and Egypt are working closely together to build something positive

On May 26, the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Cairo, as part of a Middle East tour to back the ceasefire deal between Palestinians and Israelis, brokered by Egypt.

The US top diplomat met with his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi and the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Agency, Abbas Kamel, at the presidential palace.

“We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to an end relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive,” Blinken said during a speech addressed to the staff at the US embassy in Cairo, adding that Egypt is considered a central partner in combating cross-border terrorism.

The Cairo talks have followed Blinken’s visit to Ramallah to meet the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Blinken has pledged to “rally international support” in rebuilding Gaza following extensive damage from Israeli airstrikes and ensuring that no aid reaches Hamas, instead directing support towards the Palestinian Authority.

Blinken pledged an additional $75 million in development and economic aid to the Palestinians in 2021, including $5.5 million in immediate disaster relief for Gaza.

During his visit to Ramallah, Blinken reiterated that the Biden administration’s belief that a two-state solution “is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. And, of course, to give the Palestinians the state that they’re entitled to.” 

Blinken also said that “both Israel and the Palestinians experienced profound losses during the fighting”, underscoring Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Casualties are often reduced to numbers, but behind every number is an individual human being — a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, a grandparent, a best friend,” Blinken said. “And as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli,” Blinken said in a press conference with Netanyahu standing by his side.

On the other hand, Egypt’s president asserted that the solution must be fair and comprehensive so it would preserve the rights of the Palestinian people in accordance with international references.   

The situation in Libya was present at the talks between Sisi and Blinken. Sisi affirmed the necessity of working towards the deportation of foreign mercenaries, the dismantling of militias in order to maintain the territorial integrity of the country, and to ensure the safety of its national institutions and prevent turning Libya into a competition field for foreign powers.

Sisi brought up the issue of the Renaissance Ethiopian Grand Dam (GERD), where he asserted the importance of the United States’ role in playing an influential role in solving the crisis. Blinken stipulated the United States’ commitment to deploy efforts aimed at reaching an agreement that sustains the water and developmental rights of all parties.

Commenting on the visit of Blinken and the frequent phone calls between Sisi and President Joe Biden, the professor of political science at Cairo University, Mohamed Kamal told Al Ahram that “it became clear to Washington, and to many world capitals, that it was impossible to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel without the help of Egypt,” adding that “Egypt underscored its relevance to the Middle East peace process, and President Sisi demonstrated to the US that he could be a reliable and effective regional actor.”

Kamal predicts “the recent warmth in relations between Egypt and the US to continue, given that international relations are ultimately based on mutual interests rather than ideological considerations.”

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