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02/08/2023

Can Egypt really mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Can Egypt really mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Since the beginning of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Egypt has taken a neutral position, in light of its strong relations with the two countries. Therefore, its diplomacy was constantly keen to stress the need to end the dispute peacefully and find political solutions.

This position prompted then-Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, in September 2020, to appeal to his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, to use his contacts and reputation in order to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible, in light of the ongoing clashes with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Based on this neutral position, and coinciding with the recent visit of the Egyptian President to the two countries, there was renewed talk about a possible Egyptian role in mediating between Yerevan and Baku.

A complex conflict

However, according to an informed source, despite the importance of Sisi’s visit to the two countries, it is too early to say that the president can play a mediating role between the two countries.

The source ruled out Egypt’s intervention in mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, because the conflict between them is complex.

“There are countries that have a large presence in this conflict like Türkiye and Russia, which play important and active roles. Therefore, I see that Egypt does not have any plans for mediation between Baku and Yerevan”, he added.

He explained that the president’s tour was nothing more than recording a direct presence in the republics of Central Asia, as Egypt has good and close relations with the two countries based on religious, economic and historical dimensions.

The source pointed out that the two countries’ welcome to Sisi’s visit could only be viewed as an expression of respect for the neutral Egyptian position on the crisis between them.

At the same time, however, he did not rule out Cairo bringing the two countries closer, especially since Egyptian diplomacy adopts theories of rapprochement, non-escalation, and non-provocation of problems in the regional system.

Bridging the points of view

However, another source predicted a possible role for Cairo in the conflict between Baku and Yerevan, citing the statement of the Armenian presidency, which confirmed that Sisi, during his meeting with his counterpart Vahagen Khachaturian, announced Egypt’s willingness to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

He pointed out that Sisi’s Asian tour, which included areas with accelerated interactions of inflamed and renewed conflicts, is seen as reflecting an Egyptian desire to mediate to calm some of these conflicts within the framework of the constants of Egyptian politics in recent years, which aim to address various conflicts with political solutions and dialogue.

Some observers, however, believe that mediation in those circles far from the vital circles of Egyptian foreign policy and national security is not a priority at the present time, especially since these conflicts have chronic historical dimensions, while the conflicts in Egypt’s immediate neighborhood are witnessing a continuous exacerbation.

A former Egyptian diplomat predicted that the Egyptian role in the conflict between Yerevan and Baku would not go beyond trying to bridge the points of view between them.

Hard mission

“Asia represents an important space for Egyptian national security, as security problems no longer stop at geographical borders in light of the spread of terrorism and crimes related to information technology, internet security and human trafficking. Therefore, coordination with Asian and African countries is an important issue”, he added.

He pointed out that the rehabilitation and reconstruction processes taking place in the areas liberated by Azerbaijan after the second Karabakh war in 2020 are promising opportunities for Egyptian companies.

He explained that in light of this, Cairo has a direct interest in de-escalating the conflict between Yerevan and Baku.

According to the former diplomat, any role for Egypt in mediating between the two countries will be a hard mission that it would clash with the interests of influential players such as neighboring countries.

“The best that Cairo can do in the conflict is to bridge viewpoints between the two countries, especially in light of their good relations with Egypt. What may help in this is the preoccupation of the countries influencing the course of the conflict, such as Turkey with its general elections, Iran with its internal crisis, and Russia with its war in Ukraine”, he added.

The former diplomat ruled out that Azerbaijan would accept Egyptian mediation, as Yerevan has been closer to Cairo than Baku in recent years.

He explained that Al-Sisi’s visit to Azerbaijan represents an Egyptian attempt to achieve balance in relations with the two countries and to affirm Cairo’s neutrality in the conflict, pointing out that Al-Sisi is the first Egyptian president to visit Azerbaijan.

Absence of mediation guarantees

In his view, an Egyptian academic agreed with the opinion of the former diplomat, saying: Cairo stands at the same distance from the two countries.

“It deals with all according to the common interests and moves outside any alliance or camp, and is not biased towards any party in any regional conflict”, he said.

“What matters to Egypt in South and Central Asia is that the conflicts there are working to export extremism and terrorism. the security dimension of this tour came as part of combating extremism and terrorism”, he added.

The Egyptian academic explained that strengthening relations with medium and small powers in the international system has become one of the goals of Egyptian diplomacy over the past few years.

“During the past period, we witnessed rare visits by the Egyptian president to important countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe such as Serbia. Visiting Armenia and Azerbaijan can be viewed from this perspective”, he added.

He pointed out that it is not possible for Egypt to play a mediating role between Armenia and Azerbaijan, because it lacks the ability to provide real guarantees regarding the achievement of the agreements that can be reached.

In light of all of the above, President Sisi’s expression of Egypt’s willingness to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not go beyond political courtesy. Cairo has no great interest in this role, which in fact lacks guarantees of its success.

Islam Farag
Islam Farag is an Egyptian journalist, analyst and researcher. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and has contributed dozens of press kits on regional affairs and issues. He participated in many research projects within Egyptian governmental and non-governmental institutions. He has worked in many Egyptian and Arab press institutions as a journalist and analyst. He is interested in issues of the historic relationship of the Arab world with regional and world powers. Also he is interested in power conflicts in the middle east.

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