Not many people are interested in the official statements made by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry that some portrayed as being biased towards Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. Neither did they stir up sensitivity in some Gulf countries as some people expected them to. Why?
What is the impact of the statements? At a time when the Syrian sky is congested with dozens of Russian and US fighter jets, and there are thousands of troops and Iranian mercenaries on its soil, these statements add nothing at all.
The truth is that Egypt chose early on to stay away from the Syrian crisis since it began five years ago because it was busy with its revolution and its aftermath. Because it does not agree with the policy of its allies in Syria, it does not lead the political process, fund the opposition or support the regime. It allows some opposition figures to enter and prevents the entry of others, and it uses flexible and diplomatic language.
Under the rule of three regimes in five years, Cairo has announced its impartiality on various occasions, and this has repeatedly been interpreted as bias towards the Assad regime. This has happened since the military government was established after the Egyptian revolution, during the Muslim Brotherhood’s period in office and now in President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s presidency.
Perhaps the most dangerous stance was when the president at the time Mohamed Morsi hosted the then President of Iran Ahmadinejad in early 2013. When Ahmadinejad visited Cairo, he became the first Iranian president since the Islamic revolution to set foot on Egyptian soil. Even this move was ignored by the Gulf governments as they were aware that the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the Iranians in Egypt and Gaza was deep rooted. Mohamed Morsi continued to resist Saudi and Qatari pressure, and refused to take a hostile attitude towards Assad, an ally of Tehran, until June 2013, i.e. eighteen days before the protests that demanded that he be ousted took place. He took a stance against Damascus when he attended a conference in solidarity with Syria, but it was too late.
This stance was unusual because the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood does not see eye to eye with the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt or Gaza as a result of the split on Iran. The deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria Mohammad Farouk Tayfour said that he refused the association of his movement with theirs by saying “We’re not obliged to adopt the Brothers’ approach in Egypt and Palestine. We’re in a violent conflict with the Iranians.”
Only the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s policies were consistently stern against the regimes in Tehran and Damascus over a period of nearly thirty years. Now it appears that Cairo prefers to reduce its regional role and has repeatedly said that it wishes that the wars and chaos in the region would dwindle. However, this remains a romantic wish.
The civil war in Libya is a source of constant danger for Egypt and has cost the treasury billions of dollars. Egypt could have considered Libya as a security issue, which it is, and got involved in imposing a military solution supported by a central authority. Such a move would have obstructed interfering parties and would have made Egypt an important player in the Middle East and for European security. However, we understand the desire of the Egyptian leadership to move away from crises and its desire to focus on its internal situation.