The new Egyptian visa requirement for Syrians seems to be a turning point in the relations between Syria and Egypt. In fact, it reflects a change in the behavior of the Egyptian state in dealing with the Arabs in general, and the Syrians in particular.
The Egyptian state’s special handling of the Syrians is due neither to the status quo in Syria nor the Syrian people’s need for a country like Egypt to serve as a shelter from the war being waged on them by the ruling regime in Damascus. Rather, the special handling is due to the historic relations between Egypt and Syria as manifested in the unification project undertaken by the two countries between 1958 and 1961. A third element could be added to this: Egypt is the largest Arab state, with a responsibility towards the Arab world that should remain regardless of its internal situation, and no matter how foreign relations develop or alter.
Based on the three aforementioned elements, we can understand the stance Egypt has adopted towards the Syrian people’s access to its soil and how the situation would develop should Egypt leave the door open for more inflows of Syrians, and should it continue to give them freedom of unrestricted residency, travel, and access to the Egyptian labor and financial markets.
This is apart from other privileges granted to Syrian residents whereby they benefit from services which the Egyptian state had once determined to keep exclusive to the Egyptians alone, such as education and healthcare, something which made the services offered to the Syrians far surpass those offered to residents of other nationalities. Such measures were not limited to the Syrians who fled from their regime’s oppression, for this also incorporated others including the regime’s adherents who had a negative role in the existing chaos in Egypt and who exploited this in doing harm to the Syrians in Egypt and to Egypt itself.
Although the Syrian regime’s adherents in Egypt were limited in number, they were used in the recent crisis to create antagonism towards the Syrian presence in Egypt. This situation, however, was ignited by a number of the Egyptian regime’s remnants as well as by some power centers in order to promote the allegation that “external elements” are contributing to the crisis in Egypt. This is despite the fact that Egyptian attitudes towards the Syrians cannot be fully separated from the attitudes and policies of the ruling regime in Damascus. The Syrian regime has continually sought to confound such a relationship and even attacked it using all means at its disposal, including the large numbers of its adherents residing in Egypt, as was always clear to everyone.
Different elements have interacted to shape a confused attitude towards the Syrian presence in Egypt. Among the reflections of that attitude was the Egyptian authorities’ new directive of a visa requirements for the Syrian. Other reflections were seen in the media campaigns launched against the Syrians by some media outlets. There were also rumors spread by political groups about a role of Syrians in the recent happenings in Egypt, although it is clear that there was no concrete evidence for this.
If it is true that the manifestations of the said attitude are damaging the Syrians in Egypt and are making their residence and movement in the country more difficult, and is also poisoning Egypt’s relations with the Syrians, yet it also leaves negative impacts on Egypt and the Egyptians as well. It could a crushing blow to Egypt’s relations and its Arab role following decades during which it served as an incubator of all Arabs throughout their different stages. This must also have economic impacts on investment in Egypt, as in the past two years some Syrian expatriates became prominent businessmen in Egypt.
All previous elements must serve as real motives for a more positive attitude towards the Syrian people’s existence in Egypt and its relations with them. This is manifested in the recent Egyptian statements about an imminent cancellation of the Syrians’ entry visa requirement to Egypt and a cessation of the media smear campaigns and the rumors about the Syrians there. However, for their part, the Syrians must adopt a parallel trend to distance themselves from intervention in Egypt’s domestic political affairs, as well as from the ongoing struggles there so that the Syrian people remain, as they ever were, a positive element in Egypt’s stability and a prop to assist it to overcome its current problems.
Today, in its stance towards the Syrian conflict, Egypt is face to face with the challenges stemming from its profound Arab role. Egypt is facing the demands imposed by its people’s revolution for freedom and dignity and is standing up for the interests of Egypt and its people. It is the Syrians’, and the Arabs’, duty to help Egypt adopt a real and serious stance to support its relations with its fellow Arabs, including allowing the Syrian people access to Egypt and lifting all the restrictions in this regard.