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Opinion: Sisi’s “If Only” Moment | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A handout picture released by the Middle East News Agency (MENA) shows Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (C), surrounded by top military generals, as he addresses journalists following an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in Cairo on January 31, 2015. (AFP Photo/MENA/HO)

Egypt has every right to defend itself and its citizens, and it is incumbent upon us in the region to stand by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Egypt during this time, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) executed 21 Egyptian workers in Libya.

Despite this, I do wish Sisi had taken a different route before deciding to hit ISIS and other extremists in Libya with full force. One would have hoped that following news of the killing of the 21 Egyptians, Sisi would have immediately called for an emergency Arab summit in Egypt to garner support for an open military campaign in Libya. During this summit Sisi could have called on Arab countries to support Egypt militarily, thereby striking a crucial blow to the extremists in Libya and helping the country resume its course toward stability.

The importance of such a move can be seen in a number of points, which don’t just concern Egypt but the region as a whole.

The whole point of such a summit would have been to gain Arab blessing for a more central Egyptian role in supporting the transition in Libya and fighting extremism there. This way, all those countries concerned about Libya’s future could also have participated in the process and helped bring much-needed and long-awaited stability to the country.

The summit would also have paved the way for the Arab League to become involved in this fight. The organization needs to play a more effective, reforming role than it has in previous crises—especially considering that the Arab League is in reality a failure, and in need of drastic reforms. Egypt’s going to the Arab League in this instance would have played an essential role in bringing about this new stage in the organization’s history, which would have seen it give authorization to countries in the region to take more forceful stances on a number of crisis areas, such as Yemen, Iraq and Syria. This new phase for the Arab League is vital not only today, but also in the future; the danger posed by ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Hezbollah and their partner in crime, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, shows why this is necessary.

The move would also have had the added advantage of showing up those Arab countries whose roles in these crises have been less than genuine, to say the least. Such countries may say they are fighting terrorism and extremism in the region, but they might then go and praise a group like ISIS in the media. The reactions by some Arab countries, first to ISIS killing Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbeh, and then its killing of 21 Egyptians, are a case in point here. Sisi’s going to the Arab League would have helped name and shame those countries who offer to help fight terrorism one minute while giving terror groups a leg-up in the media the next. If these countries had refused to authorize Egypt’s taking military action in Libya—and in such an open forum like the Arab League—they would have been shown up in front of the entire region, and the world; for how can these countries have accepted NATO’s involvement in Libya in 2011, but reject Egypt’s legitimate involvement today?

If only the Egyptian president had gone to the Arab League. Such a move would have been even more important than going to the UN Security Council; it would have helped usher in a new Arab moment, reining in and exposing all those who play dicey games with the region’s destiny in order to fulfill their own narrow interests.