This Week in Egypt: Week 12- 2018 ( March 19-25)

Top Headlines

  • Two policemen were killed as bomb blast misses Egypt’s Alexandria security director
  • Egyptians to vote tomorrow, Sisi re-election guaranteed
  • In a televised interview, Sisi Sisi says he wanted more challengers in Egyptian election
  • Egypt’s Sisi visits air base in North Sinai
  • Qatar designates IS affiliate ‘Sinai Province’ as a terrorist group
  • Egypt and Gulf countries perform joint military training in Saudi Arabia
  • Egyptian version of facebook launched as ‘Egypt Face’ 

 

Sisi Sinai

Photo via Ahram

Main Headlines

 Monday

  • Egypt’s Sisi calls on Egyptians to ‘make their voices heard’ in upcoming presidential election
  • Egypt and Sudan form cooperation mechanisms to overcome bilateral differences
  • Court of Cassation issues final acquittal for Mubarak-era culture minister Farouk Hosni
  • Egypt’s Sisi and Cyprus president Anastasiades discuss bilateral relations in a phone call
  • Egypt government approves 2018-19 state budget, aiming at 5.8% GDP growth

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports 

 Interview

From Twitter

Sports

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE: A Collaborative Trio

 

MBS Trump Reuters

Photo via Reuters

Here is an English version of my latest piece for Al-Hurra 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has embarked on his first overseas tour. This tour will attract attention to Saudi Arabia and its new leadership. Importantly, it is crucial to understand that this new leadership in Saudi Arabia also factors into a larger and very important contemporary Middle East context. Within the continuously evolving reality of the Middle East, amid the blurring complexities and contradictory rhetoric, there are now three main camps dominating the scene: an Islamist Iranian, an Islamist Turkish camp, and a third “maverick,” collaborative trio made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE.

This new collaborative triad of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE emerged in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The leaders of the three countries are uniting together to provide the region with a new state model that is different from past authoritarian governments. The new alliance has an ambitious plan to counter political Islam from both Iran and Turkey.

As I wrote previously, the new trio sees political Islam as a joint enemy that aims to undermine not just their leadership, but also the very essence of nationhood. This nation-based system was forged following WWI, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the end of colonialism. Any existential ideas that go beyond nationhood are a grave treat, exemplified by the ideology put forward by the Mullah regime in Iran, and the regional ambitions of Turkish president Erdogan.

While the Iranian-Saudi rivalry is not new and has been on going since the 1979 revolution in Iran; what is new, is the collaboration between the three countries that compose a trio now united in fighting against the basic essence of political Islam. This is a change from past selective fighting by each respective individual country. For decades, Saudi Arabia thought that the best way to counter Shia Islamism was by fortifying and empowering Sunni Islamism. That policy backfired everywhere in the region, from Iraq to Syria to Yemen. After enduring aggressive Iranian regional meddling, coupled with relentless terror attacks by ISIS that even reached inside the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia has finally realised that all forms of Islamism are an enemy and have to be confronted. Along with the rise of anti-Islamism from Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in Egypt, the UAE leadership has also joined this trio to pave a path forward.

These are still early days, and the fight against Islamism is within a complex region full of contradictions and upheavals. For decades, Islamism has gained on various fronts, with patrons in Tehran, Ankara, and Doha. Each capital has its own agenda and has been willing to go to great lengths to bolster support. Moreover, many Islamist groups have gained sympathetic ears in Western capitals, portraying themselves, disingenuously, as pro-democracy and human rights against Arab authoritarian order.

Thus, the trio of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE have decided to adopt a pragmatic collaborative approach that denounces emotionalism and grand dreams. Gone are the days of farcical unions, such as the Nasser’s failed United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria in the sixties. The days of a dominant one-man model are also bygone relics. The trio has lost appetite for a repeat of Saddam or Gadhafi. All three current leaderships understand their own limitations, and in contrast to past Arab autocrats, are now unwilling to embark on grand adventures.

The first test for this trio was the Qatar crisis. After boycotting Qatar and accusing the tiny Gulf state of sponsoring terror Islamist groups, many analysts predicted a collapse of the unity among the anti-Qatar camp. Many assumed that Gulf identity would overcome political differences, and leave Egypt alone against Qatar. Surprisingly, the anti-Qatar camp, mainly Saudi Arabia and UAE are still firmly united with Egypt, resisting pressure to resolve the conflict with Qatar.

Policymakers in DC need to understand this fast-evolving regional reality. Gone are the days of revolts and spring, and also lost to history are the days of cluttered autocracies. The new generation of Arab autocrats are savvy and united together in a struggle to survive within a rough neighbourhood and are now willing to confront their Islamist enemies. This is an important shift that the U.S. should adeptly consider.

Navigating US interests and values in the Middle East has always been a complex and tricky task. From Afghanistan to Iraq, the US has failed in various efforts to garner support and loyalty from Islamists. The attempt to tame the Iranian regime has also fallen short, and even the democratic model in Turkey has been sabotaged by a Turkish president and is increasingly hostile to the United States. Pundits in DC have long argued that democracy can tame Islamism. This is naïve foggy-bottom DC thinking. The ultimate proof comes in the form of the overtly authoritarian president Erdogan.

Looking forward, however, there is a real chance for the US to rejuvenate its policies by supporting this new Saudi, Egyptian, and UAE trio by pledging to take a firm stance against Turkish and Iranian ambitions, while pressing for democratic reforms. Fighting ruthless Islamist regimes is probably the only way to convince new Arab autocrats to loosen their grips on power and embrace democracy and human rights. Thus, the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince is an important opportunity to work towards salvaging the region from its own miseries.

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 11-2018 ( March 12-18)

Top Headlines 

  • High voter turnout noted in Egypt presidential polls in the diaspora
  • Egypt and UAE: Quartet stands firm on 13 demands for Qatar
  • Egypt sees tourism rebound ahead of vote
  • Egypt’s top prosecutor announces hotlines to combat ‘false news’
  • Egyptian court hits Qatari media channel beIN Media with second hefty fine over anti-trust breach
  • Egypt wants answers in death of teenage student in UK
  • China to finance majority of tower district in Egypt‘s new capital

 Main Headlines

Monday 

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egyptian-French navies conduct joint military exercise in Red Sea
  • Egypt parliament approves 3 articles of draft law legalizing website blocks
  • Egyptian embassies prepare for presidential poll, diaspora vote due March 16
  • Egypt’s Sisi calls on citizens to vote, meets with top officials to review security situation
  • White House held a meeting on Gaza crisis without Palestinians present
  • The ministers of irrigation, foreign affairs and the heads of the intelligence services in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are going to meet next April in Khartoum

Thursday

Friday

  • Egypt wants answers in death of teenage student in UK
  • The family of an Egyptian student who died after she had been beaten by group of girls have claimed she may have been attacked due to a case of mistaken identity

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

  • Egyptian authorities call on citizens to report on the medi Hmaza Hendawi
  • Mediterranean gas bounty suddenly seems within big oil’s reach. The Wall Street Journal
  • The Arab Spring’s riskiest legacy may be Egypt’s baby boom. Marc Champion and Tarek El-Tablawy
  • Parliament in haste to approve cybercrime bill: Ambiguous provisions, loose definitions, legalized web censorship. Mada Masr
  • Belly dancer dons beard to protest LGBT abuse in Egypt. Emma Batha

Good Read

Sports

From Twitter

 

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Competing Authoritarianism: Sisi versus Erdoğan

Erdogan versus Sisi

 

This month, Egyptians head to the polls to elect their president. On paper, the only challenger to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the relatively unknown Egyptian politician Mousa Mostafa Mousa.

The real challenger to Sisi, however, is not from inside Egypt, but another regional leader, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

As Steven A. Cook , senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank wrote: “Strongmen are back in favour these days.” Following the failure of the Arab spring and the weakening of many Arab states, the region has shifted its interest away from democracy in favour of strongmen leaders. In such climate, both the Sisi and Erdoğan are subtly competing to market different authoritarian models to replace the current struggling regional order.

I have written before that Egypt’s Sisi is not a politician; he sees himself instead as state builder. Together with his patrons in Saudi Arabia and UAE, Sisi is forming a trio that provides a new state model different to past authoritarian ones.

The new trio sees political Islam as a joint enemy that aims to undermine not just their leadership, but also the very essence of nationhood that their founding fathers worked hard to build following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Hence they collaborate to fight all cultish political Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its sister groups in other Arab states.

On the other hand in Turkey, Erdoğan, a cunning politician, also sees himself as a state builder. Nonetheless, unlike his Arab opponents, he has based his model state on reviving the Ottoman order that dominated the region before World War One.  In a recent speech, Erdoğan said Turkey means more than the territory of its physical borders, and that half of his heart is devoted to former Ottoman cities such as Aleppo, Kirkuk, and Jerusalem.

His words as well as his ideology trigger deep unease in many Arab capitals. This is not the first time Erdoğan has mentioned regional cities in his speeches, but what was once seen as rhetoric aimed at a domestic audience is now seen as a serious threat to regional order, particularly after the Turkish invasion of the northern Syrian region of Afrin, with the help of Islamist fighters.

The Turkish president relies heavily on political Islam as an ideology. He hosts many members of various cultish Islamist groups inside Turkey and mistakenly sees them as popular in the Arab world, despite the fact their popularity has significantly subsided.

Although the Turkish president rose to power through sound democratic process, he has subtly evolved to a fully fledged authoritarian ruler and transformed Turkey “into a totalitarian prison” . Such ruthlessness has ended Turkey’s alleged democratic model in the eye of many Arabs and quashed the differences between Erdoğan’s style of rule, and that of other Arab autocrats.

To counter Erdoğan’s threat, the trio of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are providing their alternative model, which differs than Erdoğan’s Turkish model in three main aspects:

First, the Egyptian, Saudi, Emirati trio is a collaborative authoritarianism, in which each leadership invests and supports the other. That is a departure of the era of one-man era of Nasser, Saddam and Ghaddafi. The leadership in the three countries realises the one-man model is fragile and vulnerable to spectacular collapse. Hence they aim to work together to avoid the fate of their predecessors. The Turkish president, however, is still relying heavily on the one-man model despite its clear vulnerability.

Second, the pointless re-invention of the wheel.

Unlike Erdoğan and his fellow political Islamists, the Egyptian, Saudi, UAE trio aims to draw a line under the region’s turbulent past and hopes to preserve their national identities without resorting to playing the grievance card, or dwell on past calamities. It understands that the era of the caliphates with its past glory has gone. It focuses instead on luring its public with more sober policies that do not bank on emotionalism to win hearts and minds.

Third, fighting jihadism, instead of advocating it.

The Turkish president sees most Islamist militias as victims of their own circumstances, and using the term “jihad” consistently. On the contrary, the Egyptian, Saudi, Emirati trio are willing to acknowledge the link between radicalism and religion, pledging to fight radicalism. That does not mean that their model is secular, far from it. Instead of Islamism, they offer the Arab public an eclectic conservative autocratic model, less overt in embracing religion, and more tolerant to some elements of secularism and liberalism.

In short, what Egypt is experiencing this month is not an election, but a referendum on a ruling model that stands against an Islamist Turkish model. The Turkish president may cry “coup” when he criticises his Egyptian nemesis, but as long as he continues to be blunt about his regional ambitions, Egyptians, and the wider Arab public, will feel they have no option but to stick to their autocratic president and abandon, albeit temporarily, their dream for democracy.

Initially published in Ahval

Posted in Best Read, Diary of Aak, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Week in Egypt: Week 10-2018 ( March 5-11)

Top Headlines

  • Saudi Arabia and Egypt agree to a $10 billion deal to build a new mega city
  • Saudi Crown Prince meets Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo
  • Saudi crown prince winds up trip to Egypt with a mosque visit
  • Eni sells stake in Egypt’s Zohr gasfield to the UAE-based investment fund Mubadala
  • Egypt army says 16 extremely dangerous jihadists are killed in Sinai operation
  • Egypt’s chief spy and Qatar’s top diplomat in Khartoum for separate talks with Sudanese officials
  • Egyptian prosecutors seek death sentence for photographer Shawakan
  • Inflation in Egypt in February decreased to 14.3% compared to 31.7% in February 2017

 

MBS and Pope

MBS becomes first Saudi Crown Prince to visit Cathedral & meet Coptic Pope in Egypt. Photo via al-Arabiya

 

Main Headlines

Monday

 Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egyptian Cabinet approves agreement to establish $7 billion Russian Industrial Zone in East Port Said
  • Egypt receives last $1.15 billion from World Bank series of loans
  • Egypt’s SIS hands BBC ‘protest note’ over report alleging torture, forced disappearances in Egypt
  • Egyptian prosecutors seek death sentence for photographer Shawakan
  • Inflation in Egypt in February decreased to 14.3% compared to 31.7% in February 2017

Thursday

  • Egyptian court dismisses last corruption case against Mubarak-era steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz
  • Egypt dismisses UN human rights criticism as “baseless”

Friday

  • Cairo denies reports that 100 Egyptians were deported from Germany
  • Disappeared leftist activists Gamal Abdel Fattah and Hassan Hussein brought before State Security Prosecution for interrogations
  • Sudan proposes joint-military force with Egypt to protect borders

Saturday

Sunday

 Interesting Reports

  • Egypt and Sudan: Diplomatic pacification, unresolved affairs. Mada Masr
  • Grappling with forms of justice: Combating sexual violence in civil society. Dina Makram Edeid
  • Will Egypt’s Mubarak-era National Democratic Party make a comeback? Sonia Farid
  • All you need you know about Egypt’s plans for new Saudi mega city NEOM. Al-Arabiya
  • Egypt launches unprecedented crackdown on media ahead of Sis re-election bid. France 24

Good Read

From Twitter

 

Plus

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can President Sisi freeze politics in Egypt?

Here is an English version of my latest for Al-Hurra

Sisi no politics

I am not a politician, someone who just talks (beta3-kalam).”

Perhaps the most telling part of Sisi’s speech at the inauguration of Egypt’s Zohr gas field last month was the fact that comments such as these were not a veiled threat to opposition stakeholders as many news reports highlighted, but rather a reflection of Sisi’s vision of himself and his vision for Egypt.

When many of Egypt’s political figures, including ex-army Chief of Staff Sami Anan, ex-top auditor Hisham Geneina, and ex-presidential candidate Aboul Fetouh were arrested, many interpreted these arrests as a sign of the Egyptian president hunting down his opponents. But their interpretation is not necessarily accurate. None of those names was a serious threat to the Egyptian president. The problem runs much deeper. Egypt’s strongman is not a politician; he sees himself as state builder, and he views Egypt’s overall political scene as detrimental to his goal.

As Samuel Tadros and Eric Brown wrote: “The president who emerged from the barracks is thus averse not only to democracy, as some suggest, but to the very practice of politics, as he disdains negotiations and compromise, cutting deals, and developing a program.”

President Sisi is simply not a man of shades; he would rather endorse black than flirt with grey. He regards the notion of semi-authoritarianism, as espoused by Sadat and Mubarak, as a sign of political mediocrity, of governance heading for failure. In contrast, his aim is to build a new army-based authoritarian state, enriched with flexible capitalist economic policies, but with completely frozen politics.

Such a model could be based on China’s illiberal capitalism or, more intriguingly, on Antonio de Oliviera Salazar’s conservative corporate authoritarianism for Portugal. As Maged Atiya aptly mentioned on Twitter, a course on political and economic development in the Egyptian military college now features admiration for Salazar.

But regardless of which model the Egyptian president favours, a more pressing question needs to be discussed. Can the president succeed in freezing politics in Egypt and for how long?

The concept of an army-dependent state is not new to Egypt. Arguably, that is how modern Egypt was born during Mohamed Ali’s tenure and continued until the British forces defeated its army in 1881. It was also Nasser’s Egypt until the 1967 defeat. Both periods are viewed with a heavy dose of positive nostalgia among Egyptians. Re-enacting such a strong state appeals to a wide section of Egyptian society who may not be fans of Sisi, but at least understand his dream.

Moreover, President Sisi, as he indirectly hinted in his speech, regards his political opponents as a mediocre bunch of talkers, whose bark is worse than their bite. Sisi’s opponents are Islamists blinded by their desire for trans-national ideology who are inherently hostile to individual states. Or they are fragmented non-Islamists groups with an “anyone but Sisi” mentality, which many Egyptians see as a template for mob rule, not for a flourishing democracy.

Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that freezing the political scene will last in Egypt for many reasons:

First: An army-dependent state will always be vulnerable to the outcome of the military adventures of its leadership. As mentioned earlier, both Mohamed Ali and Nasser suffered devastating military defeats with colossal negative impacts on Egypt’s political life. Moreover, Egypt under Sisi faces a multitude of challenges neither Mohamed Ali nor Nasser faced. Although Sisi has no desire for any military combat he cannot afford, the water crisis with Ethiopia and the dispute over the Mediterranean gas field could easily flare into military confrontations, with potential negative impacts.

Second, a successful autocracy may not need public consent, but it does depend significantly on public trust. Such trust can be easily undermined amidst a thriving climate in Egypt. Crushing opponents has created a climate that is full of disinformation, gossip, and groundless speculation. For example, the arrest of the army’s ex-Chief of Staff, Sami Anan, after he announced his intention to run for presidency was interpreted as a sign of mutiny between top army leaders. Such groundless speculation, albeit untrue, is enough to plant the seeds of doubt among wary Egyptians.

Third, The Egyptian society is different than Portugal during Salazar’s era. It is true that low-simmer conservative social Islamism is thriving in Egypt, but it is a double-edged sword for the regime. On the one hand, a religiously rigid, dominant society is more tolerant toward autocracy; but on the other hand, most business-savvy Egyptians are not necessarily followers of Islamism. They aspire towards a more socially liberal society. Salazar’s economic model may appeal to many people in Egypt, but his socially conservative model won’t. Such a contradiction may create problems for the regime and force it to loosen its authoritarian grip.

Ahead of the election, the Egyptian president succeeded in muting politics in Egypt, and his quest for a politics-free capitalist authoritarian state may briefly succeed. Nonetheless, sooner or later, the Egyptian president will realize he cannot afford to freeze politics forever, as he may stumble across similar challenges that confronted Sadat and Mubarak before him.

 

 

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

This Week in Egypt: Week 9 ( Feb 26 -Mar 4)

Top Headlines

  • Saudi crown prince lands in Egypt on first public trip
  • Egypt‘s top court waives legal challenges to Red Sea islands transfer to Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt arrests mother of woman at center of a BBC report
  • Cabinet approves bill allowing 53 churches to practice religious rituals nationwide

Sisi and MBS

Saudi Crown Prince visits Cairo- Photo via The National

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • Egypt’s top court waives legal challenges to Red Sea islands transfer to Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt‘s prosecutor-general orders investigation into assault on 18-year-old Egyptian student in London
  • Election boycotters are enemies of the state: Salafi preacher
  • Egyptian presidential candidate Moussa says his electoral programme “would change Egypt”

Sunday

Good Reports

From Twitter

Plus

 Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Week in Egypt: Week 8- 2018 ( Feb 19-25)

Top Headlines

  • Lead partners in Israel’s largest gas fields sign $15 billion deal to export gas to Egypt 
  • Egypt’s government is not a partner in $15 billion gas deal with Israel: Egyptian president Sisi
  • Six Muslim Brotherhood fugitives arrested at ranch owned by Abdel Moneim Aboul-Futouh
  • Opposition figure Abdel Moniem Aboul-Fotouh placed on terrorism list
  • Security forces curb planned suicide attack in in North Sinai’s Al-Arish
  • Egyptian security delegation arrives in Gaza for discussions with Hamas on faltering reconciliation accord
  • Egypt’s presidential elections campaigning kicks off Saturday

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

  • Egypt and Greece are coordinating closely to protect their common interests. Ahmed Eleiba

From Twitter

 

https://twitter.com/brian_rohan/statu

Sports

  • Egypt’s Nile River embraces dragon boat race to celebrate spring festival

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Week in Egypt: Week 7-2018 ( Feb 12-18)

Top Headlines 

  • Egypt arrests former-Islamist presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and raid his party headquarters
  • Egypt’s military prosecution detains former anti-corruption chief Geneina
  • Egyptian air force destroys ten 4×4 vehicles infiltrating border from Libya
  • Egypt military says 53 militants killed in week-long offensive in Sinai
  • Egypt cut interest rates for the first time since floating the currency at the end of 2016
  • US hindering the completion of Egypt-France Rafale deal according to La Tribune
  • Ethiopia postpones Renaissance Dam meeting amid domestic tension

 Main Headlines

Monday

  • Egypt’s military pledges legal actions after Geneina’s claims that Anan possesses documents containing state secrets state secrets
  • Tillerson says U.S. backs Egypt on security at start of a regional tour
  • Egypt’s military said it killed almost 30 militants in Sinai over the past few days
  • Minister of Transport urges public to extract train subscriptions ahead of ticket price increase

Tuesday

 Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Sports

  • The sky’s the limit for Liverpool’s Salah as he reaches 30-goal mark

Plus

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Egypt, Turkey, and the gas politics

Here is an English version of my latest piece in Al-Hurra

Zoh gas field

Zohr Gas Field- Photo via Offshore Technology

Last week, Egypt launched a comprehensive security operation, Sinai 2018, mainly targeting terror groups in the country. A quick glance, however, at the intensive activities of the Egyptian navy within this unprecedented security operation indicates that the operation’s goal also has some regional objectives. Sinai 2018 is not just a mission against terrorists; it is also a message to rival regional foes, mainly Turkey.

Days after Egypt inaugurated the first stage of production at the super-giant Mediterranean Zohr gas field, Turkey announced it would explore oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey justified its clear rejection of 2013’s maritime border demarcation between Egypt and Cyprus by saying it “violates the Turkish continental shelf at latitude 32, 16, and 18 degrees.” Turkey also said Greek Cypriots were disregarding the “inalienable rights on natural resources” of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardizing the region’s stability.

Alarmingly, Turkey’s hostile rhetoric and threats of legal action have been coupled with an aggressive manoeuvre. Last Friday, Turkish warships obstructed a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm, ENI, which discovered and operates the Egyptian Zohr field, and prevented it from approaching an exploration area southeast of Cyprus.

Cairo has not taken Turkey’s rhetoric lightly – even before the latest obstruction of ENI’s rig. Reuters reports that Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ahmed Abu Zeid, warned that “any attempt to infringe or diminish Egypt’s rights in that area” would be confronted. Abu Zeid added that the accord between Egypt and Cyprus in 2013 had been deposited with the United Nations.

Shehab Al-Makahleh is right to point out that as long as there is no mutual cooperation between the Eastern Mediterranean countries concerned due to the demarcation issue, war could break out at any moment. Indeed, the prospect of an all-out confrontation between Egypt and Turkey as a result of this maritime dispute is much more probable than one arising out of all the other possible Eastern Mediterranean gas disputes.

Observers of the Turkish-Egyptian impasse point to the bitter rivalry between Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Sisi,, which has been brewing for the past five years. Since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood by Egyptian President Morsi in 2013, Turkey’s President Erdogan has showered the Egyptian leadership with hostile rhetoric. He has also welcomed many exiled Brotherhood figures and allowed Istanbul to be the base for many anti-Sisi TV channels.

Nonetheless, the gas conflict between Egypt and Turkey is much deeper than the two countries’ ideological differences.

President Erdogan sees the Turkish Republic as a continuation of the Ottoman Empire. Despite having a successfully functioning state, Erdogan is keen on reconfiguring it to fit his ideological Islamist agenda, in which he sees himself as the leader of an Ottoman-inspired political Islamist project. Within that contest, the question of gas drilling for Turkey is a matter of prestige and regional influence, and not necessarily based on need or a gas scarcity. Economically, Turkey has adopted a new energy policy, in which it adopts a shift from an energy sector-based mainly on imported natural gas to an integrated energy industry based on local resources such as coal and renewables. Moreover, Turkey aims to trade the excess gas that will have access.

For Egypt, however, the Mediterranean gas issue is a not a matter of ideology or regional rivalry, but a life-or-death situation. ENI SpA’s massive “Zohr” natural gas field and its huge reserves could prove a permanent remedy to the most populous Arab nation’s power needs and bring Egypt closer to its goal of energy self-sufficiency. No Egyptian president can simply afford to let it go. The alternative would be a return of the dreaded era of power blackouts and massive public queues to purchase gas cylinders.

Egypt views security along its Mediterranean borders as a matter of great importance, and that it must be maintained at all costs. Since the start of the Sinai 2018 operation, Egyptian Army spokesmen have made no effort to hide the fact that defending the country’s maritime economic goals is part of the mission.

Turkey’s latest aggressive behavior against the Italian company ENI’s ship will not go unnoticed in Cairo. Ankara’s neo-Ottoman leadership probably understands that settling a maritime legal dispute will take years, and the verdict may not be in its favor; therefore, it has seemingly decided to switch to bullying tactics to make the drilling for the Italian company challenging and costly. Erdogan’s regime has become increasingly unpredictable. Its “playing-with-fire” attitude can easily ignite a regional confrontation Egypt will not shy away from easily.

Backing down to Turkey on the 2013 maritime deal with Cyprus would simply be suicidal for any Egyptian leadership, and not just the current one of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The current year has started with a huge Egyptian military manoeuvre. Egypt is subtly telling the increasingly ambitious Turkish leadership to stay away from its new Mediterranean treasure____ the Zohr gas field.

Posted in Best Read, Diary of Aak, Egypt, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment