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Egypt's Foreign Relations on Tightrope

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By Nicola Nasser*

The internal crisis in Egypt has indulged the country in its most critical foreign relations test since these relations were shaped by the U.S. sponsored Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Israel in 1979.


An indicator is the warnings against travel to Egypt from east and west, which are exacerbating the rapidly shrinking tourism industry. Stopping production in Egypt by industrial giants like General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. is a second indicator. Summons of foreign envoys to Egypt by their governments, which invoked similar Egyptian reciprocal summons, is a third indicator. A fourth was cancelling the U.S. military's participation in next month's Operation   Bright Star   in Egypt and delaying the delivery of four fighter jets to the country. Suspension of the sale of military equipment used for " internal repression" by the EU was a fifth. Threats to cut or suspend aid to Egypt by the U.S. and EU was another more important indicator.

In the immediate proximity, and three days after the ouster of the elected president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, the Peace and Security Council of the fifty -- four member African Union decided "to suspend the participation of Egypt in AU activities until the restoration of constitutional order."

On August 20, South Africa, a leading member of the AU as well as the BRICS five -- member association, issued a statement to remind the "interim government" in Cairo that its " principled position is based on the Constitutive Act of the African Union, where any unconstitutional change of government -- whatever the premise -- is specifically rejected" immediately.

So far, the AU reaction is ironically the only concrete international diplomatic measure taken in defense of the western widely trumpeted rule of law and democracy. The African "sphere" is traditionally only second to the Arab one as a cornerstone of Egypt's foreign policy.

However, Denmark announced the suspension of aid to Egypt. The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday announced the suspension of all British joint programs with the Egyptian intelligence services and the export of "some" items to Egypt. Germany's development minister, Dirk Niebel, said Monday that Egypt will get "no further pledges this year" of aid from Berlin and added he has decided "that we won't negotiate this year" on any debt relief for the country. A day earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that her country would halt previously approved arms shipments to Egypt, but as part of a coordinated EU response.

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Most likely the U.S. allies' final reaction will wait until the U.S. administration ends its open --ended stance, but while U.S. allies follow in its footsteps, the U.S. rival world powers grudgingly dealt with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the leaders of the "Arab Spring" changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya as a fait accompli; the removal of the Egyptian MB from power is a welcome development.

Ahead of their meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that "no options would be off the table" at the meeting of his counterparts of the EU 28-member countries. Presidents of the European council and European commission, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, warned jointly on Sunday that further escalation could have "unpredictable consequences." The European Union threatened that it will "urgently review" its aid to Egypt, but, like the U.S. threat, it's just a warning that has yet to materialize.

The EU and its member states last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid for Egypt.

Russia , China on Sidelines

Meanwhile, Russia and China are waiting on the sidelines to invest in what could evolve into a historical turning point in Egypt's foreign relations.

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The Kremlin maintained what a writer in "Asia Times" described as a "stony silence," until August 19 when the foreign ministry in a statement urged "dialogue" among "all" political players "without any foreign interference," but the Egyptian embassy in Moscow said that Cairo counts on Russia's assistance in "this trying time, as it used to in the past."

In 2010 the volume of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries amounted to $2.1 billion. The number of Russian tourists visiting Egypt in 2010 alone was estimated to be 2,855,723, making it the number one country in providing Egypt with tourists.

Similarly China remained relatively quiet. On August 15, the foreign ministry in a statement said the country was following "closely the situation in Egypt," urged "maximum restraint" and "dialogue" to "restore order and social stability."

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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