Egypt is evidently seeking to establish an independent foreign policy after thirty years of doing America’s bidding. Next week President Mohamed Mursi will visit Beijing and Tehran in what many analysts are calling a strategic “pivot” away from the West and the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies.
The move is more interesting when considering Egypt faces a $12 billion financing shortfall, according to the US State Department.
In a recent LA Times piece, David Schenker and Christina Lin argue that, long-term, Egypt wants to “jettison” billions in Western foreign assistance. They also argue that Egypt’s rapprochement with Iran and outreach to China signal a shift “rivaling the scope of President Anwar Sadat’s expulsion of the Soviets in 1972 and subsequent reorientation to the West.”
Mursi’s visit to Tehran, the first by an Egyptian president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is more interesting when considering the West-driven tensions against Iran’s nuclear program, which have divided the world into two main front, foes and friends of Iran.
It is also jarring given the context, because Mursi upon taking office indicated that he would “reassess” the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel. Just recently Egypt deployed tanks to the Sinai region without prior consent, which irritated the Zionist regime. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had to work backchannels via the US to get a message to Cairo to withdraw, claiming that the tank deployment violated the aforementioned peace treaty.
The timing couldn’t be better for Iran which is looking for new friends in the region amidst a growing wave of Islamic awakening which has toppled many US-backed dictators in the regional nations.
Analysts believe that an alliance between Iran and Egypt would more than ever counterbalance the US-Saudi domination over certain parts of the region.
According to Townhall.com’s NightWatch column, Mursi’s presence at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in Tehran on August 30 will be rich with symbolism, the type of which doesn’t bode well for the United States:
Mursi is doing exactly what he said he would do: change the balance in Egypt’s foreign affairs. Mursi’s attendance at the NAM summit almost seems to turn the clock back to the time when Egypt was a leader of the NAM, with Nasser as its Second Secretary General (1964-1970), and Iran was an American ally. The symbolism will not be lost on the Arabs.
But Mursi’s strategy comes with great risks, especially considering Egypt needs funding from the oil-rich Persian Gulf States, the article says. Qatar has delivered around $500 million of $2 billion it has promised and Saudi Arabia promised to deposit $1.5 billion in Egypt’s Central Bank, according to the Associated Press.
However, this is where China enters into Mursi’s calculation. Egypt sees Beijing as a potential source of funding that could diminish reliance on the West and Arab monarchies. Trade between Egypt and China totaled $8.8 billion last year, up 40 per cent from 2008, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Commerce. During Mursi’s visit the two countries plan on signing a “cooperation agreement”.
Schenker and Lin posit that Egypt could provide China with a “foothold on the Mediterranean” and priority access to the Suez Canal “as the US has traditionally been afforded.” They also write:
If Mursi gets his way, improved bilateral ties to Beijing will embolden, if not enable, Cairo to downgrade Egypt’s ties to Washington. Of course, with the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm – and with unmitigated hostility toward Israel – this trajectory was perhaps inevitable.