Al-Sisi Revives Sadat’s Foreign Policy, Seeks to Play a Regional Power Role Through Israel

The Egyptian foreign minister’s latest visit to Israel was portrayed by the media as a Sadat-like foreign policy agenda – shunting the Palestinian issue down the priority list, writes Mohamed ElMeshad as reported by Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed.

It is expected that the supporters of the Egyptian government will soon start stating justification for enhancing normalization giving the reason “Why Israel is just like any other neighbour, and why the country needs to maintain a strong allied front with Tel Aviv against “the real enemy” – terrorism?

In fact, the Egyptian government has been working on preparing the population for such proposition as they know well the traditional stance of the Egyptian public opinion against the Zionist entity.

The Egyptian government started agitating the public opinion against Hamas Resistance Movement in Gaza Strip,”by playing up the threat of attacks emanating from Hamas – Muslim Brotherhood allies who ostensibly control occupied Gaza.”

In a London panel discussion in 2014, one Egyptian academic said that Egypt and Israel would enjoy greater cooperation in the future because they, “share a problem called Gaza”.

According to al-Arabi al Jadeed,”Normalising relations with Israel for Egyptians has always had its domestic champions, but for the majority of the population that proposition has always been a non-starter.”

Since the creation of the Zionist entity in 1948, Israel has been the main enemy and the standard antagonist of Egyptian sensibilities.

But since al-Sadat’s precedent visit to the Israeli Kenesset and the Camp David accord, the two regimes have been – for all intents and purposes – allies that cooperate regionally, especially on security issues, but also in economics and diplomacy.

However, the Egyptian government  has long borne in mind the prevailing populist positions against Israel – sentiments deepened by the seemingly ever-expanding and audacious human rights atrocities sanctioned by Tel Aviv. The most recent was in 2014 massacre in Gaza, in which hundreds of civilians were killed and 3,000 injured, around 75 % of whom were civilians, said al-Arabi al Jadeed.

This daily Israeli repression screened on the world’s TV and the social media didn’t deter the Egyptian government – Israel’s fellow jail-guard ensuring Gaza remains under lock and key – to put any real political pressure on Israel to stop the attacks, nor did it attempt to ameliorate the situation faced by ordinary Gazans.

Only official condemnation and a tawdry call to end the Israeli massacre a week after it began was all it could offer.

Therefore, Egypt’s FM visit to Israel which was the first state visit for an Egyptian foreign minister in nine years, yet it looked like the meeting of old friends and partners.

But “despite all of the regime’s attempts, and those of its apologists, to poison the waters of discourse, many Egyptians were alarmed by the friendliness of last week’s visit of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,” said al-Arabi al Jadeed.

Sameh Shoukry’s meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked like the meeting of old friends. They watched football together, exaggeratedly exchanged pleasantries, and met in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

Moreover, Shoukry agreed to speak at a press conference with a statue of  Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, staring down upon him.

In previous years,  trips between both countries were on the intelligence level where officials and lower-level delegations level.

“There were attempts to appear business-like and pragmatic,” as both countries share the common interest of fighting terrorism in Sinai Peninsula.

But it seems that the Egyptian regime led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was heading for more.

Two months ago, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi clearly stated that he guarantees a “warmer” kind of peace with Israel. He went on to use rhetoric more normally associated with US or European establishment political speeches, equating the pressing need for justice for the Palestinians, with Israel’s right to security.

These are the same words inspired by the Israeli mind set when justifying its massacres and its daily infringement on Palestinian rights.

In addition it was a sign that finding a lasting solution to Palestinian crisis is no longer a priority.

In fact, it seemed to confirm the growing suspiscion that “Sisi is a God-send for this Israeli government, a gift that Israeli policy-makers will embrace whole-heartedly.”

Accordingly, Egypt doesn’t need Egypt’s FM latest visit to Israel to increase the level of security cooperation between both countries or in order to appeal to Israel to use its apparent clout with Nile Basin countries to ensure Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam does not damage Egypt’s water supply as many observers perceived.

These are diplomatic issues which do not need such “ostentatious displays of friendship” as the cooperation and coordination between both countries have witnessed unprecedented levels since al-Sisi reign .

Security cooperation and intelligence-sharing has never stopped between the two countries, despite the Egyptian public opinion embedded dissent against Israel.

Sisi’s foreign policy outlook to date would indicate that recent moves have been an attempt “to bolster his position regionally in a way that offers his regime more legitimacy – as well as insulation from debilitating criticism of his human rights record, ” said al-Arabi al Jadeed.

It seems that the military man is inspired by al- Sadat  past moves -who did his best to forge a friendship with Golda Meir – this president believes the best way to be considered a regional power player once more, is through Israel’s gate.

It is also a sign – as it was in Sadat’s day – that Arab unity, is all but extinct, if it ever existed.

The Egyptian regime has lost nearly all of its political soft power and leverage vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which it has been blundering around fishing for grants, financing and investment, to the point of agreeing to cede islands to the Saudis.

Cairo under al-Sisi rule seems to believe that it still enjoys enough political capital to make extremely unpopular decisions

“This is a way for Sisi to get back in the game without directly butting heads with his benefactors. He also needed to make this move quickly as his nemesis, and fellow Israel-normaliser Recep Erdogan, just did the same thing a couple of weeks earlier,” according to Al-Arabi al Jadeed.

Despite al-Sisi’s beliefs that his regime still enjoys enough political capital to make extremely unpopular decisions without much fear of public fallout, but his administration has committed various unpopular recent budget cuts, the island handover that has caused public uproar.

The warming relations also “beg the question of how Cairo will react the next time Netanyahu decides to “mow the lawn” with atrocities in Gaza or elsewhere,” an important question that al-Sisi regime doesn’t have logic answers for his public.

In fact, even if al-Sisi’s plan worked in the short term to convince Western capitals that he is “a trustworthy ally”, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it is much less likely that “he can retain domestic support for such propositions, with Shoukry’s visit already drawing criticism from some regime supporters.”