The continuing fall of Arab old regimes is raising plenty of questions for academics and policy makers alike. After all, authoritarianism has been the overarching normality for decades in the Middle East and more specifically Egypt, one of the cornerstones of American foreign policy perpetuators in the region. Now as old regimes fall one after the other; a new regional order is in the making and new foreign policy paradigms will be acted upon.
Mubarak was certainly very dull and predictable when it came to foreign policy, unlike Nasser and Sadat whom aspired for personal glory; Mubarak wished not to be part of “History or Geography” as he once said. Whatever made the U.S and Israel happy; Mubarak was there to do it. Sure there were some scuffles over human rights and democracy by the U.S administration but the U.S was supporting Mubarak up until the moment he proved himself no longer capable of staying in power.
Now President Morsy is left with a much skewed set of international relations, ones that have neglected the natural bonds which Egypt should be excelling in, namely those of geopolitical significance; especially in Africa and to a lesser extent the Arab states.
Morsy’s first visit was to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A visit conducted even before settling major immediate issues in Egypt like, for instance, the formation of the new government.
Going to Saudi was certainly a smart move by Morsy. The Saudi regime does have serious concerns about the new regime being formed in Egypt. Moreover, Egypt is in dire need of economic aid, and getting it from the Arabian Gulf states is probably, without a doubt, the best place for Egypt to get external assistance away from the constraining conditions set by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
As Islamists come to power through free elections in Egypt, the Saudi regime’s legitimacy comes into question. After all, Saudi may have witnessed an Arab spring of its own, or a stronger protest movement, had it not been for the uprisings in Bahrain that came with a strong Shiite taste that scared away Saudis. This, of course, is aside from the lavish economic expenditure the regime announced, including 40 billion riyals over housing. Still, however, the Saudi regime is very much authoritarian and has an estimated 30,000 political prisoners. The Islamic discourses within the religious establishment of obedience to authority after the Arab springs will certainly be hit by harder critique.
However weary the Saudi regime maybe of Morsy, he has given the Kingdom an offer it cannot refuse; an opportunity to appear supporting the Arab spring and a way to enhance its legitimacy.
Moreover, Saudi does not want Egypt to turn to Iran for better relations and so Saudi keeps Iran isolated despite Iran’s continuing attempts of reach out to Egypt. Morsy, has sent very positive messages to Saudi, saying that Egypt will not export its revolution, which the security of Gulf States is a red line, and that Saudi and Egypt are guardians of Sunni Islam among other such messages. Confidence building will take time despite the good kick-off made by Morsy’s visit but mutual grudges are very likely to be overcome.
Aside from the press conference between Morsy and Tunisian President Al Marzouki, which was successful as Marzouki said that they share the same convictions on bilateral and regional relations, Morsy’s next stop was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the country where Mubarak survived an assassination attempt in 1995, and never visited since. Mubarak left the relations with this Nile basin country to deteriorate. The visit signifies not only the increasing interest of Egypt in Africa, as Morsy is also attending the African Union summit, but also a sense of urgency over the need to settle disputes over water usage from the Nile.
Commentators in Egypt have always warned of the mounting influence that Israel is gaining in Ethiopia, a country of vital strategic interest to Egypt. The Egyptian ambassador to Ethiopia has recently announced that this is not true, and that the relations between Israel and Ethiopia are normal, nothing special. Regardless of how true or false this is, Morsy has made good the opportunity to improve relations with African nations, an opportunity he could have not forgone.
Post-revolutionary Egyptian foreign relations have been, for the most part, put on hold until Morsy’s visits. In the past Machiavelli has advised that for prince to consolidate power he should start making good relations with neighbouring kings, and Morsy is just doing that. Domestic politics are still ongoing and can be managed temporarily without Morsy. On the foreign front, however, and for the time being, the president is needed to consolidate post- revolution Egypt.