Mahmoud Diaa, a former brigadier general, is a national security counsellor whose studies and views in the field of national security are always considered by many decision makers.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Diaa to discuss the most prominent national security issues regionally and internationally.
Can you tell us about the Iranian role in Africa as you mentioned in several articles?
To understand this issue properly, we should know the importance of Africa in many aspects. Regarding the economic aspect, Africa has huge resources that came under the focus of the whole world because it has a promising market. Africa has a population of 1.2 billion people who produce almost nothing. It is considered a large consumption market. Politically, Africa has 27 votes in international forums.
My studies focus basically on the Iranian role in Africa, because there are few studies that have tackled this issue. I wanted to present my writings to decision makers to help them see the full image of the political scene on the continent.
I realised that the Iranian role in Africa is represented in several circles.
They include East Africa and the Nile Basin countries; the West Africa region, where it aims to spread its Shiite ideology; and southern Africa.
What are the African countries that are most under Iranian focus?
I believe Iran is interested the most in Sudan. The bilateral relations have been developed significantly in the last several years. A large number of Shiite Hussainiat have been established there, benefiting from the Sufi orientation among the Sudanese people, but their influence did not last long, as they resulted in several problems.
On the other hand, Iran also tries to intervene in the 11 East African countries to put pressure on the neighbouring Arab countries located on the Red Sea.
What are the most prominent features of the Iranian presence in Africa?
Iran had prominent influence in Sudan before the recent problems emerged due to building the Hussainiat. It also has strong connections with Ethiopia and Somalia.
Could the Iranian influence on such African countries affect our interests on the continent?
Of course; the Iranian presence in any region would limit our influence in that area. It is a matter of fact—the more the Iranian influence increases in any country, the more Arab and Egyptian influence decreases. Moreover, Iran intervenes in the African region that matters the most for our national security recently.
Regarding the external relations, how far has our role in the surrounding region and the world developed during the last period?
We suffered a severe setback in Egypt’s external relations during the 25 January revolution and the aftermath that destabilised the country. This situation continued during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, but the current situation has changed a lot and I will give examples of this development.
After the 2011 revolution, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces named Mostafa Al-Fekki as secretary general of the Arab League, but Qatar objected to the Egyptian candidate and mobilised a large number of Arab countries to refuse Al-Fekki at the time. Therefore, Egypt was forced to nominate Nabil Al-Araby to assume the position rather than Al-Fekki after some countries threatened to choose the secretary general of the Arab League from a country other than Egypt.
In 2016, Egypt named Ahmed Aboul Gheit to the same position, while Qatar and Sudan objected to the nomination.
Egypt, under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, threatened to call for a poll among the Arab League members in the case of refusing Aboul Gheit, so the countries unanimously voted in favour of the Egyptian candidate. This incident reflected the strength of Egypt’s position in the Arab region.
On the other hand, Egypt managed to forge a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas after the seven-year-long crisis between the rival Palestinian factions.
How do you classify the regional situation of any state?
There are necessary qualifications and decisions to be made by any country to have a significant regional influence, including the area, location, population, human and economic resources, and vital presence in international forums. Regional influence takes a lot of time to be maximised and developed, not overnight.
How do you see the growing influence of some small countries in the region?
We cannot describe this situation as regional influence. It is just an exceptional phase that resulted from their connection with large countries that use them to serve their interests in the region.
How do you evaluate the state’s performance in the counterterrorism issue, and how do you see the importance of establishing a national council to combat terrorism?
I appreciated the establishment of the Supreme Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism, because it aims to unite all state institutions to combat terrorism. It is a different and effective mechanism for fighting terrorism besides the current security efforts. It also reflects a comprehensive view of tackling the crisis.
What are the advantages of the new council?
The council will coordinate between the bodies and elements involved in the fight against terrorism, whether the police or the armed forces. In addition, it will include representatives of the security services and significant research centres to present all visions. The council will also cooperate with Al-Azhar and the churches to activate their role in facing extreme ideologies, because the fight against terrorism is basically intellectual. I think there will also be representatives from the Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity to address the social, educational, and cultural aspects that contribute to terrorism.
How do you see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) talks?
Despite all the media reports on the issue, I am still confident in the Egyptian leadership’s ability to protect the country’s interests for several reasons. Notably, the Egyptian negotiators are fully aware of the Ethiopian side, and they know very well how to complete the job, similar to the Taba and Camp David negotiations.
How do you see the Sudanese escalation against Egypt?
Sudan is an important country for Egypt and represents an important strategic depth for Egypt, and we are one nation.
However, the current ruling regime in Sudan raises a lot of confusion. The Sudanese issues are difficult, but Egypt is obliged to solve them. Sudan is used as a tool to create problems for Egypt.
Moreover, the US administration surprisingly lifted its sanctions on Sudan without any new moves or regulations taken by Sudan. There is no logical explanation for the American decision except that they wanted to use Sudan to serve their interests in the region.
It should be noted that the Sudanese complaint concerning the Halayeb Triangle is periodic, because if Sudan stopped submitting complaints on the issue for five years in the UN Security Council, the case would automatically end.
In addition, the Sudanese regime uses its dispute with Egypt to camouflage its economic problems. Therefore, we should differentiate between the Sudanese people who love the Egyptians and the ruling regime that is used by foreign powers to achieve their agendas.
What are the parties that use Sudan to attack Egypt?
Turkey and Qatar are the main influencing powers in Sudan. There was a meeting held recently between the chiefs of staff of the three countries. It can be linked to the recent Sudanese media escalation against Egypt, as well as the changing positions of Sudan regarding the GERD.