Egypt: Kingmaker in a new Middle East
Op-ed: As a country facing crises of economy, security and status, Egypt is in need of a rapid return to domestic stability and leadership within the Arab World. Brokering an end to the Israel Palestinian conflict could bring the Egyptians back from the brink, to the forefront of a new Middle East. President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi may be just the man to do it; and ten percent of the Sinai Peninsula may be just the place for him to do so.
Over the past year, together with several retired Israeli security experts, we have written about, and spoken of, the need to shift to a new paradigm to end the Israel Palestinian conflict and to move beyond the status quo. We have called for the establishment of a free, sovereign and independent Palestinian State in Gaza—with the addition of a territorial connection into a section of the northern, coastal area of the Sinai Peninsula.
We firmly believe that this plan, known as the New State Solution, is an idea whose time has come.
An overview of that plan can be viewed here.
Current events in Gaza have fueled a US led desire to find a solution to the impending humanitarian crisis there, resulting in American foreign policy statements that are far more focused on Gaza than the West Bank.
In our experience, when presenting the New State Solution, the most oft-recurring question queries why Egypt would agree to a Gazan expansion into a part of Northern Sinai that constitutes approximately ten percent of the Peninsula.
The answer is that Egypt has many core interests that dovetail with the New State Solution, the most pressing of which stem from the three key verticals: economy, security and status - both within the Arab world and beyond.
Pitfalls of punditry
Before outlining those in more detail, we should all consider the increasing regularity with which we bear witness to the failure of so-called experts to anticipate decisions undertaken by world leaders.
Think of just how many pundits failed to predict Brexit, or to foresee the surprising, yet fragile, détente between the US and North Korea. The consternation of commentators demonstrates just how persistently perplexed they are by the headlines of any given morning.
The lack of accurate prediction is not a recent advent. In 1906, as the Ottoman empire started to decline, Great Britain - which was then an ascendant global power - sent two warships to the region and informed the Ottomans that from that moment onwards the Sinai Peninsula belonged to Britain.
After a brief negotiation, the Ottomans ceded all of the Peninsula to the British without a single shot being fired. Nobody could have foreseen such an event. But it happened.
Pundits can only look so far into the past and most have very limited insight into the future.
Interests—not statements—are what count
Mistakenly, time and again, priority of consideration is granted to the stated positions of a given Head of State over the core interests they have for themselves and for the people they represent.
Given that the two are not always aligned, we would all be better served by inverting that order, placing greater emphasis upon interests over statements. Doing so charts a far more reliable path toward predicting and understanding international events.
Over the last few years, extraordinary geopolitical shifts have taken place in our region and the world. Several middle eastern countries have collapsed and there is a clear sense of instability and foreboding shared by many of the regional countries still standing.
In terms of security, the focus of the Sunni Arab world has shifted due to pressing concerns about the survivability of their rule in the face of a two-pronged threat from Iran on the one hand, and radical Sunni elements on the other.
Economically, such states are equally concerned by the implications of volatility and the decline in the price of petroleum, along with the challenges of finding alternative economic growth outside the context of a fossil fuel economy.
The Egyptian challenge: Economy, security, status
In the case of Egypt specifically, we are presented with a country that has a rich history extending back thousands of years. And as the largest country in the Arab world, with a citizenry of close to 100 million, it hosts close to a quarter of the Arab population globally.
Yet rather than leading the region, Egypt is grappling with major challenges. The economy is fragile and the Egyptian government constantly strains to increase the supply of food to its population. Tens of millions of Egyptians struggle daily with the question of how they will be able to feed their families. While the government continues to do its best to improve the situation, the Egyptian state is still heavily dependent upon outside loans in order to meet the basic needs of its citizens.
If the Egyptian economy declines further for any reason, there exists fertile ground for the further expansion of extremism.
Riparian considerations are no less pressing. Egypt’s fresh water supplies may soon be significantly reduced due to the construction of the fourth largest dam in the world, located in Ethiopia’s portion of the Nile River headwaters.
Alongside these economic challenges, Egypt is confronted with dramatic security threats, including the presence of ISIS not only in the Sinai, but also on the Libyan border. The traffic of weapons into Egypt and radical elements along the Sudanese border all require a large and sustained commitment of forces to control very long borders. The country faces a 360-degree struggle.
Egypt has to contend with Hamas in Gaza, which collaborates with radical elements in the Sinai and has a strong ideological connection with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at home who were toppled from power only recently. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood still looms large in Egypt with its sustained influence over approximately thirty percent of the Egyptian population.
And while the Egyptians were once the undisputed leaders of the Arab world, it will not be lost on them that whereas in 2009 President Obama began his maiden voyage to the region in Cairo, in 2017 President Trump launched his trip to the middle east with a visit to Riyadh. Poles of influence in the Arab world seem to be shifting.
While President al-Sisi is likely the individual most qualified to meet such challenges, the hurdles before him are immense. Egypt needs something dramatic to ensure a brighter future for its people.
The stakes of the game are high. Success or failure for Egypt has global ramifications. Because as the key to the strategically vital Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, Egypt is a crucial junction in global trade.
The world needs a stable Egypt. But to be stable, Egypt needs the involvement and assistance of a world that is, at the present day, focused on other areas of global crisis.
The Egyptian opportunities: Economy, security, status
Economically, the New State Solution has the potential to deliver the massive infrastructure investment that Egypt needs, as well as the employment opportunities required by hundreds of thousands of Gazans and local Bedouin, who could take advantage of the instant works program afforded by the development of a New State.
Egypt would be the beneficiary of massive global investment in public, private partnership initiatives from a global community eager to resolve the Israel Palestinian conflict.
As compensation for the courageous step taken by Egypt to assign approximately ten percent of the Peninsula for the New State (a land mass not less than the size of the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria combined), Egypt would be the recipient of international security assistance to clear the Peninsula of terrorist elements and to reinforce the aforementioned borders in the face of growing threats.
The New State would offer a weighty and appealing alternative to extremism for a restive, young population as Israel and others make their just contributions to this urgent and decisive project.
As kingmaker in a new peace process, Egypt, as the donor state, would regain its place at the center of regional and even global leadership. If structured properly, with Egyptian and international support, this plan can yield critical, timely and mutual gains for all parties involved.
Economy, security and status are the core interests that count. Egypt has plenty of reason to lead the way here.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Ynetnews or any of its affiliate publications.