Unlike Egypt’s previous active involvement in US-led military campaigns in the Arab region, the current Egyptian stance on terrorism involves obtaining strategic solutions.
During a meeting Saturday, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi told visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry that any international coalition confronting terrorism should battle all militant groups, including the Islamic State, Reuters reported.
Al-Sisi stressed that any coalition to combat terrorism should comprehensively cover the Middle East and Africa, rather than exclusively target a specific organisation.
At an earlier press conference on the same day with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Kerry stated that Egypt could exert enormous influence in countering ISIS. He added that this influence would be particularly forceful given Islamic institutions such as Al-Azhar, which continue to wield significant power.
During a Thursday meeting in Jeddah, Shoukry expressed Egypt’s willingness to cooperate with other countries to confront “radical Islam” regionally rather than specifically in Iraq.
Shoukry’s statement comes not only as part of the Egyptian state’s decisive position to counter terrorism, but also marks a precedent of refraining from directly joining US-led coalitions in confronting extremists in Iraq.
He said that it would not be logical for Egypt to mobilise resources to defeat ISIS while these resources are currently being used in the country in its own counter-terrorism fight. Shoukry asserted that any intervention should consider the international principles of “nation state” and “state sovereignty”.
“Those statements are nothing but ‘media consumption’,” said US-Egypt relations professor at the British University in Egypt (BUE), Sherin Fahmy. “They’re very far from the fact that Egypt has ongoing strong strategic ties with the United States.”
Fahmy said that during the confrontation in Gaza in August, Egypt refused to open its borders at Rafah, a clear indicator of supporting US policies. Its official condemnation of Hamas’ acts also illustrates its rejection of any expansion of such militants inside its borders.
There has been disagreement among Arab countries with regards to Western interference in their internal affairs. Obama announced in a speech at the White House last August the authorisation of two air strikes in Iraq. These airstrikes were ostensibly to protect American military personnel and provide a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi Yezidi civilians trapped on a mountain.
Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Reuters reported Kerry as saying the US is seeking a broad-based coalition combining Arab states, the EU, the US and others to fight the Islamic State in Iraq.
“The US is currently striving to distract the Arab countries from its core Arab Spring demands through intimidating them with such ‘terroristic’ troops,” Fahmy said.
Security expert and former general brigadier Khaled Okasha said Egypt’s stance on confronting terrorism is “obvious”.
“Many countries in the Arab region are suffering from radical Islamism,” Okasha said.
He added that the Shoukry’s statements should not be interpreted as focusing only on “internal terrorism”, saying: “Nevertheless, the Egyptian stance asserted that terrorism should be fought as a whole entity and not separately in a specific geographical area.”
Egypt’s statement is an indication of the government’s support of international sovereignty, ensuring that military intervention may violate the sovereignty of any country, said Okasha.
Okasha denied that the latest position was not to pressure the American government to supply Egypt militarily or diplomatically.
During the Saturday meeting, Kerry promised his country’s commitment, delivering 10 Apache helicopters to the Egyptian military.
Major General Mohamed Belal, who led the Egyptian military forces in Kuwait, said Egypt’s rejection to take part in the Iraq coalition against ISIS is a rational decision.
Belal said both Iraq and Syria are currently being fought over by militants, which does not require any soldiers’ interference. He also added that unlike the US, which has a base at Erbil, Egypt’s military does not have an air base inside Iraq, making Egyptian military interference impossible.
“Egypt can still participate logistically, because it is against any form of terrorism anywhere in the world, but the ways of participating need to be addressed thoroughly.” Belal said.
Lately, the Egyptian government has been a vocal opponent of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments condemned the actions of ISIS, accusing the group of being “disinterested in humanity”. The ministry also accused the group of tampering with dead bodies, “torture, which is forbidden in Islam” and “cutting necks and throwing bodies to the side of heads, or no heads at all”.
The Egyptian foreign ministry said in August that the advance of ISIS threatens the whole region.
At the beginning of the month, Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta condemned the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff. The institution described his death as a “horrendous act by Al-Qaeda separatists to distort the image of Islam and Muslims worldwide”.
An international social media campaign was launched by Dar Al-Ifta to “clarify the image of Islam across the globe due to the terrorist group’s violence acts”. The campaign is also to ensure that “all Muslims reject these practices that are contrary to the principles of tolerant Islam, which calls for coexistence”.
Last July the Coptic Orthodox Church condemned the targeting of Iraqi Christians in the militant-held city of Mosul, which caused the displacement of thousands into the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.