Since coming to power in 2013, Sisi has made many decisions with the reasoning of ‘fighting terrorism in the region’ and ‘keeping it outside our borders.’ Such rhetoric and policy making have led to both massive support and massive disagreement with some of the president’s decisions to protect national security. One particularly interesting security decision by Sisi was to leave the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA). With MESA as an example, Sisi seems to be isolating Egypt from regional agreements, unions, etc. in order to focus on the recovery of the Egyptian economy and system. Opposingly, Sisi established the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development with regard to African and Muslim countries; not quite an isolationist agency. All in all, Sisi’s main security threats continue to be terrorism and social unrest.
On one hand, ensuring Regional Security and Unity
Since Sisi became president in 2013, and arguably, also while he was Minister of Defense, he has fought for a more stable and secure MENA region. This aim for greater unity and cooperation among Egypt’s many neighbors can be witnessed in a number of ways: diplomatically, militarily and economically. To begin with the first, Sisi held the position of ‘Chair of the African Union’ for 2019. Three of Sisi’s priority areas as head of the union related to greater regional growth: 1) economic and regional integration 2) cooperating with partners and 3) building bridges among Africa’s peoples. As a result, Sisii was able to put into effect the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA). Ratified by 22 countries, including Egypt, the AfCTA “will be the world’s largest free trade area by number of countries once it’s fully up and running.” Although this could easily be considered more economic than diplomatic, given that Sisi brought about such results as acting chair of the AU, these efforts are consequently more diplomatic as they are meant for the benefit of the entire continent, not just Egypt.
Moving on to militarily, President Sisi has supported unity and stability in the region by backing up his allies in their war efforts both verbally and with materials. For instance, Sisi has provided vital support to fellow military strongman, Khalifa Haftar in Libya with the hope of creating greater stability on Egypt’s western border and, of course, to fight terrorism. In addition, Sisi has stated on numerous occasions that Egypt will stand beside other Gulf States “and if Gulf security is directly threatened by anyone, the Egyptian people, even before their leadership, will not accept that and will mobilize forces to protect their brethren.” While this is a big promise to make on behalf of the Egyptian people, few would doubt Sisi will not follow through as time and time again he has backed up his regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Economically speaking, it comes as no surprise that Sisi would be so keen on engaging Saudi Arabia and the UAE towards more regional cooperation. While Egypt’s partnership with the two has largely come about due to similar security interests (i.e. hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, rivalry with Iran, and the desire to diminish political Islam), there are undeniable economic ties between the three nations. For example, Sisi ratified a controversial treaty to transfer two largely uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in 2017 in order to move the two countries closer economically as well as diplomatically. Nevertheless, as with many of his policies, Sisi has chosen to pursue regional unity and cooperation at the expense of his constituents’ trust and approval of him.
On the other, ensuring an Independent yet International Egypt
While Sisi has undoubtedly worked towards securing a safer, richer and more interconnected MENA region, the Egyptian president has also worked towards ‘making Egypt great again.’ Although working with regional partners has certainly brought forth economic, political and security gains for Sisi and Egypt, Sisi hopes to make Egypt great on the global scale– a true geopolitical power. In order to do so, he must (and has) seek partnerships and support outside of his region. Thus, his desire to create a greater Egypt has led Sisi to make such decisions as to pull out of MESA as well as to pursue closer ties with Europe and the U.S; specifically through the Trump administration. Whether his regional isolationist policies will help or hurt him, only time will tell. Fortunate for Sisi; and possibly unfortunate for Egypt, he has all the time in the world to see which policies, partners and paths work best for him, and Egypt of course.