GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The Scope of the Egyptian-Emirati Alliance
Paper Proposal Text :
The Arab uprisings, the vacuum created by a weakened Iraq, Egypt and Syria, and US reticence to become embroiled in conflicts in the region, has generated an opening for Arab Gulf states to expand their influence in the MENA region. However, some have been more successful than others. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), along with Saudi Arabia, has seen its influence boosted, particularly in Egypt. The UAE is among the most generous donors of foreign aid and financial assistance to Egypt. It, along with several other Gulf States, has provided a lifeline to the Egyptian economy. The UAE’s economic support has translated into increased influence in Cairo. The UAE has also been eager to support Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and share the goal of weakening the Muslim Brotherhood and salafist jihadis in the region, which Emiratis also see as a threat to domestic stability and regime survival. Their support for el-Sisi also serves to strengthen the position of the already influential Egyptian military. The UAE has even insisted that Egyptian army implement its foreign aid projects, and there are certainly mutual gains to be had for the Egyptian military and UAE companies investing in el-Sisi’s large-scale development projects.

The common interests of the Emirati rulers, El-Sisi and the military also have foreign and security policy implications. The joint Egyptian-UAE air strikes against Islamist militias in Libya in late 2014 demonstrated the UAE´s role as an important Egyptian ally, with the possibility of becoming more involved militarily in Libya. Indeed, the likelihood of this has increased since the 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS militants in Libya in early February 2015, which saw Egypt conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Libya following the beheadings. The Egyptian government is now calling for a UN-mandated action in Libya, which if passed could see Egypt and the UAE as participants.

While el-Sisi needs to consider the interests of the military and its main financial sponsors when making foreign and security policy, there is also a broad consensus in Egypt about the importance of regaining Egypt’s leadership role in the MENA region. This not only involves military action, which would pose challenges for Egypt in any case, but also re-establishing Egypt’s role as a mediator in the region. Egypt has carved out a place as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, which would have coincided with UAE interests. However, it is possible that Egypt is currently cautiously positioning itself to mediate in the Syrian crisis. Since the July 2013 coup, Egypt has taken a less position in relation to the Syrian crisis that is less pro-opposition than that adopted under the presidency of Morsi. A recent meeting of Syrian opposition figures has also taken place in Cairo at Egyptian Foreign Ministry offices, although organized by an NGO. The major outcome of the meeting was support for the Geneva I communiqué, notably the formation of a transitional authority comprised of opposition and government representatives. Initiatives such as this could place strain on the UAE-Egyptian alliance, and are indicative of potential strains on the relationship. The proposed paper would examine the scope of the Egyptian-Emirati alliance, notably whether it could extend beyond supporting the regional balance between Islamist and non-Islamist political forces.