There have recently been fresh calls from Egypt for an initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis. It is not the first nor likely to be the last proposal put forward for ending the bloodshed there.
Egypt went through a state of instability and drift when the Muslim Brotherhood took power in a reckless, ambitious manner. However, Egypt recovered its spirit when Egyptians rose up and demanded the departure of Mohamed Mursi, the Brotherhood’s representative in the presidential palace. The army supported this uprising, just as it previously blessed and supported the Tamarod (Rebellion) youth movement.
Egypt is now free to play its natural role as the leading Arab country once more. It has passed the first test with the war in Gaza, currently under the rule of the pro-Brotherhood Hamas, and has succeeded in preventing Gaza becoming a bargaining chip in the hands of countries which support groups aligned with the Brotherhood.
Egyptian diplomacy has called on all concerned states to work together to fight terrorist groups, especially the Islamic State (IS), and a conference was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia specifically for that purpose. Among those who attended were representatives from Qatar, which is currently embroiled in an internal Gulf conflict with three other countries: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. However, this issue was put to one side in order to unite all efforts against IS.
At the end of the conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri told the Saudi newspaper Okaz that Egypt had tried to gather together all the parties involved in the Syrian conflict in order to serve the interests of the Syrian people.
Is this a blessing from IS? Because of its immorality and hostility to all, and the danger it poses for the legal, geographic and demographic status quo in the region, everyone must forget their differences, or ignore them for now, in order to confront this storm.
It is right that IS must be fought with full force, but is it right for this to make us forget other perils? There is a danger that despite this new united front, which is undoubtedly necessary in order to fight IS, other dangers will be forgotten until later. The Assad regime, as we know, has attempted to use the global reaction against IS in an attempt rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the world.
The Egyptian attitude to the Syrian crisis is different to that which exists in the Gulf. Among the reasons for this is the dominance of the Nasserite spirit in Egyptian foreign policy, and the reproduction of the Egyptian situation in Syria.
According to this comparison, if the Egyptian army was the protector of the people and the target of the Brotherhood and their supporters, the Syrian Arab Army is the protector of its people against IS. This is a misleading comparison, because the current Syrian army serves only the sect of the family which runs the state, and moreover has aligned itself with Khamenei’s Iran.
IS is a looming danger, but so is Assad, and the Syrian people and opposition are victims of both.
In an article published at the end of August last year I predicted the emergence of a conflict arising from the difference in the Saudi and Egyptian positions on Syria. In that article—entitled, “Yes, We Disagree on Syria”—I highlighted these differences, which were drowned under the ocean of support Saudi Arabia gave to Egypt following the ouster of Mursi, and called for the establishment of a framework in which both viewpoints, Egyptian and Gulf, could coexist.
Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, many hostilities have cooled down, and new friendships have been formed.