Egypt's Morsi Gets Marks for Speed, Not Style in Foreign Policy
By: Nabil Fahmy Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt).
President Mohammed Morsi did not list Egyptian foreign policy as one of the five issues that would be prioritized during the first 100 days of his presidency. He specified these priorities to be: providing citizens with bread, energy stability, security and cleanliness, as well as solving the problem of traffic jams.
About This Article
The Egyptian president has hit some of his targets and missed others on his first 100 days in office, writes the country's former ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy. He argues that Morsi's approach to foreign policy is energetic, but needs greater forethought and articulation.Publisher: Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt)
Ambassador Nabil Fahmy Writes About the President’s Foreign Policy During His First “100 Days”: Morsi Has Restored Egypt to a ‘Non-Aligned’ Path...But Committed Five Mistakes
Author: Nabil Fahmy
First Published: October 12, 2012
Posted on: October 13 2012
Translated by: Tyler Huffman
Categories : Egypt
These priorities bewildered us, and through them, Morsi hit and missed at the same time.
It confused us, because he included issues that are impossible to solve in 100 days. He put himself into a dilemma, and it was inevitable that the public's assessment concerning his ability to solve these issues would be negative.
The president did well, because it is only natural to give priority to the internal Egyptian situation, led by finalizing new Egyptian state institutions, and on the basis of a constitution that brings us all together, guarantees us equal rights and provides a civilized foundation for the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, and between citizens in general, to ensure that democracy is achieved and remains.
Morsi also made a mistake, because you cannot separate our foreign relations from our internal affairs or vice versa. Egypt's regional status in Africa and the Arab world is a part of its identity, and Egypt's regional and international weight serves our internal projects.
Furthermore, regional and international parties and events will not wait for Egypt to organize itself internally, and whoever doesn't participate in these events becomes subordinate to them and those driving them.
Then President Morsi surprised us by the fact that his actions during the first 100 days did not correspond to what he had said. On the international front, he set out actively and with force.
Foreign relations enjoyed the largest part of his attention at the expense of other issues, with one exception: He regained his authority as the president of the republic, ending an era of military rule in the country that had lasted since 1956. He visited approximately 10 foreign countries, which is more than the number of Egyptian governorates he visited in this period.
He gave an important speech at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, and participated in the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, leaving the prime minister and his cabinet to implement his domestic electoral program.
It is not logical or fair to assess general policies — whether they be domestic or foreign — on such a short period of time. It's too early to assess President Morsi's domestic and foreign policy, it is imperative that we allow for enough time for these policies to be translated into reality.
We must allow for these policies to have reverberations among public opinion, even if a candidate was overly excited prior to the elections and made unrealistic promises for his first 100 days to attract voters, by appealing to their emotions and hopes rather than their minds and realities. Naturally, this applies to Morsi's foreign policy and his first 100 days, especially given that he didn't promise to achieve anything relating to these matters during this period.
But it is our right — rather our duty — to assess the performance of the president up until now when it comes to foreign policy in order to decide whether we support it or not, and in order to maintain Egyptian national interests after the 2011 revolution.
The practice of democracy is an ongoing political process between the ruler and the ruled, and does not end with the election of the president, nor is it merely delayed until the next electoral process. Otherwise, we would just be electing autocratic regimes for given periods of time between one election and the next.
Morsi's performance related to foreign policy has been characterized by rapid movement and activity, and that in itself is a positive development to his credit. This movement in itself reflects the availability of energy and enthusiasm to enable the state — if all the necessary elements exist — to be effective or influential regionally or internationally.
Moreover, President Morsi's movement was characterized by diversity — he visited countries in Asia, the Arab world, Africa and Europe, in addition to the United Nations — which is also a good thing.
If he seriously uses this to his advantage, this can open the door to diversification and plurality in the options available to Egypt at the international level. This would remove us from being aligned with the East or the West, at a time when we boast about the fact that we make decisions for ourselves and are a non-aligned state.
The Egyptian president took a strong stance when he participated in the Non-Aligned Movement summit despite all of the pressure, as well as when he announced his strong position in Tehran, saying that he was an opponent of the Syrian regime and stood firmly with the Syrian people. These are positions that I fully support.
The president's performance at the foreign level was characterized by movement and had positive aspects, however there were also quite a few negative points and errors made.
The first error was that he rushed to take action without giving himself the opportunity to prepare a general assessment of the international situation, or to envision the configuration of the international community and Egypt's neighboring region in the Arab world and Africa over the next five or 10 years. This would have allowed him to specify goals and priorities, and to determine opportunities and challenges ahead of us in the near future, in order to develop the necessary plans and foreign policies to achieve specific goals and preserve our interests.
How can we implement a policy without having a basic vision for the political arena or the circumstances that we are operating in? Foreign policy always faces the challenge of reconciling between our interests and priorities on the one hand, and the visions of other countries on the other. This policy requires serious consideration, proper planning and deliberate action — things which we have yet to see.
The second error relating to President Morsi's performance at the international level is that he acted without explaining his philosophy or goals, not even to the Egyptian people who participated in the 2011 revolution.
If he aspires to participate in the present administration of the country and to help plan for its future, the Egyptian president must explain his philosophy relating to foreign policy to both the Egyptian and foreign public before continuing forward with his actions. This will ensure that he involves the people and gains their support.
I think that he will find the required support — regarding Arab and African relations — very quickly. An explanation of this philosophy is also required so that the people can warn him of any unexpected inclinations that the people may not agree with, as we saw recently regarding the idea of sending Egyptian forces to Syria.
Moreover, this is necessary so that every foreign move we make is not explained as being based on already existing Egyptian relations. This is a claim that was repeated in the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the announcement of presidential visits to China and Iran.
The third mistake relating to the president's performance is that he still looks at the world from the perspective of a representative of the Egyptian Islamic movement, not from the perspective of Egypt's president and a representative of all Egyptians.
His foreign policy speeches always begin with religious approaches at the beginning. His reference to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad at the onset of his speech in front of the NAM summit is an example of this.
Furthermore, Morsi's comments during his recent visit to New York were largely defensive, focused on reassuring the audience of the moderateness of the political approaches of the Egyptian Islamic movement. He also gave a traditional speech in front of the UN General Assembly, the largest of the world's political theaters.
In this address he reiterated traditional positions expressed by former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, rather than adding any new notions regarding perspectives of "revolutionary Egypt," "future Egypt" or "democratic Egypt."
Another indicator that political Islamic perspectives would continue to dominate was the fact that the Egyptian president canceled his visits to Brazil and to attend the Arab-South American Summit in Peru in order to attend the Turkish Justice and Development Party's annual conference. This is despite the fact that in the near future — before the end of this year — Egypt and Turkey will exchange presidential visits once again.
My fourth objection relates to a lack of transparency. Reasons for foreign action are not explained before action is taken. Moreover, no one gives an explanation for the cancelation of planned visits — such as the visit to Brazil — and no official statements are released following interviews with the president regarding the content of these meetings.
This places the presidency in a constant state of self defense, denying or correcting what is published in papers and attributing it to a foreign element.
There are many examples of this, such as the when the Egyptian president exchanged messages of congratulations and thanks with Israeli president Shimon Peres, or regarding the content of the president's meetings and phone calls with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
There was an announcement that President Obama had invited President Morsi to attend the UN General Assembly meeting, which was later corrected. It was also announced that the British prime minister had promised to return all of the Egyptian money smuggled into Britain, when in fact all that he promised was to provide technical expertise that would enable Egypt to meet the requirements that will allow proper progress related to the return of smuggle funds.
In addition to all of this we have repeated the practices of the past, relating to exaggeration and inaccuracy in statements regarding the president's international contacts.
This is particularly true regarding talks involving foreign aid to Egypt — whether they be in China, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey or the US. This aid is frequently characterized by loans, short-term deposits or memorandums of understanding, rather than grants or foreign investment in Egypt. Furthermore, there is uncertainty regarding our negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, something we support at times and oppose at other times.
Concerning foreign policy, Morsi's performance has somewhat succeeded in attracting the attention of the Egyptian public, as he is looking to restore Egypt's role regionally and internationally. He also succeeded in announcing Egypt's desire and willingness to take action on the international front, because this action has thus far not benefited from the momentum of the Egyptian revolution.
This is because we have yet to announce new titles for our foreign policy programs, and haven't even proven that Egypt is capable of regaining its full role. We are still strongly dependent on foreign states both financially, militarily and politically, and there are many sensitive and complex issues we have yet to deal with.
One of these issues is our relationship with other Middle Eastern states. The president hasn't mentioned the word "Israel" in any of his speeches, yet official contacts with Israel — regarding both military and security issues — have continued and intensified since his election.
Where are we in all of this? It is imperative that Morsi harmonize relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and work to reignite Egypt's relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
It is notable that officials from these countries have not visited Egypt — even after the elections — despite the fact that Morsi visited Saudi Arabia multiple times, and was invited to visit the Emirates. Furthermore, the president did not visit Sudan, despite the importance of this relationship to Egypt historically, as well as in the present and future.
No progress has been made on issues relating to the Nile River Basin, despite resounding statements regarding the opening of a new page in these relations.
How can Egypt preserve its political independence at a time when it needs to borrow furiously from abroad, and will soon need to import power, as it is already doing for food?
This has made us consider resorting to Iran, despite what that would involve in terms of violating the sanctions that have been imposed on it. The president must reconcile between Egypt's desire to restore its role and its independent position, with the continuation of our important relationship with the US, despite the sensitivity of issues relating to the Middle East, and we must continue to cooperate with them in matters relating to terrorism, as well as on other issues.
All of this is possible if Egypt continues with its active movement, and this is done in the framework of an integrated plan and transparent study to maintain Egypt's national interests.
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