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Accueil > Entretiens > Interview with Marco Pinfari – Egypt and its neighbours

Interview with Marco Pinfari – Egypt and its neighbours
Article publié le 03/08/2017

Questions by Mathilde Rouxel

Marco Pinfari is assistant Professor of International Relations at American University in Caro. He holds a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), a MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a Laurea Magistralis from the University of Bologna, Italy. 

His research focuses on a number of sub-debates in international relations and security studies. His recent work centres specifically on peace negotiations, interregional security cooperation and multiparty mediation in persistent conflicts, with a regional specialization in the Middle East and Arab Africa.

He holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCertHE) and, before joining American University in Cairo, taught in six different institutions in four countries. He has received a number of teaching awards, including the student-nominated LSE Teaching Excellence Award in 2012.

What is Sisi’s foreign policy in Libya ?

In Libya Egypt supports Khalifa Haftar’s faction, which is also allied with Russia, and repeatedly denounces the presence of Islamic States militants in the country, connecting the collapse of the Libyan state with the intensification of terrorist attacks on its own territory – that shares with Libya a long border that is almost impossible to patrol thoroughly. The exact nature of Egypt’s strategic interests and actual involvement in the Libyan civil war, however, have been the object of much speculation recently. For instance, in the aftermath of a bloody attack against Copts in the province of al-Minya in May 2017, whose responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State, the Egyptian Air Force launched an attack on Libyan territory purportedly aimed at destroying “terrorist training camps”. Yet the areas targeted by this attack appear to have no significant presence of Islamic State militants, suggesting that this intervention could have been a political move to support the military operations of Haftar’s troops more than a direct retaliation against terrorist groups connected with the Minya massacre.

What is your analysis of the recent relations between Egyptian authorities and the Palestinian Hamas ?

At this moment in time, Hamas needs Egypt more than Egypt needs Hamas. The Rafah crossing is the only access to the Gaza strip not under Israeli control, and Egypt’s authority over it and its overall successful policy of locating and destroying underground tunnels means that Egypt has the power of holding the entire strip. At least since the attack that killed Egypt’s Chief Prosecutor Hisham Barakat in 2015, in which Egypt believes that Hamas – as one of the international branches of Muslim Brotherhood – was involved, al-Sisi’s regime has demanded stronger steps by the Hamas leadership in dissociating itself from the Brotherhood and in refraining from its alleged involvement in Egyptian affairs. The tightening of Egypt’s hold on the border with the Gaza strip seems to have induced Hamas to take steps in this direction, for instance by emphasizing its organizational autonomy from the Muslim Brotherhood.

How could you explain the recent tensions between Egypt and Sudan ?

For various years Egypt and Sudan have been involved in a series of diplomatic rows, with Sudan accusing Egypt to support Darfur rebels and Egypt suggesting that Sudan provides shelter to Muslim Brotherhood militants. In April and May 2017, these escalated into a series of diplomatic incidents involving the expulsion of some Sudanese journalists from Egypt. While the relations between Egypt and Sudan have witnessed over the past decades many ups and downs – which is unsurprising given the close historic links between them but also the heavy legacy of the colonial period – Sudan’s overall supportive position towards Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam project on the Blue Nile has cast a long shadow over its relations with Egypt. Sudan is likely to benefit economically from this project but also sees it as an opportunity to challenge, although symbolically, Egypt’s historical hegemony in the sub-region, while Egypt considers any reduction to its quota of Nile water as a potential casus belli.

Sudan’s increased leverage also let Omar al-Bashir reassert Sudan’s claims over the Hala’ib and Shalateen Triangle, especially after Egypt ceded to Saudi Arabia the contested islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Considering that the negative reactions in Egypt to the deal with Saudi Arabia caused one of the most significant waves of domestic upheaval since al-Sisi’s ascent to power, the timing of Sudan’s move predictably led to a further deterioration in its bilateral relations with Egypt.

What is the current position of Egypt regarding Syria ?

Egypt is arguably not a major player in the Syrian crisis, at least officially. At least since 2016 al-Sisi has taken a clear stance in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, increasingly aligning itself with Russia. This policy is part of the official Egyptian foreign policy stance on fighting Islamist terrorist groups – an inclusive label that encompasses both the Muslim Brotherhood (and its affiliates) and the Islamic State. Yet Egypt’s policy has been repeatedly described as opportunistic and contradictory ; for instance, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, in April 2017 it voted in favor of a French resolution proposal that condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

Interview with Marco Pinfari – Egypt after the plane crash

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