What is happening between Egypt, UAE, and Israel?


Egypt President El-Sisi and UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed
Egypt President El-Sisi and UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

A new wave of claims about tensions arising between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has re-appeared, after the Chairman of the Egyptian Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said, in January, that Egypt is closely watching the developments of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline project between Israel and UAE. The project should enable UAE to export its crude oil via Israel’s Red Sea port Eilat to its Mediterranean port Ashkelon, and from there to Europe. This means that UAE and Israel could form an alternative route to transport Asian produced oil to Europe without having to go through the traditional route of Egypt’s Suez Canal.


SCA Chairman’s spontaneous statements were misinterpreted by media to appear that Egypt is concerned that this project may hurt the Egyptian economy. But this is not true. A quick look at the map shows how long, complicated, and risky the suggested route of the UAE-Israel oil project is. Even if the project is completed and all the risks are muted, it could hardly make a damage to Egypt’s economy. Oil transports represent barely 16% of total goods transported via the Suez Canal. Egypt, as a founding member of the EastMed Gas Organization, is emerging as a giant hub for gas production and distribution in the Mediterranean. In other words, in the near future, Egypt’s economy will not be dependent on the Suez Canal as the main source of income.


On the other hand, it is true that the policies adopted by Cairo and Abu Dhabi, in relation to their intervention in regional conflicts, have changed greatly over the past year. However, this does not mean that there is a rift or a separation between the two sister countries. On the contrary, their newly adopted policies are a sign of flexibility that would further strengthen their ties and refocus their forces for the good of the whole region, as has been the case in the past decade.


After the eruption of Arab Spring revolutions, in 2011, the UAE played an effective role in rebalancing the political stage in surviving Arab Spring countries. UAE’s effective involvement in handling the consequences of the Arab Spring revolutions was a sincere attempt to push against foreign interventions by Russia, Turkey, and Iran to exploit the chaos in these countries to their own benefit. During this time, UAE also played an effective role, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in combating political Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood group, who exploited the void in power in the countries surviving the Arab Spring to force their Islamist agenda on the expense of preserving the well-being of secular national states in these countries.


Last year, UAE made the unthinkable by convening a peace deal, known as the Abraham Accords, and normalizing social, political, and economic relations with Israel. This unprecedented move enabled UAE to break decades-long taboos in the dynamics of relations between MENA countries. Since the signing of Abraham Accords between Israel and UAE, last year, observers, especially in western media, did not spare an opportunity to claim that UAE is sidelining Egypt as a leading geopolitical power in MENA. Those claims have been renewed, recently, when the policies of Egypt and UAE regarding regional conflicts, especially in Libya and Yemen, have changed.


In fact, this is not the first time that media promotes such claims about a rift or a coldness in the relationship between Egypt and UAE. In 2015, for example, such claims were promoted after Egypt canceled a contract with an Emirati construction company to build governmental buildings in the New Capital project. But the truth is that such claims are mostly wrong.


Such claims insist on committing the mistake of portraying Egypt and UAE as adversaries competing over the leadership of the MENA region, rather than being partners cooperating to extinguish the infinite cluster of threats spread all over the ever-boiling region. UAE and Egypt are sister countries and long-time allies, who have survived challenging times together, including the dire aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions and the rise of terrorist organizations in the Levant region. There has never been a rift between UAE and Egypt in the past and there will be no such rift, at least in the foreseeable future.


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