A Dream Called “Arab NATO”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

By: Hojjatollah Joudaki & Ahmad Bakhshi
Experts on Egypt Issues

The foreign policy of Egypt following the country’s popular revolution has been so far a largely passive foreign policy. Before the revolution, Egypt played important roles in most regional developments. However, following the revolution, the new Egyptian government has been mostly preoccupied with domestic problems with less time to take a decisive step in either regional or international arenas. Almost one year after the Egyptian revolution, the new President Mohamed Morsi has been trying for a while to take Egypt back to its past position in the Arab world and the region.  Active presence in regional meetings held to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria as well as efforts made by Morsi to promote the country’s diplomatic relations with the littoral states of the Persian Gulf have been among regional steps taken by the Egyptian president in this regard. In the meantime, Morsi took part in a news conference in the Egyptian capital Cairo and in answer to a question, he talked about the need to establish an Arab NATO. After offering that proposal, he noted that the security of the Persian Gulf is as important to Cairo as the security of Egypt. During the same conference, he also did his best to bank on elements of Arab identity in his sensational remarks. The Egyptian president said Cairo does not allow any harm to be done to the security of the Persian Gulf and the Arab countries. He also used a fake name for the Persian Gulf. All these efforts show that Morsi has launched an all-out effort to bring to life the nationalistic sentiments of Arabs, also known as “pan-Arabism.” Morsi's remarks have provided us with a good opportunity to discuss the issue of Arab NATO with experts and ask them about the reasons why Morsi has come up with this proposal and what the outcome(s) of his proposal could be.

Arab NATO will Never Take Shape

When asked about the main reason(s) why Morsi has brought up the proposal to establish an Arab NATO, Dr. Hojjatollah Joudaki said this was not the first time that such a proposal has been offered and it had been already raised even under the former Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak. “The goal, however, is not to revive prejudices around Arab ethnicity or pan-Arabist sentiments. If this was the main goal or reason, Arab NATO should have encompassed all the Arab countries, but this is not the case. The idea of pan-Arabism was first brought up by the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and died with his demise. Morsi, however, pursues other goals through that slogan. Egypt has correctly understood that it has important economic interests in the Persian Gulf and about 2-3 million Egyptian workers are currently employed in the littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf. These issues have forced the new Egyptian government to be more cautious when it comes to relations with those states. Otherwise, Egypt’s vital economic interests would be threatened in those countries because they are rich countries and also among the most important sources of investment in Egypt. Therefore, if Egypt’s relations with those countries become tense, there would be many things at stake for Cairo.” Joudaki, who is an expert on Egypt, added that the available evidence shows that there are many factors which may cause tensions in Egypt’s relations with those states and the ground is ready for the escalation of tension.

“An example of such tensions was the way that the police officials of Dubai have treated the members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Dubai Police Chief [Dhahi Khalfan Tamim] went as far as announcing that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had to cease its activities in Dubai. Of course, such differences also exist among the Persian Gulf littoral countries as well. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a Qatari Sunni cleric who has been told that he would be arrested should he travel to the United Arab Emirates. Such grounds for tension are numerous and are among the most important causes of division among Arab countries. Therefore, these factors are major reasons behind renewed discussions on the establishment of Arab NATO, which aims to reduce tension among Egypt and Arab states around the Persian Gulf.”

Joudaki then stated that the general message that such plans are meant to convey is that ‘we (Arabs) have a common enemy and the security of the Persian Gulf is important to all of us’.” The analyst also noted that such remarks are indirect references by heads of Arab states to Iran. “In fact, to head off the perceived threat of Iran, the Arab states seek a haven in Egypt and Egypt is trying to play the role of the big brother in the Persian Gulf.”

Explaining about the possible consequences of the plan, Joudaki stated that without a doubt no structure or organization under the designation of Arab NATO will ever come into being. “However, what may actually come to be is a series of agreements which may be signed by some Arab countries in this regard like the agreement which was concluded by Arab states against [the former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein. Such agreements are ephemeral in terms of duration and depend on climatic, political and domestic conditions of these countries. These countries have both remarkable commonalities and differences, but at present, more emphasis is put on challenges and tensions instead of common grounds.”

Three Reasons for Arab NATO Claim

Another analyst, Dr. Ahmad Bakhshi, also reflected on the reasons prompting Morsi to come up with his new plan.

“As for the proposition for the establishment of Arab NATO by Mohamed Morsi, a number of goals should be seen behind the proposal. The first issue which should be taken into account is revival of the Arab identity. In fact, Morsi is bent on following in footsteps of Gamal Abdel Nasser and repeat the measures he had taken in his time. Morsi aims to create a sort of political convergence revolving around the pivot of Arabism by bringing up such issues. This measure by Morsi can be also analyzed from another viewpoint. He aims to take Egypt back to the regional position it had before signing the Camp David Accord [with Israel]. This is why he supports littoral Arab states when it comes to their differences with Iran over three [Iranian] islands [in the Persian Gulf] or when the security of the Persian Gulf is at stake. In these cases, Egypt clearly and explicitly takes sides with Arab states declaring that in case of conflict, Egypt will back the United Arab Emirates.”

The Africa expert said the second point which should be taken into consideration is the issue of evading domestic problems most of which are economic and political, and attributing those problems to regional issues. “Morsi has not been able to bring stability to Egypt yet and, therefore, by bringing up such proposals, he would be able to divert the attention of Egyptian public opinion to issues which are going on beyond the country’s borders.”

“The third point,” Dr. Bakhshi said, “is that Morsi aims to show off the position of Egypt as a key regional power vis-à-vis Iran or Turkey by bringing up such issues. In fact, Morsi intends to present a new model for political and security development in the region in the face of Turkey’s so far successful economic development model as well as Iran. Since Egypt is practically unable to propose an economic development model at regional level, it is trying through such initiatives and also by promoting Shia-phobia and Iranophobia to secure his footstep among regional states.”

As for the consequences and the fate of the initiative, the Africa expert said that the initiative cannot finally succeed.

“The reason is that even if Arabs reached an agreement on how to counteract Iran, or reached a consensus over the situation in Syria, their unity could not be elevated to high levels as there are various discourses followed by each and every Arab country.”

Explaining about diversity of discourses in Arab countries as a reason for the failure of Morsi's initiative, Dr. Bakhshi stated that there are, for example, different discourses in the Arab world which are for or against the Muslim Brotherhood.

“On the other hand, Egypt has a revolutionary government which seeks reforms and change while littoral states of the Persian Gulf are ruled by conservative governments which are not willing to see any radical change in the status quo. A piece of evidence supporting this claim is serious restrictions that the government of the United Arab Emirates has considered for members of the Muslim Brotherhood and arrested them. Therefore, I generally think that this initiative will not lead to any conclusive result.

Key Words: Arab NATO, Egyptian Revolution, Persian Gulf, Arab Countries, Pan-Arabism, Bakhshi, Joudaki

Source: Tehran Emrooz Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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