Aware of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitions in both Libya and the Middle East, Egypt and its partners have supposedly stepped up their effort to thwart Turkey on the diplomatic front and in Syria and Iraq.
Although the Egyptian Government currently enjoys a constructive relationship with Damascus, Cairo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also focused on the Syrian Kurds. According to Al-Monitor, Egypt has now sent troops to Idlib, the rebel-held area where Ankara has strengthened its military presence to prevent the Syrian Army from advancing.
Is Egypt Advancing into Syria?
Al-Monitor reports that Kamal Amer, who heads the Egyptian Parliament’s Defense and National Security Committee, denied the report. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights also stated that its local sources had failed to verify this development.
Regardless of whether these reports are true, it would appear that Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are forming a front to contain the threat that Turkey poses to the Middle East, and it has emerged due to the strained relationship that these three nations have had with Ankara since 2011.
Abu Dhabi and Riyadh both voiced their disapproval at Erdoğan after he declared his support for the Arab Spring of 2011. After Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted through a military coup led by then Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cairo’s relations with Turkey began to sour.
The Egyptian-Emirati-Saudi Alliance Has Long Been in the Making
Last June, the Emirati ambassador to the US disclosed the UAE’s close cooperation with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) funded by the American billionaire Sheldon Adelson. It has many anti-Turkish sentiments and its chairman, Mark Dubowitz, wrote on Twitter that he wanted the July 2016 coup against Erdoğan to succeed.
Although the Egypt-Emirates-Saudi front’s existence cannot be disputed, the question remains- will it be successful?
The front can serve a useful purpose in counterbalancing the growing interest Turkey has over Syria and Libya. The red line that Egypt has declared at Sirte and al-Jufra in Libya has prevented the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) from advancing further in the war-torn country.
Could an Egypt-Emirates-Saudi Front Succeed?
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan traveled to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco after a July 27 trip to Egypt, where he reaffirmed Saudi support for Egypt in the Libyan war. This support may be useful to Cairo as the Libyan conflict continues to escalate.
Although the Arab world has not completely resolved its differences with Israel, the Egypt-Emirates-Saudi front earlier this year welcomed US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Saudi Foreign Ministry of Affairs called it a ‘comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.’
Meanwhile, Erdoğan denounced the plan due to the impact it could have on Palestine.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE see Iran as the most pressing security challenge and view Israel as a powerful ally in containing Tehran’s regional ambitions. Therefore, the Egyptian-Saudi-Emirates alliance could prevent Jerusalem from being threatened by both Turkey and Iran in the long-term.
Should the US support an Egypt-Emirates-Saudi Front?
The only problem that the Egypt-Emirates-Saudi front has is whether it will enjoy American support in the future. Whilst Trump views Saudi Arabia as a useful ally in his plan to counter the threat Tehran poses to the Middle East, he is also closely aligned to the Turkish President’s views on the GNA.
However, Egypt supports General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Both scenarios have the potential to create a conflict of interest for the Trump administration, and the US President’s support for Erdoğan in Libya could strain his relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The Egypt-Emirates-Saudi front has a lot of potential to contain Turkey, but it would be even stronger if it could depend upon consistent US support. Washington has found itself in a difficult position supporting the GNA in Libya whilst supporting Saudi Arabia’s effort to contain Iran and Turkey elsewhere. It is unclear how the Trump administration can untangle this web and establish a coherent and effective position.