Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi concluded his first visit to China after his inauguration, during which numerous cooperation agreements were signed, ranging from trade, aviation and energy to people-to-people exchange. With bilateral ties in excellent shape, both sides expressed a readiness to further strengthen friendly ties and translate the abundance of goodwill into tangible deliverables through institutionalized cooperation arrangements. To that end, President Sisi and President Xi announced the decision to upgrade the China-Egypt strategic cooperative relationship established in 1999 to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
Mohamed Abdelhady Allam, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram, pointed out in his article that President Sisi’s visit not only gave a strong push to China-Egypt cooperation, but also marked a new phase in Arab countries’ “Going East” initiative. The key decision to upgrade strategic ties between China and Egypt at this important juncture will not just benefit the people of the two countries, but also contribute to China-Arab and China-Africa relations, as well as the peace and development of the region and the world. Countries in West Asia and North Africa have shown great interest in “looking east”. Given its regional significance, Egypt’s membership in the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum and Forum on China-Africa Cooperation makes it a pivotal coordinator and driver of exchanges and cooperation between China and Arab and African countries. President Sisi said himself that “as a pivot in the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road strategy, Egypt will take an active part in its realization.” Aiming to reinvigorate the areas along the ancient Silk Road, the “One Belt One Road” initiative provides a golden opportunity for China-Egypt cooperation. Closer ties between the two countries will certainly signal more linkages between the regions they represent.
With its size and influence in the Middles East, Egypt’s stability has a decisive effect on regional stability and development. China fully supports a self-owned and orderly transition in Egypt and other Middle East countries, and it opposes double-standards on issues related to sovereignty. It is China’s long-held position that no external force should ever impose its will on these countries. The success of the transition, China believes, hinges on a two-pronged approach: greater assistance for economic and social development, as well as a stronger political and diplomatic effort. Over the years, China’s attitude and action have received broad appreciation and support from Egypt, other Middle East countries and the international community.
Since the drastic change began in Egypt, I have visited the country on several occasions. Recently, I was in Cairo as Council Member of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs for the annual conference of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. During the trip, I was truly struck by Egyptians’ anxious wait for stability and development and a prevailing sense of optimism and genuine desire to get their country back on its feet. I was also impressed by the strong interest across the social spectrum in developing cooperation and sharing the governance experience with China, another time-honored civilization just like their own, to add more substance to this comprehensive strategic partnership.
During my discussion with Egyptian scholars, some of them said that the lack of change and reform in Egypt had hindered social progress and improvement of living standards, which badly eroded stability and cohesion. However, change without order and violent street politics only resulted in a split society, protracted instability, and economic and social retrogression. The victims — the Egyptian people, having paid a heavy toll in a four-year struggle, have realized the importance of finding a development path suited to their own national conditions. How to achieve balance between reform, development and stability has thus become the key question for the Egyptian public. History is like a mirror. Having learned the lesson of the past four years, the Egyptians have sharpened their judgment about the overrated “Greater Middle East Initiative”. The system of democracy of a country must be based on its reality, history, culture, tradition and development stage. Otherwise, it could lead to disastrous consequences. This is not a theory, but already the daily reality for people in certain parts of the Middle East.
Egypt’s relations with big powers has directly affected the situation in this region. Egypt has long been an important regional ally of the U.S. Yet in the past four years, the U.S.-Egypt relationship has been a dysfunctional roller coaster ride. The repercussions were repeatedly felt across the region.
“Is the U.S. policy toward Egypt based on principles or interests? What position does the American public hold on what is going on in Egypt?” During my conversations with the Egyptian academic community, I can easily sense the importance they attach to Egypt-U.S. relations and the fact that they remain unsettled about the U.S. Middle East policy, despite the key U.S. role in regional matters. Some of them argue that like it or not, given Egypt’s influence in the region, the U.S. has to somehow improve ties with Egypt. Nevertheless, according to these scholars, the U.S. does tend to indiscriminately impose its own proposals on the Egyptians. Egypt today is more independent and its foreign policy is characterized by greater diversity and openness. How to build a balanced and stable relationship and remain friends and partners with the U.S. is indeed a tough question that demands some urgent and serious thinking.
Having endured four years of upheaval, there is an increasing thirst among Arab nations for stability, peace, change and sound governance. China, as a friend, is committed to security, stability and development of Egypt and the rest of the region. This is also the shared goal of the international community, which serves the everyone’s immediate interests.
To seek a proper solution to the issues and bring about peace and stability in the Middle East through China-U.S. cooperation and, indeed, cooperation among the United Nations and all major countries in the world is an extraordinary mission facing today’s political leaders. There is plenty of hope that Egypt, together with other countries in the Middle East, supported by China, the U.S. and the rest of the international community, will make new history and write their own stories of success.