Egypt possibly eyeing a more active role in Syria
CAIRO - Egypt says it will not send troops to Syria but that does not rule out the possibility it is being pushed to play a political role to bring the war to an end, experts said.
“Egypt is the country most qualified to broker a settlement to the conflict in Syria, given the fact that it is on good terms with everybody involved in the Syrian conflict,” said political researcher Hani al-Jamal. “Unlike other countries, Egypt does not have a special agenda for or against any player in this conflict.”
Egypt’s denial of potential military involvement in Syria comes hard on the heels of a rare visit to Cairo late in October by Ali Mamlouk, a special security adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In Cairo, Mamlouk met with Egyptian intelligence officials and discussed cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
A short time later, Russian media reports suggested Egypt would send troops to aid Assad against radical Islamist groups occupying large swathes of Syria. The Syrian presidency said it would issue a statement if there are Egyptian troops in Syria.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the reports, saying sending troops to Syria is not on Cairo’s agenda.
“Reports that we are sending our army to fight in Syria are totally baseless,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid. “Egypt is for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria.”
“There are close contacts between Cairo and Damascus now,” said Bassam al-Malik, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition coalition. “Over the past three years, Egypt has managed to open channels of communication with the Syrian regime after a brief freeze in relations.”
Malik applied for political asylum in Egypt a few months ago but, he said, his request was turned down.
Syria is expected to be the main topic in discussions between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, Egyptian media reports say, is expected in Cairo in November.
Putin is expected to attend a signing ceremony of contracts to build a nuclear power reactor in north-western Egypt using Russian technology and funding.
He is also expected to announce the resumption of Russian flights to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el- Sheikh and Hurghada, a year after they were suspended when a Russian passenger plane was brought down by a bomb over Sinai.
Putin’s expected push for more Egyptian involvement in Syria will, sources say, seek to exploit two main developments: The first is the success of Donald Trump in winning the US presidential election and the second being the recent flare-up of tensions between Cairo and Riyadh over Syria.
Trump has promised to cooperate with Russia in ending the Syrian conflict and suspend US support for the Syrian opposition.
Egypt, on the other hand, backs the Russian clampdown on radical groups fighting Assad, favours him staying in power for a transitional period and prefers a negotiated solution to the conflict.
In this, Egypt differs from its main financiers in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, which is angered by Cairo’s failure to follow its stance on Syria.
Egyptian analysts said the fact that Cairo has started breaking the ice between it and Iran also gives it more leverage in the Syrian war.
“Cairo has no bias when it comes to the Syrian conflict,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This makes it a trustworthy broker for all players in this conflict.”