Home International organisation Diversify allies – Egypt – Al-Ahram Weekly

Diversify allies – Egypt – Al-Ahram Weekly

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The Foreign Ministry announced last week that Egypt had joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a dialogue partner. A memorandum of understanding was signed by the organization’s current chairman, SCO General Secretary Zhang Ming, and Egyptian First Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza, at a ceremony in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital on September 14. Permanent members of the SCO are China, India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The memorandum covers security cooperation, combating the illegal production and sale of narcotics and psychotropic substances, trade, investment and energy, according to a press release. A similar agreement was signed with Qatar at the same ceremony, and Saudi Arabia is in the process of negotiating its own agreement.

Egypt’s membership will help strengthen cooperation with SCO members in areas such as trade, investment, energy, transport and tourism, said Egyptian Deputy Minister of Affairs strangers during his meeting with Zhang. He added that it was also a step towards “supporting regional security and stability”.

The bloc’s importance is growing, says Ahmed Kandil, head of the international relations unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The SCO includes two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – China and Russia – and a 2022 UNSC observer in India. Its member states account for a quarter of the world’s GDP and half of its population, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said at the SCO summit held in Samarkand on September 15-16.

The SCO plays an important role in the fight against terrorism and the promotion of stability in Central Asia, which corresponds to Egypt’s interests, Kandil explained, in particular, as Mirziyoyev pointed out to the participants of the summit – when it comes to building “a more peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan”.

The bloc’s importance to Egypt is underscored by the fact that many of its members are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Kandil said. The initiative is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to improve its international relations, trade and economic development.

By joining the SCO, Egypt aims to diversify its partners, says international relations expert Eman Zahran. The negative repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, including on food and energy security, served to reinforce the importance of “diversifying allies” in order to strengthen internal stability, she explained.

The volatility of the global economy caused by the pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis has also made it imperative to put in place other relief credit facilities.

Egypt’s dialogue partner status had been on the cards for years, according to Kandil, but implementation had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Cairo remained sensitive, he added, to joining the grouping fully, lest it be seen in the West as a hostile move, especially given the anti-China mood and -Current Russia in Washington.

Though careful not to appear to be taking sides – Cairo has made its position clear on Ukraine and condemned military action – Kandil said Egypt’s principles nonetheless align with those of the SCO, as stated in Mirziyoyev’s statement at the summit: “The basis of the international attractiveness of the SCO is its non-bloc status, openness, non-targeting of third countries or international organizations, the equality and respect for the sovereignty of all participants, the refusal to interfere in internal affairs and the prevention of political clashes and unhealthy rivalries.

The bloc introduced dialogue partner status for any state or organization that shares the goals and principles of the SCO and wishes to establish equitable and mutually beneficial partnership relations in 2008.

Egypt’s membership, Kandil stressed, should not be seen as Cairo siding with China and Russia against the West. Egypt, he said, is keen to cooperate with any international party that can help it achieve its Vision 2030 strategy and enhance security and development.

In July, at a meeting of industry ministers of SCO members, the development of a roadmap for increasing the number of national currencies used in international settlements was announced. The move, Kandil explained, is intended, at least in part, to help overcome sanctions against bloc members, but will also be helpful for Egypt where hard currency reserves are under pressure from current economic conditions.

Zahran believes that increasing the number of national currencies used in mutual settlements and providing alternatives to the dollar or euro can only be beneficial for Egypt.

No, stressed Kandil, that Egypt seeks to replace the current system wholesale. Cairo, he said, remains keen to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is committed to servicing its debt, but also wants to diversify the currencies in which it can trade.


*A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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