“Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt and North Africa” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt and North Africa with Ms. Ellen Laipson, Dr. William Lawrence, Dr. Dirk Vandewalle, Dr. Paul Sullivan, and Dr. Abderrahim Foukara from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 15, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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The Consolidation of a New Arab Political Order

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Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces' spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign.

Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces’ spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

While the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against the Yemeni Houthis and their allies continues and its long-term results are so far unknown, it is not pre-mature to project that a new Arab political order is being consolidated. Its elements include a firm and sustainable commitment to fight extremism and sectarianism, bring order and stability to the heart of the Arab world – namely, Syria and Iraq – and design, chart, and lead an independent course for the protection of pan-Arab national interests.

Such an order has a leader in the collective energies and capabilities of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia as a first among equals, and essential assistance from such countries as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Indeed, to assure its collective interests, arrive at a hoped-for peaceful stability, and sustain much needed political, economic, and social development, the Arab world must coalesce around a strong political order that can utilize its capacities and permissible international conditions to achieve what it needs and deserves. Importantly, the consolidated new Arab political order appears to emphasize essential principles that require astute judgment, committed resources, and continuous vigilance.

Fighting Extremism and Sectarianism

The status quo states of the new Arab order are cognizant of the threats represented by the plethora of extremist groups operating at the heart of the Arab world. In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has staked a claim in Hadramawt Province abutting the Saudi Arabian border after it lost its bases in Shabwa and Abyan to the west. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has erased the borders between the two countries in a mission to re-establish an imagined and borderless Islamic Caliphate while al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front controls strategic areas of Syria. Both organizations are serious threats to Lebanon and its pluralist political society.

In Libya, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar ash-Shari’a, and a sundry of militias have settled, and promise to both keep the country unstable and use it as a base to spread chaos and mayhem elsewhere. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadist extremists are waging a war of attrition against state security institutions. The actors of the consolidating Arab political order must know full well that they alone can address this threat in a fashion that combines a sense of shared responsibility for common interests and an attempt at forging an independent course that serves such interests.

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Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt & Arab North Africa – 2014 Arab-US Policymakers Conference

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations23rd Annual Arab U.S.-Policymakers Conference included a session on “Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt & Arab North Africa” that featured Dr. Paul Sullivan, Dr. Michele Dunne, Ms. Ellen Laipson, Dr. Michael Hudson, and Dr. William Lawrence.

An audio and video recording of the session as well as a link to the transcript are available below. Videos of the entire 2014 conference are available on YouTube and podcasts of the conference are available through iTunes and FeedBurner.

 

 

Transcript (.pdf)

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The Return of Strong GCC-U.S. Strategic Relations

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with GCC and Regional Partners meeting participants in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with GCC and Regional Partners meeting participants in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in September 2014. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

Numerous recent developments point to a positive and fundamental shift in GCC-U.S. relations. From the U.S. heavy re-engagement in Middle Eastern issues, to the success of the fourth ministerial GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue Forum in New York last September, to fighting ISIS, to continuing consultations about Syria, Iraq, Iran and others, it appears that the strategic partnership is being re-established on a different basis than before.  This is despite the perpetuation of various disagreements and misunderstandings. Such renewal is bound to have an important impact on the future of bilateral U.S.-GCC relations and many other related issues, especially their joint and respective efforts to effect positive change in the region.

New Dynamics of the GCC-U.S. Relationship

The current state of affairs between the United States and the GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – is a far cry from public comments by Arabian Gulf officials a few months ago. These intimated what some considered irreparable damage to established strategic relations. GCC governments showed grave concern about America’s intention to re-balance to the Asia-Pacific theatre, its attempts to re-habilitate Iran and bring it in from the cold, its abandonment of Iraq to violent extremism and the Islamic Republic, and arguably, its vacillation regarding Syria and its grinding civil war.1 From its part, the United States showed signs of fatigue from its long and costly commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and produced debatable decisions relating to one of the world’s most strategically vital regions.

From whence did these turns in trends and indications emanate? For one, they can be traced to developments since the June collapse of the Iraqi army in its fight against the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which gave a much-needed jolt to what many critics allege was the lethargic American foreign policy in the Levant. For another, they are rooted in the potential and actual massacres of minority civilians in northern Iraq, mass executions of Iraqi soldiers, and credible threats of overpowering Kurdish defenses. Combined, these developments pushed the Obama administration to re-calibrate its response by sending military advisors to Iraq and initiating aerial bombardment of ISIS positions.2

In reality, America’s change of policy was the start of a “re-balancing of the ‘re-balance’” back to the Middle East,  while, fortuitously, the GCC and other countries saw it as the right decision at the right time for the world’s leading superpower.

But, given Washington’s many trepidations about being once again enmeshed in trouble in the Middle East, the American about-face could not be sustained without the effectiveness of willing and capable regional allies. In reality, America’s change of policy was the start of a “re-balancing of the ‘re-balance’” back to the Middle East,3 while, fortuitously, the GCC and other countries saw it as the right decision at the right time for the world’s leading superpower.

The United States has obviously re-engaged in the Middle East for the long-term. Equally clear, the GCC states have committed to a broader and more assertive role in the region. As geo-political and geo-strategic realities and conditions develop over the next weeks and months, it will likely become increasingly evident that a strengthened U.S.-GCC relationship is the only practical and prudent alternative for the United States, the GCC countries, and the world at large to help attain and maintain a semblance of sustained stability in the Middle East. An important and thus far little discussed component among these developments in U.S. as well as GCC policy and behavior is a renewal and reformulation of an alignment with Egypt that was shaken over the last few years. A successful realignment of the ties between Washington and Cairo, coupled with strategic linkages between Egypt and key GCC member-countries, will doubtlessly do much to cement the overall GCC-U.S. relationship.

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  1. See Abdullah Al Shayji, “The GCC-U.S. Relationship: A GCC Perspective,” Middle East Policy Council Journal, Vol. XXI, No. 3 (Fall 2014). []
  2. Chelsea Carter, Mohammed Tawfeeq, and Barbara Starr, “Officials: U.S. airstrikes pound ISIS militants firing at Iraq’s Yazidis,” CNN, August 10, 2014, at http://cnn.it/1AfzFOI []
  3. See Imad Harb, “America’s Full-Fledged Return to the Middle East,” Quest for Middle East Analysis, September 11, 2014, at http://bit.ly/harb-return-middle-east []

Listen to NCUSAR Public Affairs Briefings from Spring and Summer 2013

Audio recordings of National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Public Affairs Briefings held during the spring and summer of 2013 are available for streaming and downloading. Listen to and download each program through the links below, or visit the National Council’s podcast feed through iTunes to access recordings from Council programs.

The Way Forward in Egypt

July 19, 2013 briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on “The Way Forward in Egypt.”

On July 19, 2013, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee hosted a briefing on “The Way Forward in Egypt” featuring Professor Karim Haggag, Visiting Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and Former Director, Egyptian Press and Information Office in Washington, DC; Ms. Randa Fahmy Hudome, Board Member, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and General Counsel, American Egyptian Strategic Alliance; Dr. Marina Ottaway, Senior Scholar, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Dr. Diane Singerman, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University. Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, served as moderator.

A podcast of the program is available through the link below as well as in iTunes with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

“The Way Forward in Egypt” podcast (.mp3)

Upcoming Event: “The Way Forward in Egypt” – July 19 in Washington, DC

Fireworks light the sky over Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, on July 3, 2013. Photo by Amr Nabil/AP.

On July 19, 2013, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee are hosting a public affairs briefing on “The Way Forward in Egypt” featuring Professor Karim Haggag, Visiting Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and Former Director, Egyptian Press and Information Office in Washington, DC; Ms. Randa Fahmy Hudome, Board Member, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and General Counsel, American Egyptian Strategic Alliance; Dr. Marina Ottaway, Senior Scholar, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Dr. Diane Singerman, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University. Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, will serve as moderator.

DATE & TIME:

Friday, July 19, 2013
10:00 – 10:30 a.m. – Coffee & Tea / Networking
10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Specialist Remarks / Q&A

LOCATION:

Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-340
45 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20515

REGISTRATION:

The event is free but R.S.V.P. (acceptances only) via email to rsvp@ncusar.org is required.

Please note: seating capacity is limited. Include the following information when you R.S.V.P.:
Name:
Company:
Title:
Phone:
Email:

If you have any questions you can call the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations at (202) 293-6466.

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