The Sisi Doctrine Aligns Egypt with Iran in Syria and against Iran in Yemen

March 9 2017

While Egypt’s regime and its sometime allies in the Persian Gulf share much in common—Sunni Islam, a pro-American outlook, antipathy to Islamist groups, and security cooperation with Israel—its regional priorities are fundamentally different, with important consequences. Eric Trager explains:

[M]uch to its allies’ chagrin, Egypt hasn’t become the anchor of a broader Sunni Arab alliance against Iran. Instead, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has charted his own course—one that sometimes aligns with this Gulf allies’ interests and at other times contradicts them, but which always follows the same pattern: Sisi supports states whenever they are in conflict with non-state actors.

Sisi’s foreign-policy outlook is . . . an extension of his domestic one. At home, Sisi sees himself as a strongman combating those who seek chaos, foremost among them the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Egyptian government’s narrative, Sisi “saved” Egypt from the Brotherhood, which seeks the collapse of the Egyptian government and the establishment of an Islamist theocracy. . . . Sisi fleshed this out in his September 2016 address at the United Nations General Assembly, when he defined terrorism not as violence against civilian populations by non-state actors but as “a threat to the entity of the state.” To bolster Sisi at home, Egypt’s pro-government media routinely highlight the violence in Libya, Yemen, and Syria as examples of what might happen if the Islamists are allowed to challenge the Egyptian state.

Due to his strong preference for state actors over non-state ones, Sisi has diverged sharply from his Gulf allies regarding the Syrian conflict. The Gulf states have tended to see the Syrian conflict in terms of their broader concerns regarding Iran’s expanding regional influence, and they have strongly supported the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian-backed regime. . . .

Sisi, however, is less concerned about Iran’s regional influence than he is about the fallout if Sunni Islamist groups [fighting Assad] gain the upper hand, since, from Sisi’s standpoint, these rebels often look similar to the Islamists that he is fighting at home, and he has increasingly shown his preference for Assad. . . . [I]n October, Cairo supported a Russian UN Security Council resolution [on Syria] that Saudi Arabia strongly opposed, and a few days later it hosted the Syrian intelligence chief for talks that, according to Syria’s news agency, concluded with an agreement to “strengthen coordination in the fight against terrorism.” Egyptian-Saudi ties have been frigid ever since.

Read more at Caravan

More about: General Sisi, Iran, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, Syrian civil war

Getting It Right in Afghanistan

Aug. 23 2017

While praising the president’s announcement Monday night that the U.S. will be sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio express their “doubt [that] this will be enough to win the war.” They also warn against the dangers of a complete or partial American withdrawal and offer some strategic recommendations:

Al-Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Obama frequently claimed that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain of command and interrupting its communications. But al-Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew. . . .

Al-Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. . . . There’s no question that Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban/al-Qaeda axis does. . . .

Iran remains a problem, too. The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The U.S. government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al-Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role. The Russians are [also] on the opposite side of the Afghan war.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy