Egypt is resolved to reactivate its once special relationships with Africa.
The stand-off between Egypt and a number of North African countries governed by Muslim Brotherhood affiliated political parties ̶̶ such as Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, Tunisia’s Al-Nahda, and to a lesser extent Libya’s motley Islamist militias ̶̶ hardened as Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood was banned and subsequently classified as a terrorist organisation. These countries lobbied to sanction and sideline post-30 June 2013 Revolution Egypt in the corridors of power at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Yet another bone of contention prior to the 25 January 2011 Revolution in Egypt was its diplomatic squabble with Ethiopia over the latter’s construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. No less than 85 percent of Egypt’s water originates in the Ethiopian Highlands.
Egypt has traditionally had a less contentious relationship with other upstream Nile Basin countries. And yet relations between Egypt and African countries, both north and south of the Sahara, have plummeted from the heyday of when Egypt spearheaded the African anti-colonial liberation struggle. Egyptian companies such as Nasr and Arab Contractors were extremely active economically in Africa and contributed substantially to African infrastructural development.
Culturally, too, Al-Azhar, the oldest institution of Islamic higher learning in the world, was busy propagating and building cultural bridges, and setting up Islamic and Arabic language learning centres throughout the continent. Al-Azhar’s preeminence has fallen somewhat with the oil-rich Gulf Arab foundations. Religious endowments and establishments have taken over the role that Al-Azhar played in the 1960s when it had an unchallenged monopoly over religious affairs in Africa.
Egyptian-African relations deteriorated sharply in the last years of the era of ex-president Hosni Mubarak, who failed to show up at any African Union summit in sub-Saharan Africa since the assassination attempt on his life in Addis Ababa on 27 June 1995.
Restoring Egypt’s preeminent role in African affairs appears to be a top priority since the 30 June Revolution and the ouster of Mohamed Morsi from the presidential office. Nevertheless, there were certain serious hurdles. First was that the African Union suspended Egypt in the wake of Morsi’s ouster. A majority of African states considered the removal from power as a “coup d’etat”, and under AU laws a member state that unseats a democratically elected president is rendered unconstitutional and the state in question is systematically suspended.
The subject of Egypt’s forthcoming presidential election cropped up at the 15 April AU Peace and Security Council meeting. African delegates deemed that the overwhelming approval by the Egyptian electorate of the new constitution in a referendum conformed to the provisions and contents of all AU treaties, conventions, protocols, and charters.
Moreover, the upcoming presidential election will be subject to the juridical supervision of international observers including AU officials. Three AU delegations visited Egypt since the country’s suspension from the 54-member state continental organisation. The last, in April, was headed by Mali’s former president Alpha Omar Konare who held discussions with Egypt’s interim President Adli Mansour, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, the then-minister of defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, now presidential hopeful and other government officials to discuss Egypt’s transitional roadmap.
Gamal Nkrumah is a Cairo-based African and international affairs expert.