Monday, 29 July 2013

The Geostrategic Significance of Egypt.

After the July 4 military coup in Egypt, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared the UK "will work with the people in authority in Egypt" but condemned the removal of President Morsi as "a dangerous thing". Since then Hague has uttered numerous platitudes that amount to a tacit acceptance of the situation.

With the latest killing of 82 Muslim Brotherhood supporters following on from a previous one in which 51 were shot dead , Hague opined "now is the time for dialogue, not confrontation”. The situation is clearly very different to Syria where President Assad's use of force against protesters in 2011 led him to demand his removal.

The reason is that British interests are clearly ultimately tied up in upholding the power of the Egyptian army as a force for 'stability' in a way they are not under Assad. Britain's foreign policy is largely an echo of that of Washington which funds the army with $1.3bn annually to provide regional security and retain influence.

The alliance dates back to the late 1970s when Anwar Sadat sought to realign Egypt away from the Soviet Union as it had been under Colonel Nasser and towards the US and Israel. Having suffered defeat in the Six Day War of 1967, Sadat used the Fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and oil price shock to switch sides.

The greater technological power and military superiority of Israel had shown Nasser's Pan-Arabist visions to be no longer tenable. Moreover, by striking a peace deal with Israel and agreeing to protect the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt stood to benefit from its old strategic position and role as an oil transit nation.

One reason that General Sisi knew he could take the risk of deposing President Morsi was that the army is vital in protecting Egypt’s Suez Canal through which 12% of all international trade goes and 22% of the world’s total container traffic. China's consumer goods destined for Western markets go via the canal.

The fall of Mubarak in 2011 saw an increase in Salafist militant activity in Sinai and Sisi has tried to portray Morsi as being in league with them and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Clearly, whatever propaganda being used to justify the coup in security terms Salafi groups threaten terrorist attacks on shipping and oil tankers.

Any attack on the Suez Canal or disruption of trade would lead to an increase in oil and commodity prices, something that would be deeply unwelcome to Western economies struggling after the 2008 crash . Consumer goods such as tablets and Ipads would go up and dampen down 'consumer led' recoveries.

Moreover, as an ally of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Israel, neither the US or Britain has any interest in a weakening of the 'old regime' and Egyptian state's ability to protect the Sumed (Suez-Mediterranean ) pipeline which pumps over 2 million barrels a day of Gulf petroleum to Europe and the US.

The Sumed pipeline is a owned by Arab Petroleum Pipeline Co., a joint venture between the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi's National Oil Company (ADNOC), and Kuwaiti firms. All of the Gulf States involved are important oil suppliers, investors and allies.

The US Energy Information Authority emphasises the growth of importance in LNG transports via Egypt and the Suez region as one of the world's vital 'strategic chokepoints' that needs protection is supplies are not going to add an extra 6,000 miles of transit around the continent of Africa.
'The rapid growth in LNG flows over the period represents the startup of five LNG trains in Qatar in 2009-2010. The only alternate route for LNG tankers would be around Africa as there is no pipeline infrastructure to offset any Suez Canal disruptions. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Italy received over 80 percent their total LNG imports via the Suez Canal in 2010, while Turkey, France, and the United States had about a quarter of their LNG imports transited through the Canal'.
Ultimately, a destabilised Egypt would disrupt energy security and push up oil prices. Even if neither London nor Washington welcome the use of force to crush the Muslim Brotherhood they have no interest either in seeing a weak government collapse before more economic instability and political turmoil.

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