Differentiating between the various circles within the foreign movement is something that those interested in the study of Egyptian foreign policy have gotten used to. Some divided these circles into three categories: the Arab circle, the African circle, and the international circle. Others made a distinction between the American and European circles and the Islamic world’s circle.
While this division has remained flexible, it has undergone a number of qualitative developments in recent years due to the nature of foreign policy, which is marked by a significant overlap between its circles and the presence of temporary geographical divisions.
The first of these changes is the revival of the major historical circles, including the Arab, African, American, and European ones. This revival was associated with the presence of long-standing Egyptian interests in these spheres and the increased activity of Egyptian diplomacy, particularly after Egypt gradually emerged from a state of retreating to its internal problems, a situation imposed by the fallout from the transformations of 2011 and 2013.
The second change was the revival or formation of new foreign policy circles of movement. In this context, we can speak of three fundamental circles: the Asian circle, which encompasses East, South, Southeast, Central Asia, and the Caucasus; the Eastern Mediterranean circle; and the Levant circle, which up until now has been centered on Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. Although these circles are a part of larger, more established circles, such as the Arab, the international, or the Islamic world circles, the expansion of particular Egyptian interests in some sub-regions or the diversification of Egyptian foreign policy instruments in each of these sub-regions point to the necessity of making distinctions between the sub-circles of Egyptian foreign policy. As a result, it makes sense to separate the Levantine circle from the Arab circle and the circle of Central Asia and the Caucasus from the Asian circle. This distinction is more based on a clearer understanding of Egyptian interests in these new sub-circles rather than a conflict with the larger circles.
Several factors interacted to bring new life to, or establish entirely new circles within, the Egyptian foreign policy movement. The first of these factors is that Egypt’s political leadership and decision-makers have given careful thought to the nature of the shifts occurring in the structure of the global system and the current change in the international balance of power. This has led to an examination of the opportunities and risks associated with these shifts to ensure that Egypt will be a part of the new world order.
The second factor is how important the issue of development is to Egypt’s foreign policy priorities and goals. Without bringing up the topic of development as a crucial input, it is impossible to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of Egyptian foreign policy, including the formation of some circles of the external movement. In this context, what is remarkable is how clearly security and development concerns are intertwined in Egyptian foreign policy, particularly within the immediate geographic spheres.
The third factor is the complexity and diversity of Egyptian interests in the external world, which now include qualitatively new interests like entering the international energy markets as a new player and adjusting to the quick changes occurring in these markets. Egypt’s effort to export its know-how and surplus capabilities in areas like infrastructure development, the fight against terrorism, and other crucial expertise is one of these new interests.
The fourth factor is the rising relative importance of Egypt within the global system, a change that resulted from a number of comparative advantages that Egypt has managed to accumulate over the last eight years, starting with its groundbreaking experience in the field of the war on terrorism, to development experiences in the fields of energy and infrastructure, to the success of Egypt’s political leadership in engaging with international discussions on a wide range of topics, including international trade, energy, climate change, and global security, which prompted several countries to draw attention to these Egyptian experiences in order to benefit from them.
The shifting perception of Egypt from a traditional regional power to a middle power with a specific vision and expertise on a number of crucial issues in international politics has been significantly influenced by the increasing global dimension in Egyptian foreign discourse and its transcendence of direct regional issues. Egypt’s active participation in recent international forums and organizations, particularly the G20, the BRICS group, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and its eagerness to represent the interests of various international groups (African economies, emerging economies, economies affected by wars and non-traditional threats like climate change, etc.), has helped to perpetuate this perception. Egypt’s new foreign discourse was also accompanied by successful practices, the most notable of which was the recent COP27 climate conference organization experience.
As a concept, foreign policy circles can be thought of as both geographical and functional. Important functional circles of foreign policy movement include global security, countering terrorism, exporting development capabilities, energy, climate change, and others, all of which present excellent opportunities for conflict and international cooperation.
Foreign policy circles are also taking on interaction patterns that do not always match the pre-existing patterns of interaction between international actors at the level of movement circles in the geographical sense. They have also become a means for many of these actors to achieve international recognition.
Egypt has not only been successful in establishing functional foreign circles in addition to geographical foreign ones, but has also established new movement circles based on functional regions (the Eastern Mediterranean region, for example) in a clear fusion of external movement in the geographical and functional senses.
This article was originally published in Al-Ahram newspaper on 1 March 2023.