Egypt reportedly pulled out of the Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance (MESA), according to four sources cited in a Reuters exclusive on April 10. Cairo supposedly withdrew from MESA because it doubted the “seriousness of the initiative” and was worried about the “danger that the plan would increase tensions with Iran,” an anonymous Arab source told Reuters.
Cairo allegedly conveyed its decision to withdraw from the security alliance to the U.S. and other participants in the proposed alliance just days before a meeting held in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. Egypt did not send a delegation to the gathering, which was intended to “advance the U.S.-led effort to bind Sunni Muslim Arab allies into a security, political, and economic pact.” If Egypt has pulled out, it could possibly deal another blow to the Trump administration’s effort to contain Tehran’s growing power in the Middle East.
What is the Middle East Strategic Alliance?
MESA, more commonly known as “Arab NATO,” was first announced during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.
MESA, more commonly known as “Arab NATO,” was first announced during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017. The Riyadh Declaration described the alliance as a body that would “contribute to peace and security in the region and the world.” They aspired to unite the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—the U.S., Jordan, and Egypt, in the new security bloc. Since 2017, Trump’s top officials have been pushing for the establishment of the regional military alliance.
In addition to bringing much-needed stability to the Middle East, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hoped that an Arab NATO might help reduce its military footprint in the region. A classified White House document seen by Reuters last year highlighted that Washington hoped that the security bloc would limit “the growing regional influence of Russia and China.”
Naturally, many proponents of the Arab NATO believed, like the actual NATO, that common economic and political interests and a shared fear of Iran would be enough to bring Arab nations together in a coalition. However, the withdrawal of North Africa’s most populated country and one of the Arab world’s strongest militaries from the security bloc could cause the U.S.-led initiative to fall apart before it is even launched.
Dead in the Water
The MESA initiative has encountered nothing but setbacks since it was first proposed in May 2017. The first obstacle emerged in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the small Gulf country. The blockading quartet justified their embargo by alleging that Doha had been supporting terrorist organizations and Iran’s policies in the region.
International outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 presented yet another obstacle to the U.S.-led Arab NATO initiative. Relations between Riyadh and Washington have been tense since the murder. Although Turkish officials and some U.S. lawmakers accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the hit, Riyadh has consistently and vehemently denied all allegations.
These problems have thwarted Washington’s ongoing efforts to gather the prospective members of the Arab NATO for a summit in the U.S. to sign a preliminary accord establishing the alliance. Egypt also allegedly cited its assessment that Trump would not be elected to a second term of office and doubt about whether his successor would support the Arab NATO initiative as reasons for withdrawing from the bloc, according to Reuters’ source.
Tehran Welcomes Cairo’s Withdrawal
Bahram Qasemi, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said that if Cairo’s withdrawal from Arab NATO was confirmed, Tehran would welcome the move.
Bahram Qasemi, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said that if Cairo’s withdrawal from Arab NATO was confirmed, Tehran would welcome the move. “Egypt is an important and powerful country both in the Arab and in the Muslim world that can play a key role in creating peace, stability, and security in the West Asia region,” Qasemi told IRNA, the country’s state news agency.
The spokesman also expressed doubt about the future success of the U.S.-driven security initiative in the region. Qasemi told IRNA that, while NATO was founded in the Western world “under certain historical and geographical conditions, based on a series of certain values and necessities,” it is unlikely that an analogous alliance could be reproduced in the Arab world.
Notwithstanding Egypt’s alleged withdrawal from Arab NATO, the security bloc’s remaining members seem to be moving forward with the initiative, according to Reuters’ sources. The sources also suggested that the remaining members are likely to press Egypt diplomatically to revoke its withdrawal.
However, as Riyadh struggles with the specter of Khashoggi’s ghost and rivalries in the Gulf continue to escalate, there seems to be little incentive for Cairo to remain a part of Washington’s seemingly ill-fated military alliance.