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Egypt’s Exit from MESA

May 1, 2019

Egypt’s Exit from MESA

The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) and Egypt’s Withdrawal

The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), also called the “Arab NATO”, is a regional security alliance originally proposed by the Trump administration to include in addition to the US, Egypt, Jordan, and the six Gulf Arab states. This alliance is premised on the idea of countering  “Iran’s terrorism and extremism” in order to bring stability to the Middle East. It also aims to reduce the regional influence of outside powers like Russia and China. The alliance proposes leadership roles to two GCC states, i.e., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to confront Iran’s malign acts in the region according to the Trump administration. Structurally, it aims to follow the model of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) with the United States acting as the guarantor of peace and stability.

However, serious doubts have been expressed with regards to effectiveness of the MESA. Although it is a security alliance, it lacks an overall coherent security framework apart from restraining Iranian land, sea and proxy power. Moreover, MESA lacks focus on domestic instigators of regional instability such as transnational terrorism, which have posed significant challenges to regional security in the Middle East.

Recently, MESA’s idea of countering and deterring Iran got more complicated with the withdrawal of Egypt, one of the founding members of MESA. An anonymous source from within the Egyptian government, in an interview with Reuters, attributed Cairo’s withdrawal to the fact that Egypt doubted the seriousness of the initiative and had yet to see a formal blueprint about how it will function. The source also stated that MESA was more likely to increase the risk of tensions with Iran, rather than increase security in the region. Moreover, Egyptian leaders were also concerned that MESA would be dissolved if Trump were not re-elected in 2020.

Meanwhile, Tehran welcomed Cairo’s withdrawal. Bahram Qasemi, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign minister, said “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”.


Implications of Egypt’s Withdrawal from the MESA

As a foundational member of the MESA, Egypt’s withdrawal from this proposed security alliance poses several challenges for its operability. The biggest challenge is on the military dimension. Numerically, Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, also has the largest military in the Arab world; hence, its withdrawal spells out a significant setback for MESA. By virtue of its sheer size, Cairo’s presence and influence was an important pillar in this alliance and its withdrawal risks creating a huge vacuum that cannot be filled by other regional powers.

Second, Egypt’s withdrawal also risks giving rise to a spillover effect, having the potential to spur other Arab states to follow suit, weaken their resolve, and eventually spelling out the end of MESA.

Third, the move also risks undermining the Saudi plans of controlling a security alliance against Iran, lessening the leverage of Saudi Arabia and the UAE even within the GCC.

It remains to be seen whether MESA is likely to survive without Egypt. Egypt and Saudi Arabia share important security concerns such as both governments’ anti-Qatar and anti-Muslim Brotherhood stance. While Egypt has been dependent on Saudi aid for macroeconomic stability, for the time being, they do not share a similar assessment of what they deem the Iranian threat.


Vahid Yucesoy for iStrategic