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April 2, 2015
In the past weeks, Egypt has been a key player pushing for the formation of a joint Arab military force, and a vital ally in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen. As reports emerge of a possible ground invasion in Yemen—likely Egyptian troops supported by a Saudi air campaign—a joint regional military force is still many months in the making. Many questions remain on the shape this joint military force will take, and the impact it will have. What does this mean for Egypt’s position in the region? Find out below:

Sarah Sirgany, a Nonresident Fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, attended the Arab Summit on March 28 and 29 where Arab heads of state issued a communiqué announcing the formation of the joint military force. The mood, she says, was “all smiles, but hiding deeper divisions… Egypt had sold the unified force as a done deal a few days before. But in speaking with different officials, no, there are some major differences.”

While intervention in Libya makes more sense, Yemen is important to Saudi, and Saudi backing is important to Egypt.


Mirette F. Mabrouk, Deputy Director of the Rafik Hariri Center, says on Egypt’s role in the Saudi-led coalition and the formation of the joint force that “Egypt is driven by profound fears of security in the region. While intervention in Libya makes more sense, Yemen is important to Saudi, and Saudi backing is important to Egypt. I don’t see how they could have avoided involvement in Yemen.” She adds that the Saudi-Iranian proxy war, however, also brings with it a disregard for the human cost.

Mabrouk notes, “Egypt needs regional consensus so as not to appear to act unilaterally.” Egypt’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition affords it the chance to address problems closer to home, namely those across the border in Libya.  

Amy Hawthorne, a Senior Fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center, links Egypt’s attempts in vying for a more prominent regional role to Cairo’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Hawthorne explains, “Sisi’s remarks at the Arab League Summit last weekend again expressed his desire to boost Egypt’s Arab and African roles. He not only vowed to help defend Yemen’s ‘Arab identity’ against Iranian influence, but also referenced Somalia.” Hawthorne adds, “Egypt has long seen itself as a leader among African nations. Sisi is keen to translate this aspiration into greater influence on the ground on issues crucial to Egypt like the Ethiopian Dam; moreover, Egypt will need votes from African countries at the UN to make it onto the Security Council.” 

Sisi is keen to translate this aspiration into greater influence on the ground on issues crucial to Egypt.



On Egypt’s role in Yemen, Hawthorne says, “If Egypt gets embroiled in a Yemen quagmire, especially by sending in ground troops, a dangerous overstretch could result. Egypt’s military already has its hands more than full dealing with domestic security threats.”  

For more on Atlantic Council expert reactions to the Arab League Summit and efforts in Yemen CLICK HERE.

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