In three months in office, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has sought to “reshape” diplomacy, while trying to attract foreign investment necessary for the recovery of post-revolt Egypt.
Shuttling between Beijing, New York, Brussels and Ankara, the Islamist leader has hammered his goal of restoring Egypt’s “rightful place”, particularly on key Middle Eastern issues such as Syria and the Palestinian question.
With a desire to distance himself from his pro-Western predecessors Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, he has slammed what he says is Egypt’s “marginalisation” in recent decades.
“There is a lot of movement on the international scene, but with inflections rather than radical changes” that would cause alarm abroad and discourage investors, said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University.
Morsi has bluntly called for the departure of the Syrian regime, initiated a dialogue with Iran which had been broken for 30 years but without restoring full diplomatic relations, resumed relations with Turkey, and visited Beijing with great fanfare.
No trip to Washington — a traditional ally of Egypt– has yet been planned.
Relations with Israel are not as comfortable as they were under Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising last year, but Morsi said that a revision of the 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state was not currently needed.
“One of the main goals of Morsi is to reshape the image of himself as an independent president, democratically elected by the Egyptians,” said Khalil al-Anani, Middle East expert at Britain’s Durham University.
“He is trying to invest in the historical credentials of Egypt. He is very preoccupied by the nationalistic and patriotic character of Egypt,” Anani told AFP.
The five-point plan set by Morsi for his first 100 days in office made no mention of foreign policy, focusing more on everyday life: rubbish collection, improving the country’s notorious traffic situation, providing bread for the poor, resolving the fuel crisis and restoring security.
The president received more praise at home for his statements on Syria and his pro-Palestinian stances at the United Nations, than for his uncertain efforts to tame the chaotic traffic in Cairo.
“There is a lot of pressure to change foreign policy, which many Egyptians felt had deteriorated under Hosni Mubarak, with a loss of influence and excessive dependence on the United States and Israel,” said political analyst and columnist Hassan Nafea.
In August, Morsi succeeded in muzzling the powerful military with which he was involved in a power struggle. But he governs a country still fragile, with a dissolved parliament, a constitution in limbo, an economic crisis and a strong fundamentalist Salafist current.
Turbulence with Washington following protests over an anti-Islam film outside the US embassy in Cairo have shown that Egypt under Morsi remains under scrutiny.
A member of the US Congress has frozen $450 million in funds earmarked for Egypt, stressing that the proposed aid “came at a time when the Egyptian-American relations are subject to unprecedented scrutiny.”
The economic crisis is also a key element of the new Egyptian foreign diplomacy, with Cairo anxious to attract foreign investment which had flourished under Mubarak but which has since frozen over due to post-revolution instability.
For his trip to China in late August and later to Brussels for EU meetings, Morsi was accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen.
In Turkey — which promised two billion dollars in aid to Egypt– the economic and trade issues featured prominently alongside the Syrian file.
“The economic situation, the public accounts and the legacy of corruption of the Mubarak regime are the major challenges Morsi is facing right now,” Anani said.
“The problem is that so far Morsi has no clear economic policy except to borrow money from the outside,” he said.