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15 April, 2024
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Europe's sleepless nights over Egypt's crisis

The looming threat to European stability

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

Ask almost any European official specializing in security matters what keeps them up at night, and they’ll probably answer ''Egypt.'' The crisis in the Middle East is most certainly threatening the stability of what is the most important country in the Arab world right now and everyone knows that if Egypt falls, the crisis this would spark would reverberate far beyond Greece or Italy, all the way across Europe.

Egypt is already hosting half a million refugees from countries like Sudan. Now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening a ground offensive against Rafah, which means that around 1.5 million Palestinians would be forced to flee to Egypt. Cairo has drawn a red line against such a move, warning that it would shatter the status quo of Egyptian-Israeli relations.

American and European officials have been explaining to Netanyahu how an assault on Rafah would destabilize the entire region, but recent experience has shown that the Israeli leader is deaf to such warnings and is only interested in his own survival. If his end goal is to rid Gaza of all Palestinians and win the next election, he won’t give much thought to the geopolitical consequences of his decisions.

Egypt, in the meantime, is under a tremendous amount of pressure. The loss of revenues from the Suez Canal as international shipping firms choose alternative routes that do not take them into the Red Sea, and the interruption of natural gas supplies from Israel have created a massive economic problem. Tourism is also suffering amid fears of possible terror attacks against Western visitors.

The West, for its part, wants to see President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stay in power and it certainly doesn’t want a social explosion that will cause chaos, uncontrollable migrant flows to Europe and the creation of another trouble spot (beyond Libya) in the region. The longer the tragedy in Gaza continues, however, the more Egyptians are becoming radicalized.

The threats of a fresh surge of terrorism and a radical Islamic political movement lurk. One of the main reasons why Sisi does not want Palestinian refugees in the Sinai Peninsula – as cynical as this may sound – is that he’s afraid that Hamas will set up camp there too, creating a serious problem for him.

Egypt has shown that it is capable of surviving even when faced with the kind of chaos that has often pushed it to the edge. Both the West and Israel have always recognized its special political and historical weight, and have done what was needed to keep it on its feet. If it falls, however, and especially if it’s their fault it does, we are looking at a nightmare. As one of those European officials who cannot sleep at night because of Egypt once said: “If this country falls, you can bet that, no matter how paradoxical and inhumane it sounds, there will be a mighty European naval presence in the Mediterranean averting an uncontrollable wave of refugees.”

Cyprus  |  Egypt  |  Greece  |  government  |  EU

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