By Khaled Abu Toameh
March 3, 2015
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has launched an initiative to form a "Joint Arab Force" to counter the rising threat of radical Islam, especially in wake of the recent atrocity perpetrated by the Islamic State terrorist group against Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
However, for such an initiative to succeed, it also needs the backing of the US, EU and other international parties.
But the general feeling in Cairo and other Arab capitals these days is that the US and the Western world are not serious when it comes to confronting the threat of Iran, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.
There is especially a growing concern in the Arab world, particularly the Gulf, about the indifference in Washington and EU capitals toward the Iranian threat to stability in the Middle East.
As the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram noted this week,
"Not only has Iran occupied three islands of the United Arab Emirates, but it is now besieging the Gulf countries and trying to create a new reality on the ground by pushing its Houthi supporters in Yemen to seize control of the country and backing its supporters in Bahrain to destabilize the country, in addition to what it is already doing in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Add to this the terrorism of radical groups that are igniting fires in several areas in the region."
Earlier this week, Sisi flew to Riyadh for urgent talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on the latest regional and international developments.
The main purpose of Sisi's visit to Saudi Arabia was to gain support for his plan to establish a "Joint Arab Force" to confront the threats of radical Islam and Iran. The Egyptian president's initiative reflects increased Arab disillusionment with the US Administration and its Western allies.
What Sisi is actually signalling is that Egypt and other Arab countries can no longer rely on the Western powers to deal with the threats and challenges posed by Iran and radical Islam. In a sense, this is an Arab motion of no confidence in the US Administration and Western powers.
On the eve of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Sisi said that the idea of creating an Arab force was designed to preserve the security and stability of Arab countries. "When we say a Joint Arab Force, we do not mean for attacking, but for defending the security of our countries," he explained. "It is important in the light of the dangers and threats."
Sisi said that he believes that his initiative will win the backing of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan. "No one can say a negative word about our idea or its implementation because it is not directed against anyone and its goal is not expansion or invasion."
Sisi's initiative to form a "Joint Arab Force" came after reports about differences between Cairo and Washington over the need for a strategy to combat terrorism.
According to political analyst Ahmed Eleiba, the recent Conference on Countering Violent Extremism, which took place in Washington and brought together 60 nations,
"did not go as Egypt's representatives had expected. ... The conference did not give birth to a global strategy on terror, and served instead to underline differences between various points of view, especially those of Cairo and Washington."
Eleiba quoted Gamal Abdel Gawad, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, who said he saw a clear divergence in views between Egypt and the US:
"The US still sees political Islam as a present and legitimate player, not a synonym for extremism. The US Administration also differentiates between extremist Islamists and moderate Islamists and believes that the moderates can be effectively integrated in politics as part of an acceptable political system. US officials believe that the integration of political Islam currents, including those suspected of extremism, in political life would be beneficial."
Eleiba concluded that, "With or without help from the West, Cairo has a strategy on terror and a multi-faceted plan of action."
President Sisi's initiative shows that moderate Arabs and Muslims have finally decided to take matters into their own hands and stop relying on the US and Western powers when it comes to combating radical Islam and the Iranian threat.
Still, Sisi and his Arab and Muslim allies are well aware that without the full support of the international community, the "Joint Arab Force" would not be able to be successful in its mission.
It is not that they are expecting support for the idea from the US Administration, which views Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate and moderate player. Rather, Sisi and his allies are hoping that the UN Security Council and some EU countries would approve the idea.
This is the first time in decades that Arabs have talked about forming their own military force to combat terrorism. Until now, most Arab countries believed that radical Islam and Iran posed a greater threat to the West.
Thanks to Sisi's new and bold approach, there is a real chance that Arabs will now lead the fight against extremists and terrorists, who are continuing to commit atrocities in a number of Arab countries. For the first time, the Arab countries are not asking the West to come to defend them against the atrocities of their Arab and Muslim brethren. This is a development that should be welcomed and backed by the US and the rest of the international community.