Guest post by Islam Abdel-Rahman, a member of the foreign affairs unit at the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party
Egypt’s foreign policy approach before the revolution was one based mainly on the interests of the president. Diplomatic ties were used to serve the goals of the president rather than the main interests of the state itself which hurt Egypt’s regional and international position.
While the nation retained ties with many countries, it paid attention to few of them missing out on many economic opportunities.
A case in point is Azerbaijan.
Egypt was among the first countries in the world to recognize the new post-Soviet state in 1991. It initiated a diplomatic mission in Baku and has signed countless accords, yet the product of this work amounts to nothing more than a lot of paperwork. No real progress has been made on the ground.
Now is the time to make the Egyptian-Azeri relations beneficial for both countries.
For Egypt, Azerbaijan can help plug the country’s increasing demand for energy and can become a good source for imports of oil and natural gas. Azerbaijan’s economy has benefited from a surge in oil prices and increased oil and natural gas production. Egypt can tap into that prosperity.
In political terms, Azerbaijan is a model country for Egypt’s ambitions.
Namely, good relations with Azerbaijan can help offer an example of peaceful ties between the two main sects of Islam, Sunni and Shiite. While Egypt is majority Sunni, Azerbaijan is a Muslim country that is majority Shiite.
Another factor on the political map is Iran’s attempt to wield its influence in the Middle East in countries such as Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Strong bilateral relations between Egypt and Azerbaijan can present a balance for such political maneuvering especially amid rising tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan because of territorial conflict on the Caspian sea.
For Azerbaijan, having Egypt on its side is an equally important and strategic move.
Cairo can offer a bridge for Baku into the African and Islamic world, and a strategic hub into the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe.
Baku can benefit from the nation’s tourism and agricultural industries to support its non-oil economy, helping to indirectly boost trade ties between the countries.
Both countries already share many connections in terms of religion, geography and cultural traditions. But it is time to move past superficial foreign relations and create real strategic ties that can reap rewards for both Egypt and Azerbaijan.