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Egypt backs down and supports anti-Houthi airstrikes Open in fullscreen

Al-Araby al-Jadeed

Egypt backs down and supports anti-Houthi airstrikes

Many have protested against the Houthi takeover [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 March, 2015

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Egypt's relationship with the Houthis was a grey area, until military operations led by Saudi Arabia, struck the militants in Yemen and forced Egypt to reject the rebels.
First, the Egyptian foreign ministry denied any involvement in the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthi movement in Yemen.

Then Cairo made an about-turn and said they would support any "political and military steps" taken.

The initial denial can only be understood as an attempt to pressure Gulf states to take part in a joint Arab military force that Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been eagerly pushing for.

Joint Arab force

Egypt's backing for its Gulf allies seems to be an attempt to save face and not break ranks with other Arab countries in the ten-nation anti-Houthi alliance.

Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to propose the formation of a joint Arab military force, or the "activation" of the joint Arab defence agreement, at the upcoming Arab League summit due to take place in Sharm al-Sheikh over the weekend.

However, Saudi Arabia is already coordinating military action with Arab countries in its anti-Houthi operations.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement revealed that it supports both political and military steps taken by the coalition in support of the "legitimate government" in Yemen, led by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi:

"[Egypt's support comes] in response to a request by the legitimate government in Yemen and as part of its historic responsibility towards Arab national security and the security of the Arab Gulf region."

The foreign ministry also highlighted Egypt's role in the Yemen operation, coordinating with Saudi Arabia over its military involvement in the coalition to "protect the security, stability and territorial integrity of Yemen [...] and Arab countries".
     Egypt's backing for its Gulf allies seems to be an attempt to save face and not break ranks.


Leader backs down

Sisi is probably not comfortable with not playing a leading role in the campaign, and has not ceased to promote the idea of a joint Arab force.

Egypt would be expected to play a leading role in such a formation.

The idea of the joint Arab force is believed to have emerged when Sisi pushed for military intervention in Libya to support the Tobruk government and General Khalifa al-Haftar.

Egypt's initial denial of involvement indicates that it may not have had advance knowledge about the plans to strike the Houthis. Or that the foreign ministry was not aware of what Egypt had agreed to with Gulf states.

The initial denial was welcomed by the Houthi group in an official statement. 

They also called on Egypt to convince the Arab League summit of the "illegitimacy" of Yemen's foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, who is due to represent the country at the coming Arab League summit.

Sisi had not mentioned the situation in Yemen in his recent statements and meetings, despite strong Gulf opposition to the Houthi coup in January.

This raises questions about Egypt's stance, and whether Sisi is using the Yemeni issue to pressure Gulf countries to join his proposed joint Arab force.

Egypt also reopened its embassy in Sanaa more than a month ago, with the Egyptian ambassador meeting a Houthi delegation.

Shortly afterwards, Egypt's ambassador to Yemen, Yusuf al-Sharqawi, was abruptly recalled to Cairo and the embassy closed its doors, citing the deteriorating security situation. 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. 

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