Reuters reported on Wednesday that Egypt is withdrawing from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a nascent organization proposed by the United States as an alliance against Iranian, Chinese, and Russian influence.
MESA is commonly described as the “Arab NATO” for its similarity to the Atlantic alliance against Russia formed at the dawn of the Cold War.
According to Reuters’ sources, Egypt skipped the most recent MESA meeting and then conveyed its intention to withdraw because “it doubted the seriousness of the initiative, had yet to see a formal blueprint laying it out, and because of the danger that the plan would increase tensions with Iran.”
The source claimed Egypt is also nervous about the possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump could lose the 2020 election and MESA could be dissolved by his Democrat successor.
The other current Middle Eastern participants in the alliance are Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, which proposed the idea in 2017. Until now, it was assumed Qatar would be the most problematic member, although several of the others also expressed reservations about taking a hard line against Iran and have divergent views on the Muslim Brotherhood, another regional threat MESA is intended to contain.
Reuters described Egypt’s withdrawal, which neither Cairo nor Washington have officially acknowledged as of Friday morning, as a serious “blow to the Trump administration’s strategy to contain Iranian power” and a major disappointment for National Security Adviser John Bolton, a key supporter of the MESA plan.
Iran saw it that way, too. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi praised Egypt as an “important and powerful country both in the Arab and in the Muslim world that can play a key role in creating peace” and saying Tehran would “welcome” news of its withdrawal from the Arab NATO.
According to an Al-Jazeera report on Thursday, Egypt’s decision to withdraw is not final, and the remaining MESA members will ask it to reconsider. Various sources had differing opinions on whether Egypt could be persuaded to remain in the alliance.
If Egypt has irrevocably decided to withdraw, the timing of its decision will make the situation even more uncomfortable, because Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was President Donald Trump’s guest at the White House on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well.
Trump praised Sisi for “doing a great job” and said U.S.-Egypt relations are closer than ever.
“Let me emphasize, Mr. President, that the relations have not been better over the years of our bilateral relationship, and that is why I’m extending, Mr. President, to you our thanks,” Sisi agreed, less than 24 hours before his government reportedly pulled out of the most important American diplomatic initiative in the Middle East.