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Conference Proceeding

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Since the beginning of the millennium, all the regional energy players in the East Mediterranean had good cooperation with little intra-state rivalry or tensions. The Arab Gas Pipeline was successfully carrying Egyptian natural gas to Jordon, Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Egypt had signed agreements to further connect with the Turkish pipeline network, carrying natural gas to the European markets. However, the Egyptian government was facing an internal challenge concerning the normalization of economic relations with Israel. Public opinion was completely against the deal, yet the rest of the Arab Gas Pipeline destinations represented aspiration for further Arab cooperation.

In 2010, two events changed the regional balance’s status-quo. The vast discoveries of Natural Gas fields in Israeli’s Exclusive Economic Zone in Eastern Mediterranean, and the increase of natural gas consumption in the Egyptian local market jeopardizing the quantities available for exportation. So, although Israel could be a net exporter, it was still facing many challenges including how to connect the discovered fields with the European markets, as a matter of economic and technical challenge, and the Egyptian market as a matter of political challenge.

After the June 30th revolution, Egypt pursued an ambitious strategic policy to bring new balance to its Northern front and become a regional energy hub. Egypt in 2013 signed a deal with Cyprus on joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves. New discoveries in the Sherouk concession by Eni, in August of 2015, turned Egypt into an ambitious geopolitical player in the Natural Gas field. This was followed by a milestone agreement with Cyprus in 2018 to build a pipeline from Cypriot fields to Egypt’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) stations. Another step towards establishing Egypt as energy hub took place early 2019 through the establishment of the East Mediterranean Forum that includes most of the regional countries except for Syria and Turkey, each for its own reasons.

Egypt’s interests were challenged by the aggressive Turkish foreign policy in the region. This was the beginning of intra-states rivalry. On the one hand, Turkey has disputes regarding the sea demarcations with Greece and Cyprus; at the same time Turkey signed a demarcation agreement with the Libyan Government that has been rejected by Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and other regional powers on legal and political bases. On the other hand, Turkey is trying to get away from possible American sanctions following ‘The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019’, approved by the US Congress at the end of 2019. This Act has had negative repercussions on Turkey while in the same time endorsing other regional players. In addition, it changed the regional balance from a function of regional affairs to another of global powers rivalry.

This paper analyzes Egypt’s Strategy in East Mediterranean between 2013 and 2019 using a defensive realism lens, and focuses on the dynamics resulting from Energy Issues. The first part introduces the current challenges Egypt faces in East Mediterranean and highlights the root causes of the regional rivalry. The second part illustrates the Egyptian Foreign Policy in overcoming the challenges that emerged after the big discoveries of natural gas fields in 2015, including the establishment of East Mediterranean Forum in 2019. The last part discusses the effects of global powers intervention on regional balance and highlights the possible scenarios.