Is Egypt trying to form an alliance with Italy?

Is Egypt trying to form an alliance with Italy?

 Is Egypt trying to form an alliance with Italy?

Itay-Egypt oil and gas cooperation

Italy and Egypt have been working together in the Mediterranean in the field of gas exploration, as well as production. Last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi voiced his support to the expansion of investment activities of Italian multinational oil and gas company, Eni, in Egypt, in the fields of exploration and production, as he met with the company’s CEO on Sunday, the Presidency said.

Eni earlier this year said it managed to drill the first exploration well in waters of Egypt’s Nile Delta, in cooperation with contractor members of BP and Total. Meeting with Claudio Descalzi, the chief executive of Italian company, Sisi highlighted the need to accurately implement the company’s projects and to take into consideration the importance the state attaches to this vital sector.

The president urged continuing intensive cooperation with Eni and removing obstacles that may obstruct its work in the North African country, the presidential statement read, noting that Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Petroleum Minister Tarek Al Mulla attended the meeting, along with officials from the Italian company.

It appears this cooperations is paying off, as more recently, the Italian oil company Eni and British Petroleum (BP) announced on Wednesday a new gas discovery, estimated at 4 trillion cubic feet in Egypt, said a statement posted on Eni’s website. Eni as the operator and BP as the contractor said that the new discovery is located in the Great Nooros Area, in the Abu Madi West Development Lease, in the conventional waters of the Nile Delta at the Mediterranean Sea.

This new discovery, achieved  through the Nidoco NW-1 exploratory well, is located in 16 meters of water depth, 5 km from the coast and 4 km north from the Nooros field discovered in July 2015, the statement added. It added that the preliminary evaluation of the well results indicates that the Great Nooros Area gas in place can be estimated in excess of 4 trillion cubic feet.

Eni, together with its partner BP, in coordination with the Egyptian petroleum sector, will begin screening the development options of this new discovery based on the area’s existing infrastructure, it added. Eni holds a 75-percent stake in the license of Abu Madi West Development Lease, while BP holds the remaining 25 percent.

Egyptian arms imports from Italy

Italy has become an increasingly important military partner for Egypt, as the latter’s arms imports from the former have been rapidly increasing in recent years. Egypt bought three times more weapons, ammunition, spare parts and military software from Italy last year compared with 2018, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed has reported. According to an official document, this was at a cost of €238.5 million compared with €69.1m the previous year.

The Egyptian purchases included new weapons worth more than €97m and €141m worth of spare parts for equipment, software and accessories. Egypt thus ranked fourth behind Kuwait, Qatar and Germany in the list of importers of Italian arms.

In June, Human Rights Watch called on Italy to end arms sales to Egypt. The NGO cited human rights violations committed by the Egyptian security forces against political opponents, peaceful protesters and even bystanders, using weapons purchased from European Union member states.

This year, in June, citing sources familiar to the matter, news outlets in Italy reported that the government had approved the sale of the FREMM vessels – built by Fincantieri and originally intended for the Italian navy – for an estimated cost of 1.2 billion euros ($1.3bn).

This is believed to be the first in a series of arms sales to Egypt totalling up to 11 billion euros ($12bn), according to several media reports in Italy. The so-called “order of the century” includes four more frigates, 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, 24 trainer aircraft and a satellite, an Italian source close to the negotiations told La Repubblica newspaper.

“We should rather call it the shame of the century,” Riccardo Noury, a spokesman for Amnesty International Italy, told Al Jazeera , echoing the backlash that followed the reports.

Critics have accused the coalition government of not following the proper procedures for the approval of such a deal, while human rights groups and activists decried selling arms to a country with a poor human rights record, especially as the 2016 murder of an Italian student near Cairo remained unresolved.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Egypt has become an important importer of arms from Italy, and Italy an important source of modern military hardware for Egypt, which could hasten the warming of geopolitical ties between the two nations. However, there are some important obstacles to this.

Italy’s warm ties with Turkey

Since Turkey started supporting the GNA in Libya, ties between it and Italy have warmed due to Italy’s persistent support for the GNA as one of the main players. Both Italy and Turkey’s geopolitical aims match in Libya, which has given both the opportunity to pursue common interests in the Mediterranean.

Last week, Turkey’s foreign minister held a phone conversation with his Italian counterpart on Sept. 11, according to the diplomatic sources. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio discussed matters related to Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Tensions have recently escalated over the issue of energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece has disputed Turkey’s energy exploration in the region, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small islands near the Turkish coast. French President Emmanuel Macron has interceded in support of Athens, despite lacking any Eastern Mediterranean coastline.

Turkey, the country with the longest coastline on the Mediterranean – has sent out drill ships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying that both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have rights in the region.

More recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over the phone, according to Turkey’s Communications Directorate on Tuesday.  During the phone conversation, Erdogan and Conte discussed relations between Turkey and Italy as well as regional issues.

Turkey is clearly making a lot of effort to maintain positive ties with Italy, to help realize its own interests in the Mediterranean. This could hold Italy back from further developing geopolitical ties with Egypt, who are trying to oppose Turkish interests. However, the increasing importance of Egypt in the Italian arms industry could force them to reconsider their stance.

Hazem Zahab

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