Egypt voted in favor of two rival United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria Saturday evening, one drafted by Russia and the other by France.
The rival resolutions differ on several key points, the most important of which is Russia’s ongoing bombardment of Aleppo. The French resolution demands that all parties immediately end aerial bombardment of, and military flights over, Aleppo. While the Russian resolution, although it includes much of the same language as the French resolution, removes this crucial clause.
The French draft received eleven votes, including Egypt’s, as well as two abstentions from China and Angola, and two votes against it from Venezuela and Russia. The rival resolution, drafted by Russia, was voted for by nine countries, with the United Kingdom, the United States and France voting against it. Egypt joined Russia, China and Venezuela in voting for the Russian resolution.
The Foreign Ministry released a statement explaining this decision, maintaining that Egypt supports all efforts to stop the tragedy in Syria.
Egypt’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amr Abu Atta, said that the two resolutions have several common elements, and Egypt voted in favor of these elements, which include stopping the targeting of Syrian civilians and ending the blockage of humanitarian aid.
Egypt’s votes were based on the content of the resolutions and not on political one-upmanship, Abu Atta added, alleging that the main reason the resolutions failed is because of political differences between permanent members of the Council.
Foreign policy expert Nael Shama told Mada Masr that Egypt’s decision to vote for both resolutions is perplexing. “I cannot tell you what motivated the Egyptian ambassador to make this decision, voting in favor of two resolutions which contradict each other,” he said, adding that sometimes United Nations votes are made independently and do not necessarily align with official policy.
Egypt’s vote for the Russian resolution was criticized by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Al-Jazeera reported. Saudi Arabia’s delegate stated that it was painful to see an Arab delegate to the United Nations Security Council taking such a position.
Saudi Arabia supports several groups that directly oppose Bashar al-Assad, while Russia strongly supports Assad’s regime. Egypt has taken more of a middle ground, neither directly supporting Assad nor his opposition, which it perceives as dangerously Islamist.
Saudi Arabia is one of Egypt’s key allies and has provided the country with millions in aid. In June, Saudi Arabia transferred US$500 million to Egypt, the first installment of a $2.5 billion grant.
But Shama said Egypt’s vote might signal trouble between the two countries. “I think we’re seeing the beginning, or maybe some traces of a crisis in Egyptian-Saudi relations,” he said, explaining that the Security Council vote follows a Saudi delivery of fuel to Egypt at the beginning of October.
“We might see a reassessment of Saudi policy toward Egypt because they are questioning whether their investment in the Egyptian government is worthwhile or not,” Shama warned.
The Russian offensive on Aleppo has killed at least 320 civilians to date, including over 100 children, according to the United Nations. Russian attacks have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, who released a statement in early October calling on the United Nations to immediately adopt a resolution against the attacks, and on Russia to refrain from vetoing the resolution, given its direct involvement in the attacks.
This is the fifth time Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution on Syria.