Why Egypt Has Joined The Gulf Coalition In Yemen

Egypt's participation in the military operation "Decisive Storm" against the Houthis in Yemen is a question of interests, alliances and cold, hard cash.

Egypti's al Sisi (R) receives Qatar Sheikh al Thani upon his arrival ahead of the Arab League Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Egypti's al Sisi (R) receives Qatar Sheikh al Thani upon his arrival ahead of the Arab League Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Mostafa Mohie

CAIRO — Why is Egypt jumping into Yemen?

Supporters of Egyptian military participation in the coalition fighting the Houthi rebels' takeover in Yemen say it's important to help ensure the national security of the Arab Gulf states in confronting Iran's expanding influence in the Arabian Peninsula.

Opponents see this military operation as a continuation of the politics of polarization between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, and they believe Egypt should avoid conflicts that don't involve its direct interests, and are not necessary for its own national security.

Another rationale behind Egypt's military intervention in Yemen is the supposed threat from the Houthis in light of their capture of the Yemeni port city of Mocha, which is just a few kilometers from the Bab al-Mandab strait that strategically straddles international maritime routes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

It is on this basis that the Egyptian navy deployed four of its battleships to secure the Gulf of Aden last Thursday.

Commenting on the official state narrative regarding Egyptian military intervention in Yemen, retired Brigadier General Gamal Mazloum says that Egypt had a duty to participate in Operation "Decisive Storm."

"Egypt has supported numerous Arab states in several critical circumstances," Mazloum tells Mada Masr. "National security threats to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) represent threats to Egypt's own national security."

He adds a reminder that the Arab Gulf states have supported the current Egyptian leadership since it ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013. "Hence Egypt is morally and nationally obliged to support these countries when their security is threatened," Mazloum says.

Indeed, the GCC states have provided Egypt with continuous support — both financially and in the form of petroleum products — since the army-led overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, 2013. The GCC's most recent aid and investment package is estimated at around $12 billion, which the Gulf states pledged to Cairo during the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh earlier this month.

Training exercises of Egypt's Rapid Response Forces. Photo: Harald Hansen

Mazloum agrees with the state's official announcements — issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian presidency — concerning Egypt's participation in military operations. These statements confirm Egypt's political and military support for the steps taken by the "international coalition of states to support the legitimate government in Yemen." This intervention "stems from Egypt's historic responsibilities towards Arab national security, and the security of the Arab Gulf region."

Saudi rules

Cairo is currently coordinating its efforts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies involved "towards Egyptian participation through its airforce and navy — along with the use of ground troops, if necessary — within the framework of the coalition, in defending Yemen's security and stability, while preserving its territorial integrity and maintaining the security of its brotherly Arab states."

But retired ambassador Hussein Haridi, Egypt's former deputy foreign minister, says that the Houthi threat to Egyptian national security via their control of the Bab al-Mandab strait has been overstated.

"No one is capable of closing the strait, or bearing the international consequences associated with such an act," Haridi says. "Even during the turbulent years of the Iran-Iraq War, the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf was never blocked or shut down — out of fear of the intolerable international repercussions to any state or political force involved in doing so. And the same applies to the Bab al-Mandab strait."

While Brigadier General Mazloum agrees that the Houthis don't have the necessary strength to close the strait or threaten maritime navigation through it, he says Egypt can't simply leave this to chance.

"The Houthis lack the numbers and the capacity to control the strait, as their military force does not exceed 40,000 fighters," Mazloum says. "Furthermore, Bab al-Mandab is protected by the presence of U.S., UK, French and German naval vessels — as well as those of Arab, and other countries — off the Somali coast, by the other side of the strait."

Mazloum attributes this heavy naval presence in the strait to the years 2008 and 2009, when piracy grew rampant off the coast of Somalia. This prompted the deployment of maritime forces to this crucial international trade route. Despite this heavy maritime security in the strait, Egyptian authorities had to be cautious.

Amr Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian political researcher and specialist in the Arab world's democratic transitions, believes that securing Egypt's strategic interests in the Bab al-Mandab strait could be better guaranteed through other means.

Al-Sisi offers his support. Photo: Egyptian presidency

"The real threat to shipping in the Bab al-Mandab strait is the chaos that emerges from this war," Rahman wrote on his Facebook page. "I do not grasp how any sane person could imagine that the Houthis, for example, are more dangerous than al-Qaeda (in the Arabian Peninsula), which is based just kilometers away from the strait, or the new arrivals affiliated to the Islamic State."

Shia v. Sunni

Rahman adds, "If our foreign policy and defense policy were not so dependent on the whims of Arab Gulf states, we could have found reasonable diplomatic resolutions with the Iranians in these regards — while not excluding any of Egypt's military options in the future."

The U.S. and UK have openly announced their support for military actions against the Houthis in Yemen. The U.S. National Security Council has condemned the armed Houthi actions against Yemen's elected government, and announced its support for military strikes led by Saudi Arabia and its regional partners, along with America's provision of both logistical and intelligence support in Operation "Decisive Storm."

As a former diplomat, Haridi rejects the idea of military action against the Houthis in Yemen. He hopes that military operations will be halted at the earliest opportunity, adding that he doubts it can lead to a lasting resolution to Yemen's political crisis.

Haridi sees what's happening in Yemen now as being an extension of the region's Sunni-versus-Shia sectarianism and accompanying political alliances that govern the region.

Abdel Rahman explains that the main basis for his opposition to Egypt's military intervention in Yemen is Cairo's long-term autonomy. "I oppose Egyptian participation, not only because the Egyptian army has no real interest in fighting this war, but because this will place the Egyptian army at the disposal of Saudi rulers and their allies in the future."

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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