Analysing the evolving trajectories in contemporary Egyptian foreign policy is not simple for several reasons related to its history, the cultural importance in the Arab and Muslim world, the geostrategic relevance of the country, and, finally, for the role of military in national and international politics. There are several determinants that explain Egypt's foreign policy behaviours and its peculiar approach in the external dimension of the state.
From Nasser to al-Sisi, Egypt adopted a security approach to explain its foreign policy in order to protect its national interests abroad and to expand its regional leverage and soft power in the MENA region as a whole. An approach re-envisaged, on January 2018, by the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry. During an interview to State Information Service, Shoukry stated that Cairo’s foreign policy is primarily focused on safeguarding its own interests and national security. “Egypt faced several challenges in 2013 and 2014, as there was a transitional government working on restoring Egypt’s stability and institutions and implementing a political road-map”, the top diplomat said. In fact, Egyptian foreign policy seems to be an extension of its domestic one, especially depending on the management of internal dynamics related to security. In this sense, Egypt’s foreign policy, even under al-Sisi, would seem perfectly in line with that of its predecessor Mubarak by adopting a careful strategy to maintain the existing balance domestically and to contain any threat to regional order. Apparently, a policy inclined to avoid hard strikes or sensational actions. But the Arab uprisings in 2011 and the Morsi ousting in 2013 created new challenges and changes in Egypt’s idea of foreign policy.
In order to better understand Egpyt’s current foriegn policy, in terms of its past evolution and expectations moving forward in the medium and long term, it is useful to consider what factors define its guidelines to foriegn policy, especially in the Middle East. In this way it may be possible to better grasp which alternative approaches emphasize the multi-layered dimensions in the external processes, the relevancy of the state’s geopolitical regional environment and the interests of its ruling regime in conditioning its responses to external constraints and determining its foreign policy outcome. At the same time, it must be clear that neither of these elements can be understood without taking into account a inter-linked combination of domestic forces and changes, regional linkages, and developments at the international level, together with the role played by peculiar personalities and their specific choices. In other words, any attempt to understand the foreign policies of Egypt is only possible by integrating internal domestic political factors and complexities in international dynamics.
From this emerges Egypt’s image as an important player in the MENA region and with a foreign policy based on few but fundamental and clear pillars, such as a strategic partnership with the United States and the role of the mediator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. At least this was the case until 2011, when the Arab Spring and the subsequent demise of Hosni Mubarak’s regime (2011), the rise and fall of Muslim Brotherhood presidency led by Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013), and the birth of transitional government – led by the former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – have created a divide in the Egyptian history. These events also caused repercussions in foreign policy, opening a new chapter, especially in the last years when Cairo tried to promote multidimensional and multivariate diplomacy.
Unlike Mubarak’s tenure (1981-2011), during which state institutions oversaw stable foreign policy, al-Sisi and his inner circle recovered an assertive doctrine in foreign policy that has prioritized to Egyptian national interests over those of global and regional patrons. An approach also known as “Egypt First doctrine” or “Sisi doctrine”. A policy not new in the Egyptian history that referred to Nasser’s ideas in foreign policy. An al-Sisi’s clever attempt to reprise the same political strategies adopted during Nasser’s presidency in order to glorify the rais’ legacy as well as celebrate al-Sisi’s widespread popularity through a form of misguided patriotism. This doctrine includes: 1) a balanced relationship with the great powers and key regional actors; 2) respect for traditional notions of sovereignty and non-interference; 3) nationalistic reassertion of Egypt’s freedom of manoeuvre within the region. A revised approach that produced a significant number of policy shifts in the regional and international levels of the Egyptian foreign policy.
On the international level, Egypt has sought to balance its relations with the great powers after decades of its traditionally pro-American foreign policy. This is evident both in the Sino-Russian strategic pivot towards Egypt and in the downgrade of bilateral ties with the United States. Despite this shift, al-Sisi and Donald Trump maintain a strong personal relationship. Egypt’s importance is clearly declining in the eyes of American leadership, with Trump prefering to strengthen Washington’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia and Israel. This shift dampens Cairo’s ambition of becoming a stronger leader in the Arab world. At the same time, the over-dependence on US military aid and diplomatic support has limited the promotion of Egyptian interests abroad. Also for this reason, al-Sisi has tried to expand Egpyt’s diplomatic network by building better relations with Russia and China, and other Asian powers (such as India and Japan). While these measures did not replace Cairo’s strategic alliance with the United States, it did, however, enable it to balance Western alliances and interests with stronger ties (economic and strategic) in Asia. This fundamental shift not only helped to project Egyptian ambitions abroad, but also enabled the regime to consolidate power domestically.
On the regional level, Egypt has become a key defender of state sovereignty and regional stability in the Middle East, thereby abandoning the sectarian agenda that had dominated Middle East politics since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. In this regard, if the deteriorated regional context in the Wider Middle East has pushed – with limits – al-Sisi to adopt a multi-layered diplomatic and military actions, these developments have considerably exposed Egypt to new types of hard security threats. This is more evident, for example, in Egypt’s main issues in Africa (Libyan war, Sudanese transition post-Bashir and Nile Dam crisis), as well as in other two competitive scenarios: the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact, this recent assertiveness on key regional questions suggest a re-adjustment of Egyptian foreign policy in an attempt to contain new regional challenges and to propose an effective and credible strategy. On the other hand, the Egyptian external economic dependency, in particular from the Gulf countries, and the deterioration of regional security context, undermined by power competition and transnational terrorism (as in the Sinai Peninsula), continue to pose a threat to the Egyptian state.
From this perspective, the greatest challenge for Egypt’s geopolitical ambitions is to transform the several factors of instability (the upheavals in Libya, the growing militarization and conflicting interests the MENA region, and the growing tensions between Cairo and Ankara) into positive outcomes in order to capitalize on its potential in the neighbourhood and to create geostrategic opportunities. Therefore, the new activism in its foreign policy could be an extraordinary benefit for Egyptian leadership to bridge the existing gap between the torments of the Arab Spring and its historical legacy. This represents a chance to regain its important role in the region, and to bolster the regime’s legitimacy domestically. In conclusion, it is hard to determine whether “Sisi doctrine” will change the role of Egypt in the Middle East and in the world. However, it’s very likely that the al-Sisi’s attempt to adapt Egyptian projections to the external conditions and simultaneously preserve its national interests will maintain a growing importance in Cairo’s posture in coming years. In al-Sisi’s view, Egypt will seek to pursue a strategy more independent from traditional alliances in order to maintain its basic security needs. Therefore, Cairo’s regional policies will define the success (or the failure) of “Sisi doctrine” in foreign policy.
 “Egypt's national security, interests top foreign policy priorities: FM”, State Information Service (SIS), January 30, 2018.
 For more information on the foreign policies of Middle Eastern countries, see: Raymond Hinnebusch and Anoush Ehteshami (eds.), The Foreign Policies of Middle East States, Boulder, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2014; Gerd Nonneman (ed.), Analyzing Middle East Foreign Policies and the Relationship with Europe, London-New York, Routledge, 2005.
 For more details on this topic, see: Gamal M. Selim, “Egyptian foreign policy after the 2011 revolution: the dynamics of continuity and change”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2020, pp. 1-22.
 Alaa Elhadidi, “Egypt’s Shifting Foreign Policy Priorities”, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, 29, Spring 2018, pp. 79-87.
 See also: Eman Ragab, “An Alternative Approach to Regional Security in the Middle East”, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, April 2, 2020; Ziad A. Akl, “Regional challenges”, Ahramonline, December 3, 2019.