The air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi militias allied with forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has started just ahead of the Arab summit in Sharm al-Sheikh. This timing has raised questions about its significance regarding the limits of Cairo’s regional role and issues on which Egypt and Saudi Arabia agree and disagree, especially the Yemeni issue. Contrary to what Egypt’s media outlets tried to suggest at the beginning of Operation “Decisive Storm” about a big Egyptian role in this operation, indicators point to a limited role by Cairo.
The paper reviews differences between the Egyptian and Saudi positions on conducting the war in Yemen which made Cairo’s role seem limited. The paper points to the Saudi behavior during the Arab summit, saying that Riyadh did not want Arab rupture to affect the military operations in Yemen, tried to draft a framework for the potential role which the joint Arab force can play if it is formed and open the door for non-Arab partners to take part in the proposed force. Riyadh wants to expand the coalition’s umbrella (militarily or politically) to include other heavy weight Sunni parties in the region, Pakistan and Turkey in particular, as well as, a Saudi desire to be a regional leader.
The paper also attempts to foresee possible scenarios for the development of Cairo’s role in the Yemeni conflict according to positive or negative developments on a number of variables and criteria, notably, putting boots on the ground, activation of the joint Arab force, consent by regional powers for the use of land forces, settling the struggle for regional leadership, an expansion of the regional war and an internal agreement in Egypt.
Based on these criteria, the paper introduces four possible scenarios.
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