Legal Demarcation of Maritime Borders and Egyptian National Security

Legal Demarcation of Maritime Borders and Egyptian National Security

The concept of national security is one of the most difficult and complicated concepts that are widely used, not only in Arab political discourses, but also in the political discourses around the world.

It dates back to the 17th  century, specifically after the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the religious wars in Europe. The usage of this concept spread after World War II when the United States established the National Security Council in 1947.

Protecting national security is the objective of any political system that seeks to achieve internal stability. However, this is an elusive objective, and it is difficult for many countries to achieve this goal due to many internal or external security threats that it may face.

For example, Egypt – the owner of the oldest civilization in history  that has plenty of wealth and resources compared to other countries across the world –   had been subjected to many invasions and violations that threatened its national security and internal stability. Perhaps the most recent of these threats is the encroachment on its territorial water.

In the wake of the agreement signed between Turkey and Libya on the demarcation of the maritime borders, several questions were raised about maritime border demarcation in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as its impact on Egypt’s  national security, especially in light of Egypt’s official rejection to the agreement due to its negative impact on Egypt’s political and economic interests.

In December 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLS) drafted a clarification that includes that coastal states may exercise sovereignty over their territorial water, but not exceeding 12 nautical miles. The territorial sea is considered to be within national borders, allowing these countries to respond to any infiltration or violation.

With the discovery of oil and natural gas in deep water and beyond territorial water, as well as the huge fishery wealth there, UNCLS formulated regulations that divide the oceans and ocean water outside the territorial water of coastal countries into Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) bounded by 200 nautical miles from the coasts of these countries.

Therefore, coastal states have the right to explore oil and gas in these EEZs, however, they have no right to control maritime navigation there since they are not considered as territorial water).

In the case that the distance between two countries exceeds 400 nautical miles from the coasts, there will be no problem, because all countries set the distance at 200 nautical miles. However, if the distance between relative coastal states is below 400 nautical miles, two parties must agree to divide their maritime boundaries according to the median line between them.

The most complex case is associated with the process of delimiting the maritime border in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially that the region is witnessing historical conflicts between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, in addition to the Arab-Israeli conflicts.

In an effort to find a foothold in the Mediterranean gas cake, Turkey took advantage of the Libyan conflict to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Libyan Government of National Accord on the demarcation of the maritime borders, an agreement that drew criticism from the European Union (EU), and repeated denunciations by the rest of the basin countries for not guaranteeing  the rights of the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean.

In an important step, Egypt and Greece signed the maritime border demarcation agreement during a visit  Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias had paid to Cairo, which represented a strong blow to Turkey that has interest over the Mediterranean’s bounties.

According to the agreement, the EEZs between Egypt and Greece were set, in a step similar to what Athens had done with Rome earlier.

The agreement, in accordance to the Law of The Sea between Egypt and Greece, comes on the backdrop of understandings between the two countries in the light of continuous coordination and in a proactive step by Egypt to eliminate the Turkish endeavor to expand exploiting the Libyan card for the conflict over gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The agreement prevents Turkey from exploring for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and it pushes the Turkish side to demarcate the maritime borders with Greece, taking into consideration  that there is no common maritime border with Egypt unless Ankara swallows the island of Cyprus, which the EU is confronting and its response was strong.

However, under this demarcation, Egypt will be able to explore for oil and gas in the western economic zones that overlook the maritime border with those of Greece. Moreover, Egypt and Greece will confront the illegal Turkish movements in the Mediterranean and open the way for a new phase in bilateral and regional cooperation to benefit from the wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean on the one hand and confront terrorism on the other.

Actually, the strategy of the Egyptian regime in managing the Eastern Mediterranean file is not based on the vision of achieving economic interests only, but rather on reaching a consensus to appease its global and regional allies, which enhances Egyptian national security.

In a nutshell, Egypt’s strategy for managing the state of the Eastern Mediterranean should focus on Egypt’s interests and puts Egyptian National Security achievements before pursuing economic benefits.


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