Egypt leverages ‘soft power’ through medical aid in pandemic
Cairo: A slickly produced video from the office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi showed crates of medical supplies -- stamped in English and Arabic with the words "from the Egyptian people to the American people" -- being loaded onto a military cargo plane.
The dramatically scored video released last month was Egypt’s latest attempt to project soft power globally by sending medical aid to countries that have included China, Italy, Sudan and the United Kingdom.
But analysts described these gestures of political goodwill as tokenistic at a time when Egypt’s own healthcare system is overstretched.
In March -- before the pandemic had claimed over 296,000 lives -- Egypt’s health minister Hala Zayed was the first minister from abroad to visit Beijing since the outbreak began.
Zayed then appeared weeks later in a choreographed trip to Italy, an early European epicentre of the virus, personally delivering masks and gloves to the foreign minister.
Egyptians quickly lampooned her on social media, with one popular joke noting that Sisi was sending Zayed on mercy missions abroad hoping to get rid of her over her handling of the health crisis.
Pundits online also criticised her ministry for ignoring shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) among healthcare workers in Egypt.
"Health diplomacy has been one of the traditional strategies for global south states who seek to have a more prominent role in the global arena," Gerasimos Tsourapas, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham, told AFP.
"I read this as a short-term strategy that may not be necessarily thought through to the end, given Egypt’s growing needs for protective equipment." - AFP