For Obama, it was problematic to continue providing Egypt with its annual military and economic aid package because U. The Obama administration also cancelled joint military exercises between the Egyptian and U. Despite that, U.
Cairo did not like the tone of the administration in criticizing what Washington saw as human rights violations and the suppression of civil society in Egypt. Most important to Cairo was that El-Sisi felt the Obama administration did not adopt a firm stance against the Muslim Brotherhood and refused to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. With the election of Trump, many in Egypt hoped for better relations with the United States.
Yet, such good feelings proved to be ephemeral. Four months later, in August , the U. Much of the future relations between Egypt and the United States thus may depend on the diplomatic interactions between Egypt, Palestine, the United States, and Israel. In stark contrast to relations with the United States, the bond between Egypt and Russia from onward became increasingly warm.
This close relationship between El-Sisi and Putin grew out of the events of the Arab Spring and the chaos of the Morsi regime. Despite the fact that Mubarak was not regarded as a close friend of Moscow, the Russian state had a different reaction than the American administration to the January 25 uprising. Moscow was not comfortable with the fall of Mubarak and was deeply suspicious of any popular movements. Russian leaders depicted the Egyptian January 25 uprising as an extension of the revolutions which had swept the countries of Eastern Europe in and accelerated the demise of the Soviet state.
The election of Morsi and the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt was met with more caution and trepidation in Moscow. With that background in mind, one can understand the enthusiasm with which El-Sisi was received on his first visit to Russia after the overthrow of Morsi in February —though at the time El-Sisi was still just the Minister of Defense. On that visit, Moscow accorded El-Sisi a much better reception than what is normally given to a visiting government minister.
It was quite obvious at the time that the Russians had made up their minds and decided to back El-Sisi. However, in October , a setback clouded the relationship with the downing of the Russian passenger jet carrying Russian tourists from Sharm El-Sheikh, killing all aboard. This prompted Moscow to ban Russian tourists from coming to Egypt and halt all aviation flights between the two countries. Despite the tourist ban, in December Putin made his second visit to Cairo since El-Sisi came to power.
This mutual military agreement between Moscow and Cairo has certainly raised some eyebrows in Washington.
Most probably Putin and his advisors saw a tactical opportunity to further their interests in the region by developing a strong relationship with an El-Sisi-led Egypt. The situation with the EU was different. The EU could not afford the destabilization of a key partner and a pivotal country on the southern Mediterranean. Offers of mediation between the post June government and the Brotherhood were presented and several visits ensued but with no success. This position was not maintained, however, as each EU country sought to develop its own relations with the new Egyptian leadership, and soon developed new common interests.
Notable among them was Germany, which succeeded in securing a contract with its electric company Siemens to build several mega power plants worth about 8 billion euros. These priorities will change in his second term as Egypt will have to shift its foreign policy agenda to confront new and ongoing challenges. In when Nasser was seeking western finances to build the Aswan High Dam, he nationalized the Suez Canal in response to the withdrawal of financing for the dam by the World Bank, Britain, and the United States. This act ultimately turned Egypt away from the West for twenty years. Economic policy will gain more attention and the search for trade partnerships will become more prominent.
The cost this had on the standard of living of ordinary Egyptians has already been significant. Despite that, Egyptians await the promise of better days to come and for massive megaprojects to bear fruit. Consequently, Egypt is today the largest importer of wheat on the international market.
What Does US Foreign Policy Currently Mean for Egypt and the Middle East? | Egyptian Streets
Thus, Egypt has the twin tasks of increasing its foreign exports and increasing its revenues from other sources such as tourism which has not yet reached its pre— level of The need to cultivate new economic partnerships is more urgent as the financial assistance which used to come from the Arab Gulf countries is dwindling and not as forthcoming as it used to be. Yet it appears that the government believes Egypt is too big to fail. As such, Egyptian leaders continue to look for support from the Gulf, and most importantly, from Germany and France.
While belief that Egypt is too big to fail may have some justification, it is not a reliable guarantee against further economic downturns, especially in the event of an unexpected international development such as a financial meltdown akin to the Great Recession. Should the Egyptian economy fail to grow sufficiently to satisfy the mounting expectations of the Egyptian masses, these expectations will turn into frustration, anger, and then unrest.
As such El-Sisi and his advisors should develop more economic options so that they can make diplomatic decisions based on local Egyptian economic realities. El-Sisi does not want his diplomatic options constrained as a result of economic difficulties as was the case with Nasser in or Sadat in Difficult Choices for —22 With the inauguration of Donald Trump in , prospects improved for Egypt to enjoy warm relations with both Moscow and Washington. The peace deal between Egypt and Israel ushered in an unprecedented phase of strong bilateral cooperation between the two former enemies, but it was also a major cause of the unpopularity of both Sadat and Mubarak.
Israel benefited from the cold peace by neutralizing the most powerful conventional force in the Arab world. It even coordinated closely with Egypt on the siege of Gaza. Aware of the popular sentiment in favor of the Palestinian cause, the new Egyptian leadership initiated two important policy shifts.
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First, it re-opened the Rafah border , which has allowed most residents of Gaza to escape the suffocating siege imposed by Israel. Second, Egypt has played an active role in facilitating the unity deal between rival factions in Palestine. The deal represents the best chance for Palestinians to finally form a united front in future negotiations with Israel and break the oppressive deadlock that has plagued previous negotiations.
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These two developments may portend more critical foreign policy reformulations, especially on Israeli-Egyptian relations, in coming years. Anxieties over political change in Egypt are not only confined to the Palestine-Israel equation. A year before the revolution, many prominent leaders in Egypt and the Arab world began to realize the value of normalized relations with Iran. The two countries began to consider the resumption of direct flights between the two nations after 32 years. Also in , the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, urged member countries to acknowledge the new geopolitical realities in the region: namely, the rise of non-Arab countries such as Turkey and Iran.
Just weeks after the downfall of Mubarak, Egypt allowed Iranian warships to cross the Suez Canal , provoking uproar among Israelis and even Americans. Gamal Abdel Nasser was the central figure behind the first Arab revolution, which precipitated the withdrawal of colonial powers, Britain and France, from the Middle East. As Saudi Arabia spearheads a regional counter-revolution by abetting repressive monarchs in the Persian Gulf and providing sanctuary to fallen autocrats — with President Saleh of Yemen being among the latest beneficiaries — post-revolutionary Egypt could once again inspire change across the region.
Given its size, history, and cultural influence, a successful transition to democracy would undoubtedly transform Egypt into a role model for smaller fellow Arab countries.
Egypt’s Evolving Foreign Policy
The era of yes men in the Arab world is beginning to end, and the new Egypt — though it has maintained good ties with the U. The case of Turkey is very instructive. There are limits to this independence. Egypt is heavily reliant on aid, investments, tourism, and trade. According to the latest Gallup poll , the majority of Egyptians are extremely pessimistic about the economy. Democrats and Islamists are also aware that the military could choose to intervene — with tacit support from outside — if the democratic process gives birth to a radical government that jeopardizes the interests of the military and the state.
This has been the case in other comparable countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, where the military has also played a central role in determining the destiny of the nation-state. Egypt is still the top U. It is simply too embedded in the U. So, too, has the financial clout and political weight of the Gulf Cooperation Council made a precipitous Egyptian tilt toward Iran unlikely.
Already, the Saudis are reportedly trying to sabotage the emerging rapprochement between the two countries. Given these undeniable realities, an abrogation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords or the formation of an axis between Iran and Egypt is not in the offing.
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Moreover, the Egyptian foreign minister has injected realism into the rapprochement euphoria by indicating that Iran should not expect any substantial improvement in bilateral ties unless a new government is elected. In fact, just recently, Egypt expelled an Iranian on grounds of espionage, denting efforts by both states to improve relations.
Nonetheless, Egyptians from across the political spectrum seem to support normalizing ties.
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