COUNTRY: conventional long form: Arab Republic of Egypt conventional short form: Egypt local long form: Jumhuriyat Misr al-Arabiyah local short form: Misr former: United Arab Republic (with Syria)
Ever since the creation of Cairo in the early tenth century, Egypt has been acknowledged as one of the cultural and political centers of the Arab world. After languishing for centuries as a province of the Ottoman Empire, the independent Egyptian republic returned to this dominant role under the charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who catapulted Egypt into the center of post-colonial Arab political development, as well as transforming his country into the ideological center of the anti-Israel bloc and thus making the Egyptian-Israeli dispute a central facet of the Cold War. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1978, which has removed them from the militant anti-Israeli camp, but with the most powerful military on the African continent and one of the world’s largest populations, Egypt remains a sleeping giant in the politics of the Middle East, a giant which stirs the entire region whenever it awakens.
The majority of Egypt is an uninhabitable desert, bisected north-south by the world’s most fertile river valley, watered by the Nile River, which has sustained human civilization for almost seven thousand years. West of the Nile lies the trackless Libyan desert, which has only been successfully crossed once in human history, effectively giving Egypt a closed western border. To the east lies the Red Sea, linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. This key location between the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean makes Egypt one of the world’s most crucial shipping lanes, and constitutes a major thoroughfare for Persian Gulf oil making its way to Europe.
AREA: total: 1,001,450 sq km; land: 995,450 sq km; water: 6,000 sq km;
CLIMATE: desert; hot, dry summers with moderate winters
TERRAIN: vast desert plateau interrupted by Nile valley and delta
NATURAL RESOURCES: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc, asbestos, lead, zinc
NOTE: controls Sinai Peninsula, the only land bridge between Africa and remainder of Eastern Hemisphere; controls Suez Canal, a sea link between Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea; size, and juxtaposition to Israel, establish its major role in Middle Eastern geopolitics.
Egypt is the second most populous country in Africa (after Nigeria) and by far the most populous country in the Arab Middle East. Despite its large size, Egypt is also incredibly densely populated, especially around Cairo, Africa’s largest city. This choking density, and all of the smog and water pollution that come with it, are a direct result of the fact that most of Egypt is an uninhabitable desert; as it has been for thousands of years, to survive in Egypt it is necessary for humans to live entirely in the valley of the Nile. This population density is a massive, perhaps insurmountable problem for the Egyptian government—Egypt is a poor country, and with millions of surplus mouths to feed it is very difficult for Egypt to offer its exploding population more than dismal urban poverty.
POPULATION: 80,720,000 (2012)
ETHNIC GROUPS: Eastern Hamitic stock (Egyptians, Bedouins, and Berbers) 99%, Greek, Nubian, Armenian, other European (primarily Italian and French) 1%
RELIGIONS: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 94%, Coptic Christian and other 6%
LANGUAGES: Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes
Egypt is an Arab republic with a limited democratic system. Executive authority is vested in the president. The People's Assembly is the legislative body and approves general policy, the budget and development plans. Opposition parties have been permitted since 1977, but they have boycotted a number of elections. Egyptians are viewed as a moderate people in the Middle East. The current government is the second elected government since the revolution. With the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, new elections were held to form a new and democratic government. The Muslim Brotherhood won a resounding victory. Much of this credit goes not to the Brotherhoods message, but its organization. The Brotherhood was the only party with the necessary organization to conduct an effective national campaign. The result was a resounding victory. This allowed the Brotherhood to install a new president, Morsi. Morsi misinterpreted his election with as an acceptance of a pro-Islam agenda. He issued a strongly Islamist draft constitution and took many steps to circumvent the secular courts. In stead of the support he expected, he got rebellion. Egyptians, while personally religious, have favored a moderate if not secular government. Seeing Morsi's ideological stance, they took to the streets. Strikes froze Egypt's economy. With the country falling further into disarray, the current government was provided with the excuse needed to take power.
The Military, under then General Sisi provided Morsi with a two week ultimatum. When he failed to comply, they removed him from power. This move was widely supported by the Egyptian populace. The Muslim Brotherhood reacted violently, attacking police stations and churches. This provided the Military with the excuse they needed to ban the Muslim Brotherhood. it was labeled a terrorist organization, and in the following weeks was uprooted by force. Its assets seized, members jailed or executed, the Brotherhood ceased to function as an effective political institution.
It took almost a year, but in 2014 an new government was elected. The election process was fairly smooth. Many observes viewed the election as free and fair. El Sisi won by a staggering margin. The 2014 election brought to power a secular government with strong links to the military. Many speculate that General Sisi's close ties to the military may hinder his ability to rule effectively. They believe that he may be seen as a puppet of the Egyptian Military complex. Others believe that only someone with strong military ties would be able to force the military to acquiesce to the demands of new political realities. Which of these is true remains to be seen.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: 28 February 1922 (from UK)
CHIEF OF STATE: President El Sisi
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT: Ibrahim Mahlab
CABINET: Cabinet appointed by the president
ELECTIONS: president nominated by the People's Assembly for a six-year term, the nomination must then be validated by a national, popular referendum; national referendum last held 26 September 1999 (next to be held NA October 2005); prime minister appointed by the president
The Egyptian economy is slow-growing, poorly regulated, and totally insufficient to meet the demands of its massive population base. This is the weakest pillar of the Egyptian government, as almost 20% of Egypt lives below the poverty line, and her urban areas are among the most desperately poor in the world. One of the main reasons Egypt maintains its neutrality in most Middle Eastern affairs is because the Egyptians had become very good at endorsing western policies, like the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, in exchange for massive western aid packages, the most significant of which is the yearly aid grant Egypt receives for maintaining the peace with Israel. The single biggest growth industry in Egypt is tourism. As one might expect, the ruins of pharonic Egypt are unmatched archaeological sites, and Egypt’s reputation as a moderate Arab country lures millions each year who want to visit the Middle East but do not want to visit a more repressive police state like Syria.
Stability is one of the keys to Egypt's prosperity. During the revolution, tourism ground to a halt. Egypt must rebuild its image in the public sphere. This means demonstrating that it is a stable and responsible neighbor; while at the same time demonstrating that it is its' own nation. While aid is important, Egypt has made it clear that it is no longer willing to endorse Western policies for a check. Peace with Israel creates a stable image and invites both U.S. aid and tourism. With the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood, strengthening of ties and securing of funds is once again a possibility. Egypt must seek to assert its independence, without becoming viewed as an unstable or aggressive state. It cannot risk its people viewing it as a puppet government.
CURRENCY: Egyptian pound (EGP)
GDP: purchasing power parity - $295.2 billion (2004 est.)
POPULATION BELOW POVERTY LINE: 16.7% (2000 est.)
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: 13% (2014 est.)
AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS: cotton, rice, corn, wheat, beans, fruits, vegetables; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats
INDUSTRIES: textiles, food processing, tourism, chemicals, hydrocarbons, construction, cement, metals
EXPORTS: crude oil and petroleum products, cotton, textiles, metal products, chemicals
IMPORTS: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, wood products, fuels
BRANCHES: Army, Navy, Air Force, Air Defense Command
AGE AND OBLIGATION: 18 years of age for conscript military service; 3-year service obligation (2001)
EXPENDITURES DOLLAR FIGURE: $2,443.2 million (2003); 3.6% (2003) of GDP
Egypt has the largest military in Africa, and as of 2007 it has more modern artillery, tanks, and other armored vehicles than Israel. While, on paper, Egypt's army seems commensurate with Israel's, this is a paper tiger. Egypt could not wage an offensive war against Israel and hope to be victorious. In fact, the Egyptian military is designed defensively. The reasons are actually quite simple. The U.S. monitors what types of weapons are sold to Egypt. For example, the primary tank sold to Egypt is the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank. However, these are not the same as the U.S. tanks. They lack pivotal aiming, computer, and visual systems. Systems which make them much less effective in combat. Further more, there is a large open desert between Israel and Egypt. While this appears to be perfect tank terrain, it is not. The 1967 war, proved that the Sinai is a graveyard for tanks. Whichever air force is victorious, will wipe-out the tank forces of the other. Here we come to the crux of the matter, what type of fighters does Egypt have? F-16s, just like Israel. How many does it have? About 300. How does this compare to Israel? Israel also has about 300 f16s. This seems like a pretty fair fight then. Wrong, Egypt stands little chance. The SUFA, F-16 flown by Israel, is an upgraded version of the same jet flown by Egypt. It has enhanced decoy features, radar, communications, computation, and armament. A war between Israel and Egypt would be brutal, however, the militarys are not comparable. Israel will be taking shipments of F-35 joint strike fighters early this year, 2011, this will put their airborne capabilities far ahead of Egypt. Should Egypt somehow beat out Israel's superior air force and make it to Israel, they would be in for a fight with a tank that is designed to fight only in Israel. The Merkava Main Battle tank is a completely Israeli construction. It is more heavily armored and armed than the M1A1. It is equipped with advanced anti rocket capabilities, and is capable of transporting support infantry. It is the ideal tank for operating in Israel. The M1A1 was designed for speed and maneuverability. It was designed for set-piece battles in Eastern Europe. Its functionality inside of Israel would be greatly hampered by the lack of maneuverability. In a defensive war, Egypt could undoubtedly make Israel pay for every foot it takes. However, this section is written to demonstrate that Egypt alone stands no chance of fighting an effective war against Israel.
Remember, when considering military strength, it is also helpful to understand that the unseen threats are also important. Israel has nuclear weapons, about 200. For foreign policy purposes, it will not admit this. However, it is an open secret. Military action against Israel, unfeasible. It is true that Egypt is not as outclassed as it was in 1967, in fact its ability to fight a strong defensive engagement against Israel is unquestioned. However, Egypt has little to no chance of successfully engaging Israel in an offensive capacity.
It should be noted that Egypt has considerable Naval power. Enough to effectively close the Suez Canal. This has been Egypt's one true threat, militarily speaking. However, as Egypt has no aircraft carrier capabilities, it is unable to bring its navy to bare in an offensive manner. Leaving the safety of Egyptian fighter cover means certain defeat by long range anti-ship missiles. Israel has made sure to equip its fighters with the very best of these.
NINETEENTH CENTURY COLONIALISM
With the completion of the Suez Canal by French engineers in 1869, Egypt became an important factor in the functioning of the economies of Europe, which did not bode well for the independence of the Egyptian sultanate, which had enjoyed semi-independence from the Ottoman Empire of Istanbul since 1805. In 1881 the British declared Egypt to be a British protectorate, which in effect meant that the British dictated affairs of state while the Egyptian monarch served as nothing more than a figurehead, who was usually bribed into submission by British agents. The British used Egypt as a crucial military base during the first and second World Wars; in World War I they used Cairo to coordinate the conquest of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, while in World War II British generals used Egypt to mount the defense of North Africa against the famous German general Erwin Rommel. Throughout this period Egyptians resented their British overlords, but it was not until the aftermath of the second World War, when Britain had been severely weakened, that Egyptian nationalism was finally able to overcome the protectorate system.
KING FAROUK, ISRAEL, AND THE 1952 REBELLION
When Israel declared its independence on 14 May 1948, Egypt joined the poorly-executed attempt to crush the small Jewish state. Egyptian forces made significant penetrations into the southern portions of the declared Israeli state, but they became pinned down in a number of canyons and were unable to break out until after a cease-fire had been declared. The Egyptian army had been humiliated by the irregular Jewish settler-army, but as a side effect Egypt gained possession of a small sliver of coastal territory centered on the city of Gaza, now known as the Gaza Strip. This territory was packed with local refugees from the war, whom the Egyptians housed in tent cities and makeshift housing, much of which exists to this day.
Fed up with the corruption of the final Egyptian king, a cabal of Egyptian military figures known as the “Free Officers” overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, establishing an independent republic under military rule. A major reason for the anger that led to this revolt was the failure of Egyptian forces in 1948 when they fought the newborn army of Israel. The loss of Arab land to European Jews was deeply galling to many Egyptian nationalists, and this frustration manifested itself in the Free Officers’ movement. The British remained on the scene for several years thereafter, but it was clear from 1952 onwards that Egypt would no longer play by the colonial rules, especially once the undisputed leader of the Free Officers emerged, the charismatic colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Nasser was not the highest ranking figure in the revolution, but he was the most charismatic and daring of them. Combining telegenic good looks with a radical new vision for the shape of the Middle East, he burst upon the world stage in 1952 with a secular nationalist agenda that soon ignited the entire region. He postulated the existence of an independent non-aligned bloc of nations that would pursue their own post-colonial destinies far from the reach of the new Cold War superpowers. The vanguard of this struggle would be the Arab states, which he claimed would unite under a secular, semi-socialist vision known as Pan-Arabism, or more simply Nasserism. Using this ideology he began a daring series of public works projects and socialist economic reorganizations of power at home, while threatening Arab monarchies abroad with his vision of an independent Middle East comprised of secular republics united under Egyptian leadership.
Internally, there were certainly dissenters to this socio-economic model, the strongest of whom were Egypt’s large association of Islamic groups, collectively known as the Muslim Brotherhood, founded earlier in the 20th century by philosophers who sought to update Islam to meet the demands of the modern world. This group is especially noteworthy because one of its major thinkers, Sayyid Qutb, established the principles of political jihad which today are said to form the basis of Islamic revolutionary groups across the globe. This group tried to assassinate Nasser on several occasions, owing to his vision of a secular state, and he responded by brutally oppressing them within Egypt. Several thousand were summarily executed, including Sayyid Qutb, and the rest were either forced to go deep underground or seek asylum abroad, most notably in Saudi Arabia, which by the late 1950s found itself in an ideological war with Nasser’s regime (see below).
The revolution has changed the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is at once a terrorist entity and a peaceful and nonviolent political movement. The truth, normally, is very confusing, and much more so than a Google search of the topic would make it appear. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 and has continued to grow. However, its beliefs have shifted many times throughout its history. Its first objective was the rejection of colonial influences from the Middle East. It felt that Arabs had been led astray from the sunna, or path, of God. It felt that the ejection of colonial powers would allow for a return to Shari'a Law and prosperity (for more about Shari'a Law, see the "What are your exact goals?" section). This has also formed the central belief of the brotherhood, of which they still hold, that Shari'a is the proper form of law for Egypt. However, they have never been able to successfully implement their concepts. While the colonials were ejected, they were replaced by brutal dictators. The Muslim Brotherhood spread throughout the Middle East, with branches starting in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Oman, etc. However, with time these branches became independent. The Palestinian branch became what is now called Hamas. As time passed, the Muslim Brotherhood moderated its stance and renounced violence. While still considered a terrorist group by many in the West, the Muslim Brotherhood has not been involved in terrorist actions for more than a decade. However, in many other countries, independent branches of the Muslim Brotherhood have not made this same effort. Even within Egypt, branches of the Muslim Brotherhood broke off, feeling that armed struggle was called for in their religious interpretation. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood is at once a terrorist organization and a peaceful political party. The reason why you must understand this confusing point is simple; people tend not to differentiate between the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood in Malaysia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A very broad brush is used to paint the entire worldwide party as a terrorist organization. Remember, the Muslim Brotherhood is only one sector of Egypt. Peace with Israel is a necessity, which they acknowledge. These are the first elections that the Brothers will be allowed to participate in years, this means that they must prove to the world that they are a true political party, and not a terrorist party.
In the Egypt today, the Muslim Brotherhood has been forced underground by a strong military government. Because of its inability to maintain a stable economic atmosphere in Egypt, and their strong ideological stance, they quickly lost the support of the Egyptian populace. This allowed the new government to remove them from power. The Muslim Brotherhood resorted to violent acts, further distancing themselves from the populace. The Military's hand was strengthened further. They were able to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, significantly diminish its membership, and force its remnants underground. The Muslim Brotherhood still exists within Egypt, but it is a shadow of its former self, with very little real power.
Britain attempted to resume its old colonial influence in 1956, this time over the fate of the Suez Canal. Nasser nationalized the canal in mid-1956 as part of a general policy of swinging Egypt away from the west and towards the Soviet bloc, in the hopes of getting foreign support for the destruction of Israel, which had rhetorically preoccupied the Egyptian regime ever since it took power. More specifically, the Canal was nationalized after the British and Americans withdrew all their funding from the construction of the Aswan High Dam, a massive irrigation project Nasser was constructing in southern Egypt. The British and French, who owned the majority of shares in what had previously been the private Suez Canal Company, were furious with the Egyptians, but initially attempted to solve the matter at the UN. This situation changed when they were encouraged to enter into a military alliance with Israel, which in 1956 was engaged in low-level economic warfare with Egypt and suffering desperately from a stringent Egyptian shipping embargo. The Israelis agreed to do the bulk of the fighting if the British and French would commit their own forces, thus giving the fight international credibility; the goal was to retake the Suez Canal, revert its ownership to the European shareholders, and overthrow Nasser, who all sides agreed was jeopardizing the flow of Gulf oil to Europe by nationalizing the Canal.
Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula in late October 1956, quickly overwhelming the Egyptian border force and speeding right for the Canal, which British and French paratroopers quickly secured in a well-executed assault. They could not imagine the scale of international outrage over their actions. Almost immediately, the Soviet Union threatened to launch full-scale attacks upon London and Paris if aggression did not cease against its Egyptian ally. Likewise, the Eisenhower administration in Washington D.C. was unwilling to risk a nuclear war with Russia just to help the British and French salve their wounded pride, so the Americans likewise threatened to bury the exchange-rate of British currency if the troops did not leave at once. The invaders left within a week, the Canal was now the property of Nasser’s Egypt, and it was clear that Britain and France had relinquished their regional authority to the new world powers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Nasser successfully took control of the aftermath of this invasion, which had been an unmitigated defeat of the Egyptian army, by recasting the battle as the survival of Egypt in battle against both the Europeans and the Zionists. His popularity rose to unprecedented heights, leading him on to even more daring political gambles.
UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC
In 1958 Arab opinion was so favorable towards Nasser and his ideology that the government of Syria agreed to politically and militarily unite with Egypt, leading to the creation of the United Arab Republic, with joint capitols in Cairo and Damascus. This union only lasted until 1961, due to a number of structural problems in the overall act of union: most notably, the two regions were not united, and therefore couldn’t conduct cross-regional trade with each other via normal road systems—at the time, most of these roads actually led through Israel. Israel itself proved the other problem in this union: Nasser had proposed the merger as a way of pincering the Jewish state between their two armies, but for this principle to work, the armies had to achieve a unified chain of command, which in Nasser’s mind meant that the Syrians would have to become subservient to the Egyptians, a humiliating proposition which poisoned the opinions of the Syrian military towards this agreement, and would lead to the creation of a generation of Syrian leaders that were deeply distrustful of Egyptian political aspirations, future dictator Hafez al-Assad among them.
YEMENI CIVIL WAR AND THE ARAB COLD WAR
The failed union with Syria was a serious ideological blow to Nasserism, coming as it did from a country which had previously enjoyed very good relations with Egypt. Nasser responded by trying to press his republican vision harder upon the region’s surviving monarchies, which he saw as backwards pawns of the colonial powers. The weak kingdom of Jordan was seriously rocked by Nasser’s destabilization attempts, but survived intact under the skillful leadership of King Hussein Hashemi. The main target for Nasser was not that tiny kingdom, however, but the much richer prize of Saudi Arabia. The enmity between these countries was fueled during the 1950s by the large flow of refugees between these two countries: an exiled Saudi prince fled to Cairo and proceeded to publicly call for the overthrow of the house of Saud, while the exiled Egyptian Muslim Brothers set up anti-Nasser militant groups in Mecca and Medina.
This situation came to a head in 1962, when the undeveloped nation of Yemen devolved into a civil war following the overthrow of its priestly ruling elite. The surviving members of the Yemeni royal court sought Saudi help to maintain their position, while the rebels declared their territory the Yemeni Arab Republic, a secular socialist regime. Nasser sensed an opportunity to seriously weaken his Saudi rivals, and began to arm the rebels, with help from the Soviets and Cuba. The fighting quickly devolved into brutal mountain warfare in the Yemeni highlands, and by 1967 Nasser found himself supporting more than fifty thousand Egyptian troops and artillery units bogged down on the Saudi border. In hindsight he would sorely miss those troops and weapons.
Ever since 1948 low level skirmishing between Israeli forces and neighboring Arab populations, especially refugee populations, had become a constant part of Middle Eastern political relations. These nuisances began building into a deadlier momentum in 1964, when Syrian and Israeli forces began periodically shelling each other in the area of the Golan Heights, the site of major Israeli water-diversion projects at that time. The Syrians and Lebanese countered with their own water diversion projects, and by 1967 it became clear that Israel and Syria had entered into quiet war with each other over water access that the Israelis estimated would proved crucial to the growth of their country. On the Jordanian border, Israel made a series of large-scale punitive incursions into the West Bank in 1966 to attack refugee villages believed to be responsible for bombing attacks in Israel, some of which were carried out by the newly founded Fatah organization. All of this combined to make Jordan’s King Hussein profoundly uneasy about the security of his own country, which culminated in his signing a defense treaty with former rival Egypt in May 1967.
Nasser took political advantage of these conditions to construct a new alliance against Israel, amd Egypt finally found itself on a firm operational footing in the wake of the treaty with Jordan. Internally, Nasser was also building a formidable war machine based on modern Soviet technology which would have placed his army, if it were not spread out over Egypt and Yemen, on equal footing with that of Israel. Analysts at the time observed that Egypt’s equipment was barely out of the box, and certainly didn’t make Egypt ready to fight a war, but in constructing his new alliance Nasser did not reveal these weakness: he told the world that the Arabs were ready to fight, and that this fight would spell the eradication of Israel. To flex his muscle he closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping on 22 May 1967, cutting off Israeli access to the Red Sea and thus all southern sea traffic.
Unlike Nasser, the Israelis were prepared for war, and the closing off of Tiran gave them the justification they needed to destroy the Egyptian war machine. At 7:45 AM on 5 June, the Israeli air force snuck up on Egyptian territory by flying low over the Mediterranean, and destroyed the entire Egyptian air force while it was still on the ground. Having thus assured air superiority within the first hours of the war, Israeli then poured a massive armored force into the Sinai Peninsula, supported by the bulk of the now-dominant Israeli air force. Nasser responded to these attacks by telling his Syrian and Jordanian allies that the Israeli air force had been wiped out by Egyptian defenders, and with this encouragement those two countries joined the war. Jordan pushed towards Israeli occupied areas around West Jerusalem, while Syrian forces adopted a conservative policy of shelling the Galilee region without committing ground forces.
Within days, the Israeli advance had captured the entirety of the Sinai, which left Israelis forces free to mop up the Jordanian advance and neutralize the Syrian artillery barrage. Both operations succeeded entirely, and by 10 June Israel found itself in possession of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights in southern Syria. Israel had tripled in size, acquired a million new Arab subjects, and stunned the world with an unimaginably successful war. The Arab states were all deeply ashamed by this failure, none more so than Nasser, who lost almost the entirety of his international influence with this humiliating defeat. The best the Arabs could manage was a declaration in fall 1967 that there would be no recognition of Israel and no peace with Israel…but the combined Arab League no longer spoke optimistically about the possibility of Israel being destroyed.
Internationally, responses to this war were mixed; Russia responded by rearming its Syrian and Egyptian allies with a speed and efficiency that stunned the west, while America swung fully towards supporting Israel after their incredible showing. At the UN, deliberations over the newly occupied territories produced one of the most significant motions in UN history, UN Resolution 242, which stipulated that Israel would receive peace assurances from its Arab neighbors in return for the lands conquered during the war. Egypt and Jordan immediately signed the document, though Syria long resisted this resolution. The Middle East had changed irrevocably in only six days. Nasser died in 1970, a broken man.
THE OCTOBER WAR
Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, came to power in 1970 as the inheritor of a country with a massive Soviet arsenal but a deep sense of shame over the events of 1967. Moreover, Sadat secretly believed that the stalemate with Israeli was damaging the fabric of Egyptian society, which meant ending the conflict somehow—but to be possible, he had to sell this resolution to his own people as an honorable peace. To secure this peace, his began preparing secretly for another war. Joining forces with new Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, Sadat began preparing for a campaign which would either totally crush Israel or leave it so shaken that it would be forced to the bargaining table.
The hammer fell on 6 October, 1973, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, earning the war its common informal name, “The Yom Kippur War.” This holiday meant that the majority of the Israeli military was on-leave when the assault began, but ironically enough this probably made the call-up easier for Israel; since all the soldiers were at home, it was easy to get ahold of the vast majority of them very quickly. The initially attack came along the Sinai, where Egyptian forces which had been secretly building up on Egyptian territory completely neutralized Israel’s primary line of defenses and began racing across the desert towards Israel, destroying Israeli outposts as they went. At the same time, Syrian tanks rolled into the Golan, while the conservative Hafez al-Assad refused to commit the bulk of his forces in the early hours of battle. These forces were aided by irregular units from the rest of the Arab world, as well as monetary assistance from Saudi King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz. For the first 48 hours of the war, things went very well for the Arabs, at which point the Israelis completed regrouping and began a well-executed counter attack on both fronts, aided immensely by Israel’s compact geography and therefore the ease of moving military resources during defensive warfare.
Under general Ariel Sharon the Israelis completed a massive encirclement of the Egyptian army in the Sinai and actually ended up on the west side of the Suez Canal on the road to Cairo itself, at which point the Egyptians quickly signed a cease-fire agreement. Free to deal with the Syrians, the combined might of the Israeli army utterly wiped out the majority of the Syrian invading force, and even positioned units atop the Golan Heights within fifty miles of Damascus. When the final ceasefire came on 26 October, the Israelis had once again emerged victorious, but no longer invulnerable.
ANWAR SADAT AND CAMP DAVID PEACE ACCORDS
After rattling Israel with the size of the force Egypt was able to secretly mobilize, Sadat felt after the war that he was finally in a position to honorably negotiate with the Israelis. His first step was to begin taking the country into the western orbit, which meant expelling his Russian military advisors and warming diplomatic relations with the US. Frustrated at the slowness of developments through official diplomatic circles, in 1977 Sadat stunned the world by being the first Arab leader to appear at the Israeli Knesset (parliament), where he offered the possibility of peace to the Israeli government of conservative PM Menachem Begin.
Building on this unprecedented diplomatic overture, in 1978 Sadat and Begin met for twelve days in the secluded confines of Camp David, Maryland with American president Jimmy Carter, who facilitated the crafting of a comprehensive peace treaty with between Israel and Egypt. In short, Egypt regained the Sinai and Israel gained a guarantee of peace with its most dangerous neighbor. In addition, both parties gained generous American aid packages which continue to this day.
The Arab world was outraged by what they say as a betrayal of this magnitude, and from 1979-1989 Egypt was formally banned from the Arab League, which came to be dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Sadat shrugged off his critics and began putting Egypt on a peacetime footing, restructuring the economy and allowing for greater political openness. This did not assuage his enemies, however. Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1981, a group which included individuals who are now senior members of al-Qaida. Sadat is remembered internationally as a visionary man of peace, but many in Egypt still regard him as a traitor, and the peace between Israel and Egypt remains a cold peace, with official embassies but no sense of friendship on either side of the border.
Since the assassination of Sadat and the cessation of hostilities with Israel, the government of Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak focused on internal issues, most notably the protection of state powers against what many fear is a resurgent tide of Islamic resistance groups within the country, as indicated by the murder of Sadat. To that end, Mubarak governed Egypt from a “state of emergency” from the time that he took power in 1981, until he lost the Presidency in the 2011 Arab Spring revolts. He jailed thousands of Muslim Brothers and suspected terrorists\, giving Egypt an appalling human rights record. None of this has notoriety has affected Egypt, however, because it remained an ally of the United States.
Egypt has a reputation as a “Moderate Arab State,” meaning that it recognizes Israel and supports western policies in the region; Egyptian troops were part of the first wave of attackers in the 1991 Gulf War, and since then Egypt helped to encourage other states, like Lebanon, Yemen, and Sudan, to attempt to reach more pro-western stances. This caused considerable aggravation amongst Egyptian citizens, who see Mubarak as a dictator that does not represent the opinions of the Egyptian people, which match up much more closely with those of other Arab countries. They are probably right, and this aggravation was what boiled over in Tahrir Square in 2011 when Mubarak was thrown out of office.
One issue where Mubarak attempted to keep Egypt on the Arab side of the street was regarding the Palestinians. Egypt was the primary international advocate for the Palestinians, since Mubarak could speak with all Palestinian factions, conduct diplomatic activity in Israel itself, and enjoyed excellent relations with Washington. This position often put Mubarak in the unenviable position of trying to speak for the Palestinians while also appeasing allies in Washington, all while being forced to maintain diplomatic contact with the Israelis yet not appearing weak in the eyes of other Arabs. In the end, Mubarak created the image of a dictator in the pocket of Western interests. His foreign policy agenda, even on the Palestinian issuem placed him much more in the Western sphere than the Arab sphere. To put his relationships in perspective, it is useful to remember that Egypt has aided Israel for years in maintaining a land and sea embargo of Gaza. With the revolution within Egypt, Mubarak's policies have been demonized. However, while changes are likely, they are unlikely to be drastic. Egypt cannot give up the appearance of a responsible and moderate world citizen.
The Egyptian Revolution, in hindsight, was foreseeable. Hosni Mubarak failed to follow through on the promises made by his regime to the populace. These promises mainly revolved around the providing of work and economic stability. In the latter years of his presidency, the income of many Egyptians remained very low, less than 2 dollars a day. It is speculated that the Mubarak family is worth up to 50 Billion dollars. The rampant corruption and low wages of average people in Egypt laid the ground for popular unrest. However, the Mubarak dictatorship was good at suppression. Through the use of secret police and intimidation, Mubarak maintained the belief that Egypt was a stable and prosperous nation. However, everything changed when Tunisia demonstrated that revolutions were possible. Tunisia suffered many of the same ailments, a large population of people with no way to advance themselves and very small earnings, a small cadre of superrich who formed a governing class, and rampant corruption that influenced the daily lives of the people. In Tunisia, this boiled over first with the self-immolation of a man who was trying to make a living as a fruit vendor while enduring daily shakedowns by the police. "Days of Rage" began to sprout up across Tunisia, and then Ben Ali, the dictator, stepped down. Suddenly a change became possible, and Egyptians took note.
Protests began to erupt across Egypt. Egyptians saw the success of the protests in Tunisia and could not justify their place under Mubarak. It was also growing more apparent that the promises Mubarak had made, that Egypt would transfer into a democracy, were false. In truth, he intended to hand over power to his son. With no hope of relief in sight, the Egyptians took to the street to create their future. Here it is important to note that the driving force behind the Egyptian revolution was socioeconomic. Despite what fear-mongers will have the public believe, Islam played little role. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood made a conscious effort to refrain from entering into the protests, for fear that their presence would cast doubt on their legitimacy. The presence of a strongly pro-Islamic group in the protests would allow the government to claim that the protest was being led by Islamist--the Brotherhood didn't give Mubarak the opportunity to make this claim.
The protests converged on Tahrir Square, a major rotary in the heart of Cairo. Protesters established a small tent city there and paralyzed the economy of Cairo. They followed the Tunisian model, remaining peaceful and appealing to the international media to cover their plight. Media lined the square, capturing on tape every ounce of force the Egyptian government attempted to use. Finally, Mubarak called in the military. The military entered Cairo and encircled the protesters. At some point, an order to fire was given. It is unknown at this point who gave the order. In fact, this is one of the key questions in the Mubarak trial: did Hosni Mubarak order troops to fire on unarmed civilians? In some areas, troops did fire. In other cities, there were some skirmishes between protesters and the military. However, in Cairo, the military surprised everyone, including its commanders. The soldiers refused their orders. Instead, they drank tea with the protesters. Across the country, other military units did the same thing. With their troops effectively deciding to remain neutral, the upper echelons of the military followed suit, declaring that they would remain neutral, so long as protests were peaceful.
Mubarak now had to rely on police and paramilitaries to force the protesters out. However, with the swarms of journalists in Cairo, and the sheer volumes of the protest, it soon became evident who was going to leave. On the eleventh of February, 2011, Hosni Mubarak resigned. The shock wave this created was enormous. One of the strongest dictatorships in the Middle East had fallen. Every Middle Eastern specialist was reduced to the level of a speculator, as what they had said was impossible, what they had been taught was impossible, had happened.
Egypt's military promised to hold elections within one year. This is a promise they kept. In 2012, the populace elected President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi was one of the key leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The one year time limit for the election created an environment in which political parties had to rush to prepare themselves. In the end, the only party with the necessary infrastructure, candidates, and funding was the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood took their election as a mandate for adoption of their more ideological Sharia based government. The Morsi government also took a strong stance against the more secular courts. They banked on the support of the populace. However, the populace felt the government was going too far towards the conservative ideological perception. They quickly took to the streets. Strikes and protests spread across Egypt. With the Economy grinding to a halt, yet again, the Egyptian military issued the Morsi government an ultimatum. To leave power within two weeks or be removed. The Morsi government was removed two weeks later, with popular support. The Brotherhood took to the streets in violent riots. Violence claimed more than six hundred lives. However, it provided the military with necessary crimes to declare the brotherhood and its members as terrorists and to outlaw the organization. Because of its misinterpretation of the mandate provided by the election, the Morsi government had acted too boldly, lost the support of the people and been removed from government.
In 2014, the interim government held another election for president. General El Sisi, the man who removed the Brotherhood from power, won a resounding victory. His secular and moderate platform promised stability as a key goal of the government. After years of instability, this platform garnered massive support. With the promise of stability comes an implicit promise in a return to profitability. Egypt has lost much of its economic income due to a decline in tourism. Stability will likely encourage tourists to return to view Egypt vast historical wealth. The Sisi government has also made a point to promote its economic efforts, such as widening the Suez Canal. It is possible that the Revolution is not over. If the Sisi government cannot maintain stability, it is possible that it will be yet one more note in the Egyptian revolution.
The big question is how do the recent changes affect Foreign relations and the simulation? They have had significant effects. However, they do not change everything. Egypt is still viewed as a moderate Muslim nation. Now Egypt's foreign policy will be held up to the scrutiny of the public. Should politicians champion an unpopular strategy, they can be held accountable at the ballot box. In the short term, there are several changes that can be expected. Egypt's former dictatorship had close ties to Israel. These ties were artificial, as they were very unpopular among Egyptians. However, as the current Sisi government is very closely linked to the military, it is very likely this relationship will continue. Sisi feels threatened by Islamists. The idea of Hamas becoming powerful is one that directly threatens him. He views Hamas much like a contagion, something to be bottled up and locked in Gaza. This said he must be seen to be working for Palestinian interests. This means that he has a very strong interest in promoting the secular Palestinian authority, and strengthening its role in negotiations with Israel.
It is important to pay attention to the relationship between Iran and Egypt, as well as that of Turkey and Egypt. Under the Morsi government, Egypt was making attempts to strengthen ties with Iran. This was an attempt to both open up new markets and form new allies. Under Morsi, this seemed logical since it would provide his Islamist government with a more like-minded ally. However, with Morsi's government removed, and the secular Sisi government in power, it is unlikely the opening with Iran will continue. Sisi fears Islamist influence and losing American support. It is very likely that relationships with Iran will cool. Turkey has been very forthcoming in its relationship with Egypt. The two countries have many similarities. They both have strong Islamist and military parties and wish to be seen as modern and open societies. Turkey was one of the first countries to send its Prime minister to visit Egypt after the revolution. Both nations are strongly connected with Western nations at a political and economic level. Both are also strongly opposed to many Western positions at the level of the street. While the nations have much in common, they are also competitors. They both wish to be seen as dominant political powers in the Middle East. While this places them at odds, they have many mutual interests.
It is also important to mention that Egypt has a vested interest in stability. Its economic brand is bolstered by the stability of the nation. Foreign investors are much more likely to start up businesses in Egypt if it is stable and peaceful. Protests do not look appealing for business. However, more importantly, Egypt's two largest assets--the Suez Canal and tourism--require stability. Both of these major assets require a sense of safety to be profitable. The company will not send a multi-million dollar vessel through the Suez if it is unsure of the government, and a tourist will not go to Cairo if they are unsure of the police. Thus, Egypt must project an image of stability to the world. This means a rational and pragmatic approach to all foreign policy. A nation ruled by its passions cannot hope to appear stable.
As the headquarters of the Arab League and an African powerhouse, the policies of Egypt are tremendously influential throughout the region and beyond. Its policies are pro-western, but this tactical position does not mean that Egypt has stopped being an Arab country, and many of its policies match up closely to those of other Arab governments on every issue except for recognition of Israel. In this regard, Egypt is actually a very useful player for the Arab League because Egypt, along with Jordan, is one of the only Arab governments that can openly deal with the Israelis, floating policies that states like Saudi Arabia and Lebanon cannot openly support. Even after the revolution, Egypt is seen by many Israelis as a stable neighbor.
Britain: Britain and Egypt maintain good cultural relations, especially since the Egyptians respect British schools and love watching British soccer. For their part, the British are a major investor in Egyptian companies and continue to appreciate the value of the Suez Canal as a channel for Gulf oil being routed towards Europe.
European Union: Egypt is a member of the Mediterranean Cooperation Council, a fledgling organization created in 1995 as a spin-off from the EU economic integration talks, which has the ambitious plan of perhaps creating a unified Mediterranean economic zone sometime in the future. The EU is a major aid donor to Egypt, in return for Egypt’s continued role as an island of stability in the volatile Middle East. Mubarak enjoyed high levels of contact with the EU, but his departure is unlikely to change this. The EU relies on the Suez Canal for trade. The EU has a vested interest in remaining on Egypt's good side as does Egypt of remaining on the good side of the EU. Both Egypt and the EU benefit from the stability. Also, many of Egypt's tourists come from Europe, which is just a few hours flight.
Iran: Relations between Egypt and the Islamic Republic were bad on the best of days. The Iranians despise Egypt for making peace with Israel. While Egypt and Iran do not have normalized diplomatic relations, relations between the two are warming. The opening of an Iranian Embassy in Egypt would be the first step towards normalized relations. Egypt does not benefit from a nuclear Iran. It has a vested interest in seeing Iran's nuclear capabilities limited solely to power generation. This is a point on which most countries agree. Any political and trade cooperation between Egypt and Iran is threatened by the progression of the Iranian nuclear program. During Morsi's time in office, relations with Iran warmed. However, with the failure of the Morsi government, relations quickly cooled. The current relations are poor. The Sisi government and Iran have few common interests at this point.
Israel: Egyptian-Israeli relationships continue to be tested. Most Egyptians are not friendly towards Israel. While almost all realize Israel is here to stay, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a major sore point. Egyptians tend to view Palestinians as downtrodden brothers and hold their struggle very dear. The Egyptian government has shifted closer to the Palestinians and were much quicker to condemn Israeli actions, such as the commissioning of new settlements by Israel at the same time it says it is interested in peace. While Egypt wants to maintain a seat at the peace table, it can no longer be seen as toeing the American line. This means taking a pragmatic, but strong, pro-Palestinian stand. This has led to stronger rhetorical exchanges between Israel and Egypt. Remember the difference between rhetoric and reality. Reality is what diplomats deal with. Rhetoric is what they say in the hopes of molding reality. While a cooling of relations between the two and some trade limitations are expected, major conflicts are unexpected. The most drastic actions immediately conceivable are the complete opening of the Gaza border and a cutting of gas supplies to Israel (which is transported through the Sinai). These are the most extreme examples of actions that the Egyptian government may take--note how limited they are.
Jordan: Egypt and Jordan stand united as the "Peace Camp" within the Arab League, since they are the only neighbors of Israel, who have made peace with the Jewish State. The two countries share very good diplomatic and economic relations. These have caused them to grow very close over the decades. They are rarely on opposite sides of important issues for long.
Lebanon: Egypt has played an important part in Lebanon's political life. It had served as an intermediary between Syria and Lebanon, when tensions strained their relationship. The relationship between these two countries is seen as strong, but it does not include any provisions for military aid. Egypt is interested in stability and has only entered into Lebanon's politics as an arbiter and mediator. Still, the nations are considered to have good relations. Egypt and Lebanon share many of the same views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, Egypt does not agree with the idea of armed conflict, something that is still championed by some Lebanese politicians.
Palestinians: Egypt takes a much more flexible stance on Palestine than many other countries. For years, it maintained an embargo against Gaza, a policy that is still somewhat in effect today. The reason for this was simple; Hosni Mubarak feared Islamic extremists and wished to contain them. The policy also guaranteed greater U.S. aid. With the recent political changes, however, it is likely this embargo will be lifted. Egypt does not view Hamas as a terrorist entity, even though it doesn't trust the organization. Egypt wants to see Hamas become an active and productive participant in peace talks. Thus, Egypt pushed strongly for a reuniting of Hamas and Fatah after the 2007 schism that divided the Palestinians into two camps. The talks were successful and led Hamas and Fatah to begin the rebuilding of a productive union. Whether or not it will last, no one can be sure. Egypt now has a vested interest in being viewed as a productive, pro-peace, and pro-Palestinian state. For Mubarak, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict served to distract the masses, however, for the newly elected government it will be a headache. Failure to produce positive movement on this very important topic could see them voted out which, it might be said, represents the pressure and the benefit of democracy. This pressure to produce movement will force Egyptians to approach the conflict moderately. Remember, if they take too positive a stance towards Palestine, Israel will not welcome Egyptian involvement. Egyptian politicians will then be able to claim no part in eventual peace. Thus, Egypt must support the Palestinians as much as possible while still remaining seen as a partner in peace.
Russia Russia has long been a key trade partner for Egypt. During the Cold War, Russia and Egypt's relationship grew close enough to worry the United States. Russia has also had a long history of providing weapons technology to Egypt. Russia even helped Egypt construct its nuclear power stations, though these are for civilian use only. Currently, Russian tourists form the largest demographic group of visitors to Egypt. This makes Russia an incredibly important ally. Trade with Russia also comprises one of Egypt's largest export sectors. With Russia seeking to be viewed as a power player in the Middle East, cozy relations with Egypt will be high on its list especially with Turkey, one of its key competitors, already courting Egypt's friendship. These friendships do not have to be mutually exclusive. Egypt should aggressively seek to expand its trading opportunities and friendships, inside and outside of the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia: Despite the longstanding feud between Nasser and the Saudis, at present these two nations enjoy good relations, though the Saudis took a long time to forgive Egypt for Camp David. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have long standing economic ties. They are also members of numerous Arab trade organizations. The relationship can get rocky as both countries want to be the dominant power in the region. In the past, the pendulum of power has swung from Egypt, under Nasser to Saudi Arabia. However, with the revitalization of Egyptian democracy and a newly relevant foreign policy, it is highly likely that Egypt will once again become a major leader in the Middle East. The pendulum of Arab leadership could swing back.
Syria: The Syrian government of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad has never forgiven Egypt for making peace with Israel, especially once the Syrians realized that Sadat waged the entire 1973 war simply to gain the diplomatic clout to facilitate the peace treaty, thus leaving Syria to face Israel alone. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the near-collapse of the Syrian government as a result, Egypt has been a key actor in trying to convince the Syrians to open their doors to the rest of the world and become a more moderate regional player. However, the recent turmoil and mass killings in Syria has led to the condemnation of Syria by the Arab League, of which Egypt is a leading member. Egypt has not gone out of its way to berate Syria; however, it has made it clear that it does not condone the use of violence against protesters. One of the major reasons why Egypt has held back is the lack of civilian leadership. Egypt's government remains focused on internal issues. Still, should violence escalate, the government will be expected to take a solid stance, one which will be put before the Egyptian people for validation.
United States:' Egypt was once seen as America's staunchest Arab ally. However, this is no longer the case. While it would be wrong to think that relationship between Egypt and the U.S has ended, it has, however, been fundamentally changed. In the past, Egypt was seen as America's lap dog. In exchange for aid money and deals on military equipment, Egpyt essentially followed America's political lead. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement, especially because it benefited the Egyptian military, who kept Hosni Mubarak in power. However, with the move towards democracy, Egyptian politicians cannot afford to be seen as being in the pocket of America. Rather, they must be perceived to be acting in Egypt's best interest. This means that Egypt must find its path. The U.S. has threatened to cut off aid to Egypt; however, it is believed that this will not happen. Cutting off aid would render useless one of the last levers the U.S has in Egypt. The recent changes in Egyptian government likely indicates that the two governments will once again become closer allies. Sisi feels an intense need to preserve the relations and the funding that accompanies them. However, Sisi has also felt personally insulted by U.S. statements. Recent U.S. attempts to negotiate a cease-fire, without Egyptian involvement did serve to spurn Sisi, as well as recent U.S. statements denouncing Egyptian treatment of Brotherhood prisoners. Sisi, and his government must demonstrate that they are not the political lackeys of the U.S. but instead working in the best interests of all of Egypt.