Egypt’s Waning Power

Egypt’s Waning Power

Egyptians are struggling to make ends meet, and Egypt can no longer boast of being the foremost political, economic and cultural country in the Middle East. The strong ones are now Turkey, Iran and Israel – all non-Arab states, while the oil giants like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates outdo Egypt financially. Even Qatar – a tiny kingdom – can make its way into the diplomatic and sporting ring that Cairo once dominated.

Egypt used to be the undisputed Arab power and, loathed by the West, Nasser defied colonial powers, and declared his enmity for Israel urging Arab nationalism. Sadat made Egypt the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, which led the way to Egypt becoming the Middle East’s most important interlocutor.


Mediating in conflicts in Egypt’s own backyard, Qatar, home of al-Jazeera, the satellite television news station which revolutionized Arab media, mediates in conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon and Sudan’s Darfur region.

The policies of Egyptian and other Arab leaders, who hide under the unpopular US military, often
have less appeal than militant movements like Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas.

Likely to stand for a sixth term as president, eighty-two-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has preserved the peace treaty with Israel and remains solid in the US camp. Mubarak is known to be
a leader without vision and now he is too old to become one.

While Egypt has been slipping into decline, Turkey has transformed into
a rising regional power. The International Monetary Fund expects Turkey to become one of the world’s best market performers, far outshining Egypt.

Removed from Middle Eastern dilemmas and NATO‘s only Muslim member, Turkey has used its growing influence and prestige to mediate in difficult conflicts. Erdogan condemned Israel after a deadly raid on a Turkish-led aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip last May, turning him into a hero in the Arab streets.


Culturally Turkey is also in the lead, as its TV soap operas, pop music and food is being spread throughout the Middle East, rehabilitating its Ottoman history and overtaking Egypt’s place as a regional power.


As Egypt obstinately wrestles to maintain the legacy of state control, Turkey is using its access to EU and US markets and investments to liberalise and modernise.

As Egypt clings to its solid national identity of days gone by, they gasp at the spending power of tiny Arab Gulf states.
Two-fifths of Egyptians live in poverty, 30 percent are illiterate and food price inflation is 22 percent. Having money, Qatar knows how to spend it well, while Egypt – drooling over Qatar’s planned stadiums -, who also has money, does not spend it correctly.

Egypt bet everything on US-led Middle East peace efforts, but their failure may have proved a liability. Both Sadat and Mubarak promised that peace – and the prosperity that comes with it – depends on Arab-Israeli peace. But many Arabs now perceive Egypt as a country just allying with the US to
protect the regime or implement US policies or plots in the region.


Egypt’s role as peace-maker between Israel and Palestine has failed dismally, yet it continues to receive about $1.3 billion a year in US military aid, hosts one of the world’s biggest American embassies and, along with Saudi Arabia, is Washington’s most important Arab ally.


Egypt’s failing role abroad may be a result of its obsession with eliminating political challenges at home, while corruption and an inert bureaucracy have hollowed out institutions and undercut economic reform efforts.


Mubarak has enforced the Emergency Law since Sadat’s assassination in 1981 thereby stifling political freedom behind a facade of elections and multi-party democracy. Yet Egypt is burdened by the explosive expansion of its 79 million-strong population. The expected population boom means that Egypt’s economy is lagging behind peers such as Brazil and South Africa.


As the media scene livens up, there is more debate, but the only real player in political discourse is the regime’s opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood which were repressed and squeezed out of the 2010 polls. Obsessed with security, democracy in Egypt is tipping into bankruptcy.


Even the US was ‘dismayed’ at the lopsided election ‘win’ that left parliament almost devoid of opposition. Despite election-day interference and intimidation by security forces Mubarak endorsed the vote. Wary of political Islam, Western countries are slow to support Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which survives, despite intermittent confrontation with the regime. With only a quarter of Egyptians turning up to vote in the 2010 polls, the atmosphere was, and still is, one of apathy and cynicism.


The distrust deepens as Mubarak grooms his son, Gamal, to take over should he step aside of fail to last his term as president. Few relish the idea of a dynastic handover in a republic. Mubarak hails himself a strong but fair leader but not many people share this opinion about his son, Gamal.


But on the streets, the problem surrounding parliament and leadership takeovers are insignificant as millions of people struggle daily to feed their families, calling the NDP self-interested, corrupt and greedy politicians who take everything leaving the masses with only scraps. Rich-poor contrasts in Egypt seem starker than ever, but the government denies that only a privileged few have benefited from economic reform.