Viewpoint: Egypt No Longer Matters

It's time for Washington to recognize that Cairo is not the center of the Arab world

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AHMED HAYMAN / EPA

A man walks inside the burnt Rabaa Adawiya mosque, the morning after the clearing of the sit-in which was held in and around the mosque, in Cairo, Aug. 15, 2013.

In Sana‘a last summer, a senior Yemeni general told me of his recent meeting with visiting American officials. The general had hoped to make the case for greater U.S. aid, military and civilian, for Yemen. But the Americans kept asking him about events in Egypt.

“They kept saying, ‘What do you think of the Muslim Brotherhood? What are the Egyptian military officers telling you about [Mohamed] Morsi?’” the general recalled, shaking his head in frustration. “I told them, ‘We had our own Arab Spring, now we have a democratic government, we have acute poverty, civil wars and al-Qaeda. Can you please stop talking about Egypt and start talking about Yemen?’”

The general said the Americans did stop asking about Egypt, but only for a short while. Then the questions started up again. “They wanted to know if I had been to Cairo, and if I had noticed changes after the overthrow of Mubarak,” he said. “Americans seem to think that Egypt is the most important thing in the Middle East.”

It is pretty important, I said politely.

“No, it was important,” he replied, waving a hand over his shoulder. “But that was a long, long time ago.”

(PHOTOS: Clashes Erupt in Egypt as Protesters March Against Earlier Bloodshed)

The American political and foreign policy establishment, as well as the media mainstream, tends to view Egypt through the lens of the 1960s and ’70s. Back then, Egypt was the fulcrum of the Arab world, unarguably its most important country. It was the source of the region’s most compelling postcolonial political idea: Nasserism. Cairo was the cultural center of the Arab peoples, the source of great cinema, TV, music, art, literature. It had a vibrant media scene.

Although it lacked the natural resources of a Saudi Arabia or an Iraq, Egypt had, relative to those countries, an abundance of intellectual capital: it was the center for learning, with the region’s best universities, both secular and religious. Its labor force was coveted by the newly wealthy Gulf states.

All that and, crucially from the U.S. point of view, Egypt was a threat to Israel.

Egypt today is none of those things, and for two reasons: the Middle East has changed, and Egypt has not.

Cairo is no longer the region’s cultural heart: Egypt doesn’t produce great art, music or literature. Arab TV audiences are much more likely now to be watching Turkish soap operas, Lebanese music videos and Qatari satellite news channels. Egyptian universities are now laughably bad, and the Gulf states prefer Indian, Pakistani and Filipino labor to Egyptian. Egypt’s media scene is a regional joke.

(MORE: Turmoil in Egypt: TIME Journalist Gets Caught in Cairo’s Latest Day of Rage)

After decades of mismanagement by corrupt generals and bureaucrats, Egypt is an economic basket case. It has few valuable resources to sell the world, and its mostly impoverished people don’t have the money to buy anything from the world, either. Even the Chinese, who aren’t deterred by political instability or violence, aren’t exactly queuing up to invest in Egypt.

While Egypt has weakened over the past four decades, several other regional players have grown stronger and more ambitious. Some of these — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey — are American allies (much of the time, anyway), which means Egypt’s utility to the U.S. as an interlocutor to the Arab world is greatly diminished. Washington might have valued Egypt’s support for its efforts in Syria, but an Egypt run by brute generals presiding over the slaughter of their own civilians is hardly a credible partner in dealing with Bashar Assad.

As for that other crucial American concern, Egypt is no longer a serious threat to Israel: the balance of military power is entirely lopsided in Israel’s favor. It was remarkable how quickly Morsi, when he was elected President last year, moved to reassure everyone that he would adhere to the peace treaty between the two countries. All the main constituencies in Egypt (Islamists, liberals and the military) know if they went to war with Israel, their country would be reduced to rubble.

(MORE: Egypt’s Turmoil: How the World Is Reacting to the Bloodshed)

Nor is there a great risk that Egypt may endanger Israel by arming — or allowing others to arm — Hamas in Gaza. For one thing, most Egyptians (the Islamists included) fear and distrust the Palestinian militants. For another, Israel has demonstrated repeatedly that it is perfectly capable of choking off Hamas’ supply lines.

Can Egypt reclaim its old place as the fulcrum of the Arab world? An opportunity arose two years ago. The Arab Spring was an import from Tunisia, but it once again made Egypt a laboratory of a new, powerful political idea: post-totalitarian democracy. Egypt’s size meant its democratic experiment would be watched more closely than, say, Libya’s. Alas, as we’ve seen this summer, that experiment has failed. Rather than show the way forward, Egypt is in full retreat. It now falls to Tunisia and Libya to show that the Arab Spring wasn’t simply a replay of the Prague Spring.

As for Egypt, it seems now that its main relevance in regional and global affairs is as a potential source of trouble. Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy.

And Washington should treat it as such. It should stop pretending Egypt is an important player in Arab affairs, and pay more attention to countries that are. It should stop giving the generals $1.5 billion a year. That money is better spent on countries where the democratic experiment still has a chance of success. Instead, the U.S. should prepare for the humanitarian crises that will inevitably accompany continued military brutality and economic misery. And it should be alert for the growth of a new al-Qaeda franchise on the Nile.

And if that happens, I know a Yemeni general they can ask what to do about it.

888 comments
marco5811
marco5811

remember all media is being broadcast through the Egyptian satellite, kind of a business, and Lebanese singers are really great I agree but all still has to start through Egypt, education? http://bonusz-online.com/unibet/

SamirTB
SamirTB

My argument regarding this topic will revolve around the following: 


1- This article is clearly fixated and is capitalizing on current events propagating them as a set and perpetuated reality shared and accepted by all, which is not true.

2- It 's an absolutely one sided conversation lacking values, lacking drives and lacking insights. I did not hear the voice of the Egyptian populace -however divided it is right now- in this article and trust me, we are way different than what you perpetuate.

3- I wonder the reasons of such hatred and ill wills... for a true international editor should view the world with all its differences and all its problem as potential for what is good.

Lets admit it.. is Egypt at its best shape and health right now? 
of course not, but should that mean that I, you and all of us should give up on Egypt... of course not.


Just to lead my words and actions with example, I wish Egypt the well being it should be in as i wish the same and more to Libya... to America.... to China... and all them countries and people of the world.

Keep segmenting and differentiating based in false values, but know that this is what made and makes the world fall down to what it is nowadays. 

HanySaid
HanySaid

Why in the world would an article be based on the OPINION of a "Senior" Yemeni General? Are you serious? A general of an almost non-existent army, of an almost non-existent country. There is a good reason why Obama's administration along with the entire US government is interested in Egypt. It is because it STILL is and will ALWAYS be the most important country in the middle east.  It is the ONLY Arab country that still has influence over all the others. The article is also full of ridiculous claims that it is not even worth commenting any further.

Fcomment
Fcomment

It seems idiotic to travel to Yemen to ask somebody there about Egypt.Is it possible that after all these years US generals don't know Egypt which receives $1.4 billion in military aid and was until recently a strategic ally ? Hope the Americans will not ask an Iraqi or Afghani general about Iran.   

BEMacomber
BEMacomber

Egypt is MENA's fulcrum and while the current Mubarak redux will faux elect himself the majority of Egyptians seek a democracy to bring them out of the dark into freedom, justice, and bread. Your article like many in the mass media is based on false assumptions generated by content farms rather than in depth correspondence. As to the MB and violence, ask any poor Egyptian who came forward in their neighborhood and offered food, shelter, medical supplies and kindness. What is clear the American puppet al-Sisi is short lived. The United States of the Council of Foreign Policy does not want a democracy in Egypt. Commitments to the Sauds, Israel, Yemen, UAE and the corporate structure fester civil disorder providing the off-center necessary for the uniforms (31% of the Egyptian economy) and the suits to attempt to impoverish Egypt until civil society rolls over and puts the yoke around their own necks. When you sit in the catbird seat in your ivory tower it is easy to deliver edicts. Reactionary press is a ball of wax rolling down hill submitting to the call of personal survival. The independents, the free-thinkers, the scholars of Islam, the small business families, the camel tenders, the felucca sailors, the wheat growers, the cotton planters, the university elite (both students and faculty) and even the unkempt masses no longer listen to anything the Western press and its handlers report. They get their news via social media, their neighbors, and their imans. The Arab Spring is more alive today than it was three years ago because the Internet continues to provide the salon. Try and re-engage yourself with the ethics of reporting the whole story not one manufactured for your stock holders. Otherwise, be aware, struggling humanity on this planet are now armed with information, facts, and solidarity, one tweet at time, one post at a time, and one thumbs-up at time. 

عمرعثمان
عمرعثمان

This is very true. Although I am Egyptian, I don't want this country to take credit that it does not deserve. It is truly a backward country.

mbthe2nd
mbthe2nd

" fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy" the author says, as in what happened when Morsi issued a presidential decree to release hundreds of highly dangerous - and convicted, mind you - islamic militants from prison to wreck havoc in our country....

AmiraNabilMekawy
AmiraNabilMekawy

The article as a whole proves the importance of Egypt not the contrary, Egypt is the benchmark in comparison.

KSA, and UAE, even Qatari's reactions to Egyptian events (even if opposing to Egypt's policy) proves its dominance.

When Qatar had the son of the "Prince" take over, it was merely a headline for a day!! How big is that!!



In this article you are challenging Egyptian art and media, education system, and lots of stuff. 

You are discussing details and details, I don't want to argue about your opinion, it is still "an opinion", but they always say, people talk bad against the things they most care for WHEN they can't reach it.


Maybe Egypt is now bothering a lot of people, but this is the case with celebrities.

Take it easy on yourself.


And remember all media is being broadcast through the Egyptian satellite, kind of a business, and Lebanese singers are really great I agree but all still has to start through Egypt, education? Governmental FREE education might need face lift, but private, still way much ahead than that in Gulf.


Needless to say the whole trade passes through Egypt's canal. 



SallyMoro
SallyMoro

My concern is how little the average Egyptians understand how a free market economy actually works. So used to being controlled and directed they are they only seek leaders to put they're total faith and all their aspirations in the hope that this person means well for Egypt and Egyptians. Of course they never do, the leader has his own agenda whether it's to make an Islamic republic, look after his friends and cronies or to ensure the military keep their financial iron grip. The record of the past leaders ending in jail does not bode well for sissi who will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people and will be thrown in jail like the others within a few very disappointing months.

IMouraaa
IMouraaa

Mr @ghoshworld it seems all about " Al-Qaeda "  because is a lie of the U.S. government and Israel to give them a green line for killing more of Arabs over and kill the largest number of them to build an Israeli state on the Palestine, the problem really is not in Egypt or the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Sisi or the army the real problem is in the " United States" govt and the way they control all over the Arab states and all movements in Egypt all groups in Egypt has been infiltrated by national security and U.S. intelligence, Muslim Brotherhood are not Muslims and its has been hacked by national security and U.S before the 25jan2011 and it's made just to kill more people up there the Egyptians know everything NOW, They will not live this life like animals They will not be able to be slaves to any one any more, so take it easy

MohamedEl-khateeb
MohamedEl-khateeb

Well @ghoshworld , it's true the situation Egypt has reached to. This article is good at listing all the symptoms of not being the centre of the Arab world anymore.

Looking at the bright side though: Maybe then the United States would stop supporting the corrupt and draconian political figures, stop sending them weapons and tear gas canisters, and let the people be!

AhmedOsman
AhmedOsman

without even reading the whole article , I assume Egypt's importance , in the eyes of its citizens at the very least, is a bit too exaggerated, and even what provokes me is how " paradoxical " they usually are, claiming to be tolerant whilst mistreating Syrian refugees here, even usually the authorities here send them back to Syria !

 I am afraid the situation is expected to even worsen , for a network of reasons which led , over time , to what Egypt is going through now, from almost every aspect, unless drastic change takes place, which is not expected in the near future at least.

AhmedOsman
AhmedOsman

ملاحظ إن فيه تعليق كان عن سنغافورة و"شوفوا سنغافورة بقت فين دلوقتى
فوقوا بقى ,, الشعب المصري شعب وصل لدرجة تستوجب غضب الله لما الناس تتقتل , من الإخوان مثلا, ويتقال حلال فيهم القتل
وف نفس الوقت إزاى شعب متدين بفطرته, وهو مستحل قتل الى هما مفروض مصريين زيه !ا
مصر مجتمع طبقى جدا ,, وعنصري جدا , والدليل هو معاملة السوريين والأفارقة و أوقات كتير الآسيويين من بلاد فقيرة
مصر فاشلة اقتصاديا,  بمعنى الكلمة , أنا مش  بقول كلام مطلق وخلاص, لكن مصر بتستورد حتى " أعواد الكبريت" 
المصيبة السودا,واانتفى لو استمرت مصر هاتفضل من فشل لفشل إن المصريين شايفينها أعظم بلد فى العالم , انا متفهم الشعور بالانتماء وحب الوطن , لكن دة كلام أجوف, ما يصدقوش أى عمل ولا أى إنجاز
وبالمناسبة ثقافياً ف مصر تعليمها , زى ما هو معروف , مستواه من أفشل المستويات على مستوى العالم
وبتكمل , عادة , بالتعيين بالواسطة ف الجامعات
وما تستغربوش بالتالى مستوى الأفلام والأغانى إلى المصريين بيوصفوها بأنها هابطة وف نفس الوقت بيقولوا إحنا " هوليوود الشرق"
ودة والله جزء من كل ,, لأن المصيبة الأكبر إن العقل الجمعى متخلف, , 
وأنا بأكد إن كل دة وصف موضوعى لو أى حد فكر فيه من منظور موضوعي هايعرف إن كلامى صح 
والهجرة مش مستغرب إن تكون معدلاتها غير الشرعية , ومحاولاتها الشرعية البائسة من أعلى المعدلات
ومش متوقع برضه إنكم تفوقوا :)

HeshamGhoneim
HeshamGhoneim

An article is only showing how frustrated are they, who planned the chaos in the Arab countries using Media propaganda and succeeded almost every where except in Egypt because the Generals refused to shoot against the people and didn't mind to give a chance to democracy. Then double frustrated when there spies whoa are calling them selves Muslim Brothers failed to overwhelm the generals and dissolve the army as planned but the opposite is what happened. Now they are trying to look cool and show no interest in Egypt claiming that it has lost its importance anyway !!!! just take a look at the reaction of the richest Arab countries after 30 June and the reaction among the peoples of the so called Arab Spring countries and you will know the real size of Egypt not the size you and the people behind you wishes to see.   

SaraFarrag
SaraFarrag

Anti-Democracy Military Coup...They had done a Bloody Military Coup against the Elected President, Elected Constitution, Elected Congress,--------- Completely against the whole democratic steps we did since our White 25 January 2011 Revolution. Simply it is a red bloody ugly miserable Coup, Completely Anti-Democracy. in 25 January Democracy.

Smurfawy
Smurfawy

@HamzaNamira @ahmed2fahmy معلشي دلوقتي نبعتلهم تسلم أغنية تسلم الأيادي -- عشان يعرفوا عظمة مصر :-)

iman_masoud1
iman_masoud1

@HamzaNamira نزل راسك إنت مصري ، وارجع تاني المصري بتاع زماان @الأوبريت القادم للشئون المعنوية ، وكله بما يرضي الله !!

gogogoga90
gogogoga90

I guess it would be worthwhile for the writer to value a bit more "history" in its broad sense, and not go back only three or four decades ago , for this limited time span in History means so little. I need not mention to the international writer that a country weight is measured by what strategistsc call theory of elements of power along with its new modifications. And I guess at the end US strategists know well what Egypt means in this context

Abazaaa
Abazaaa

@HamzaNamira I don't think so..Egypt is still the most important player in the middle East in my opinion

Maha_Eiffle
Maha_Eiffle

@HamzaNamira معاه فى جزء كبير من كلاموا بس مش معاه فى فكرة أن مصر مش بتشكل تهديد لآسرائيل وانها فقدت مكانتها فى الشرق الآوسط على حساب 4دول

M>Naguib
M>Naguib

Egyptian people will be able to regain its regional and international if possessed own food and his medication and his weapon, as the President said Morsy

M>Naguib
M>Naguib

الشعب المصرى سيكون قادر على استعادة دوره الاقليمى والدولى اذا امتلك غذائه ودوائه وسلاحه ،كما قال الرئيس مرسى 

M>Naguib
M>Naguib

America would not be happy if that Egypt has succeeded in democratic transformation.Work on the first civilian president to fail restored Egypt to the time of corruption and despotism ..How to be Egypt is an important country and military generals are wasting the dignity of the Egyptians through the murder and gagged ..who does not respect the citizens of humanity impossible to be respected by others ..Who kills his own people ..It is impossible to see others feared

AhmedZaky
AhmedZaky

@tolui80 بس دة مقال تافه جدا يا ريس بيفترض إن مصر مالهاش تأثير في محيطها، ودة غير صحيح

adham_dabor22
adham_dabor22

@HamzaNamira حمزة ، عايزين اغنيه لشهداء رابعه والمنصه والحرس الجمهوري والنهضه وسيناء وبنات المنصورة ، ارجوووووك ،

RMasroujeh
RMasroujeh

@montase_ibrahim missing my point dear. Hamza says Egypt is not important anymore. I'm saying that for good or bad, it is still

AhmadYakout
AhmadYakout

i admit that EGYPT has many massive problems to deal with .. but i want to tell you something , things are going to settle down and the EGYPTIAN EMPIRE will rise again !! none of your false trials to back us down is going to help .. EGYPTIANS have changed !! mark my words , America will fall down by EGYPTIANS and so does israel ..

thawratmisr
thawratmisr

@MasriaAwy @Abou7mid مقال يقهر ,الي يقهر اكتر ان الناس مش فاهمه هم عملوا ايه في بلدهم

khaledraslan_
khaledraslan_

@MasriaAwy ده مقال محزن يوضح الحال الذى وصلنا له وكيف ينظر العالم الخارجى لمصر..إحنا بقينا كده إزاى؟!ومتى الخلاص يارب؟!

KalEltiar
KalEltiar

@HamzaNamira ((إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ))[الرعد:11]

habdelwahed
habdelwahed

@عمرعثمان : Egypt never took credit for any thing. Egypt was a backword country during Morsi rule. but after we exterminate the MB. we will be on the right path

عمرعثمان
عمرعثمان

@mbthe2nd  Your country is a wreck havoc with or without islamic militants. It is the primitive state ruling the country that wrecked Egypt.

عمرعثمان
عمرعثمان

@AmiraNabilMekawy Keep living in your dreams. Egypt has become irrelevant to world affairs. It has one of the lowest GDP per capita and one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Beside the great pyramids, Egypt is nothing today.

shiboukshi
shiboukshi

@HeshamGhoneim  Living in an alternate reality, are not we? Dude, please stop spewing the Egyptian media garbage around here. You and your elk should go lick some military boots somewhere else.

habdelwahed
habdelwahed

@SaraFarrag : dear MB, why you talk about Jan 2011, MB has not thing to do with it. and by the way it was a coup and we love it.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@M>Naguib If you write in english the people you are trying get your message to might understand you.

Imountasir
Imountasir

@AhmedZaky هو فين التأثير دا؟جون كيري كان في القاهرة الأحد الفائت وقابل وزيري خارجية السعودية وقطر بشأن الموضوع السوري ولم يقابل المصريين

tolui80
tolui80

@AhmedZaky بس فكرة ان مصر أضاعت فرصة ذهبية كانت في يناير لتصحيح المسار وقيادة المنطقة كلها تقهر.

shiboukshi
shiboukshi

@AhmadYakout  You are one of those sheep misled by the Egyptian garbage nicknamed media. Go get a life and an education before spewing that nonsense anywhere.