In the middle of the last century, Cairo was the cultural and intellectual capital of the Arab world, the Egyptian government its diplomatic and military leader, and the country a model of Arab nationalism. While this is no longer true, writes Samuel Tadros, that is no reason for the U.S. to abandon its longstanding alliance with Egypt:
Egypt’s control of the Arab League is no longer as strong as in the past and in any case the Arab League is irrelevant. Maintaining the peace treaty with Israel is in Egypt’s own interests and not dependent on U.S. support. Al-Azhar [University, once an important center of Islamic learning], holds no sway over the world’s Muslim population, and Egypt’s cultural decline leaves it with limited soft-power capabilities [to influence] Arabic-speaking peoples. From Syria to Yemen and even in neighboring Libya, Egypt has lost its ability to impact its surroundings. Even regional allies are growing frustrated with Egypt and its president. Those in the Gulf dreaming of Egypt becoming a counterweight to Iran are realizing the futility of their investments. [Above all], Egypt is increasingly deteriorating under the weight of its own troubles. . . .
Egypt . . . may no longer be a contestant for regional hegemony, but it is today the primary contested prize in a struggle over the region’s future. . . . The collapse of Egypt—with its population of 92-million—would lead to a refugee crisis of historic proportions. No one wants a Somalia on the Nile, a Libya on Israel’s borders, or a Syria in control of the Suez Canal, the United States least of all.
But if this scenario is to be averted, the U.S. needs to adjust its policies accordingly. The United States should no longer base its policy on an Egypt that no longer exists. U.S. interests in Egypt are no longer maintaining the peace treaty [with Israel] or passage in the Suez Canal, but rather strengthening state institutions to make sure a regime collapse does not lead to a state collapse. Instead of focusing on military cooperation, the United States needs to develop a new partnership with Egypt that addresses the growing terrorist threat in the country, the collapse of the rule of law, failed economic policies, the educational vacuum, and the growing sectarian hatreds that threaten the fate of the Middle East’s largest Christian community.