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Egypt Is No Longer the Lodestar for the Arab World. But It Still Matters

March 20 2017

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.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Arab World, Camp David Accords, Egypt, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA