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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

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society