Egypt’s Sorrows Aren’t Going Away

July 26 2018

Revisiting the historian Fouad Ajami’s 1995 essay “The Sorrows of Egypt,” Samuel Tadros finds that many, although not all, of its observations still hold true:

In 1995, Ajami accurately wrote that “it is no consolation to Egyptians that they have been spared the terror visited on less fortunate places like Syria or Iraq or the Sudan.” More than two decades later, [attitudes have changed]. Egyptians have tried the revolutionary dream [of the Arab Spring] and found it wanting. As they look around them, across the region there is nothing but misery. A common phrase heard in Egypt for the past few years captures the changed mentality: “Isn’t it better than being like Syria and Iraq?”. . .

Ajami [also] sensed early on [that] “Egypt’s primacy in Arab politics is a thing of the past.” . . . [The current president], Muhammed Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, recognizes the changed dynamics in the region. Ajami warned that “Egypt can no longer render services that are no longer in demand.” Nor for that matter can it offer services it is no longer capable of providing. So while Sisi has paid lip service to notions of Arab solidarity and promised Egyptian military support in case the Persian Gulf’s security is threatened, when the moment of truth came in Yemen, he backtracked, offering only minimal support for the Saudi coalition [to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels]. Egyptians had not forgotten what their Yemen adventure cost them in the 1960s, and no offer of Gulf financial support can change that.

Nor does the country have a role to play in countering Iran. Those dreaming of a Sunni alliance in which Egypt takes part are bound to be disappointed. Far from the sectarian divides of the Levant and the Gulf, the whole Sunni-Shiite competition is alien to a people who, while Sunni, plead for miracles at the mosques of [the early Shiite heroes] Hussein ibn Ali and Sayeda Zainab in Cairo.

As for Sisi himself, Tadros concludes:

Many observers would happily point to the country’s president as the reason for Egypt’s dismal state. Arabic speakers used to the stirring speeches of Gamal Abdel Nasser are confused by Sisi’s incoherent ramblings. . . . . More confusing for outsiders is the fact that he still enjoys widespread support. It is not simple resignation to the only available alternative that is at play here, nor is it mere toleration of a better condition than others, but rather genuine enthusiasm and support. For all his flaws, he has managed to strike a chord in his nation’s heart. Sisi is not the cause of Egypt’s sorrows, merely its inevitable product. The man who rules Egypt today is a mere reflection of the country’s state: his weaknesses shared, his illusions common, and his flaws its own.

Read more at Hoover Institution

More about: Egypt, Fouad Ajami, General Sisi, Hosni Mubarak, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy