Egypt’s absence from the Middle East, my latest at LobeLog

Egypt is the largest Arab country by far (it’s more than double the size of Algeria, the second-largest). Owing partly to its size, it’s historically exerted considerable influence within the Arab World and the Middle East in general. But lately Egypt has been mostly absent from major conflicts that are pock-marking the region. It’s playing almost no role in Syria, only a small role in Yemen, and hasn’t even had much influence in neighboring Libya. My newest piece at LobeLog looks at Egypt’s subdued regional role, which owes mostly to its myriad domestic problems stemming back to the Arab Spring and the 2013 coup that put Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in power:

Sisi’s Egypt is in no position to take on any larger international or even regional role so long as it is beset by so many internal challenges. One challenge has been the Egyptian economy, which, while showing some signs of improvement, is still struggling to produce enough jobs to keep pace with population growth. Egypt has also been having difficulty attracting the level of foreign investment needed to support Sisi’s major infrastructure projects, like a plan announced in March to build a completely new capital city east of Cairo. Another challenge, albeit largely self-inflicted, is that Sisi’s international reputation has been adversely affected by reports of his government’s rampant human rights abuses.

But Egypt’s most difficult internal challenge is its precarious security situation. In the west, Cairo faces spillover from the conflict in Libya and in the east its open conflict with IS affiliate in Sinai. Cairo itself has seen numerous terror attacks, like the late-June car bombing that took the life of Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. Speaking at the Middle East Institute’s third annual Egypt conference in Washington last week, Abdel-Monem Said Aly of Cairo’s Regional Center for Strategic Studies argued that these internal security concerns directly hamper Egypt’s ability to play a bigger role outside its borders:

What I think, strategically, that Egypt can do [is] to recover first, in order to play a regional role, and we have to define that regional role—it takes a lot of societal thinking. Part of it is to be successful in Sinai, to provide an example to the rest of the world and the rest of the region.

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