Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Egypt's New Foreign Policy

Although the balance of power within Egyptian domestic politics is still very much up in the air, Egypt's post-revolutionary foreign policy is beginning to crystallize. Egypt's foreign policy under Mubarak played a somewhat minor - if any - role in fomenting the flames of revolution back in January and February. Certainly there was some modicum of popular discontent with the Mubarak regime's alliance with Israel and the United States, but these concerns certainly did not drive the revolution that forced Mubarak from power.

Egypt's foreign policy under the transitional government is breaking somewhat from the old alliances forged by the Mubarak regime. The most ovbious indicator of this break from the past is Egypt's role in negotiating a deal between Fatah and Hamas two weeks ago. Egypt had been attemtping to midwife an agreement between the two Palestinian factions for four years to no avail. There were accusations that Egypt was not an honest broker throughout the process, as it allegedly favored Fatah at the expense of Hamas. Yet not three months after the Egyptian transitional government took power, an agreement was struck between Hamas and Fatah through Egyptian mediation. Though it's difficult to know exactly what made the reconciliation possible at this moment, one is led to believe that Egypt's shifting foreign policy goals helped facilitate an agreement.

Egypt has also indicated it is open to closer relations with Iran. Egypt and Iran have not enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1979, when Anwar Sadat provided refuge for the deposed Shah. Iranian cargo ships are now allowed to pass through the Suez Canal, and there are even rumors that both countries are seeking to restore diplomatic relations and return their ambassadors.

The emerging strategic calculus on the part of the post-revolutionary Egyptian government is not entirely surprising. Throughout the last decade, many within Egypt have voiced dissatisfaction with its alliance with Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia. Many claimed that these alliances limited Egypt's foreign policy options. It also arguably opened the door for countries like Turkey and Qatar to cement their status as independent mediators. As a consequence, these countries have acquired influence at Egypt's expense. How interesting, then, to see Turkey and Qatar invited to Cairo to share in the official announcement of Palestinian reconciliation two weeks ago. Of course, Egypt's options will be perpetually limited in a way that Turkey and Qatar's are not. As we were reminded time and time again throughout news coverage of Egypt's revolution, Egypt receives over $2 billion annually in US aid. Thus, there will surely be limits to Egyptian overtures to Iran and Hamas.

***I expect this to be my last blog entry, as I am graduating in a week. It's been a pleasure blogging for the department throughout the last two years. I'd like to thank Nadia Khalaf for managing the blog, as well as all the others in the department who have made this blog possible. I would also like to thank the readers. As for me, today I begin my long walk off into the sunset.

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