Friday, July 19

Eygpt: between Scylla and Charybdis

Egypt, under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, finds itself ensnared in a profound dilemma, reminiscent of the legendary Scylla and Charybdis.

On one side lies the threat of internal upheaval, fuelled by a populace incensed over perceived government complicity with Israel; on the other, the complex web of international relations and economic dependencies that tether Egypt to Western powers. This conundrum, emblematic of the broader Middle Eastern quagmire, is a stark reminder of the delicate balancing act required in navigating the modern geopolitical landscape.

The situation is dire, as highlighted by The Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the potential for the Gaza war to incite a popular revolt in Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world. Recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations, though small in scale, have sent ripples of anxiety through the corridors of power. Security officials are particularly alarmed, fearing that the simmering public discontent could erupt into widespread dissent, threatening the stability of al-Sisi’s regime.

The palpable tension was on full display during the funeral of an Egyptian soldier killed by Israel in an accidental exchange of fire. An imam, leading the mourners, invoked fervent prayers against the “Zionist traitors” and extolled the “mujahedeen of Palestine.” This scene, captured on a livestream, underscores the deep-seated resentment harbored by many Egyptians towards Israel. It is a sentiment that cannot be viewed in isolation from the nation’s economic woes.

Egypt’s economy is in a precarious state. Recent measures, including the devaluation of the currency and a hike in subsidized bread prices, have hit the working class and poor Egyptians particularly hard. These economic pressures exacerbate the public’s anger, creating a volatile mix of socio-economic and political grievances.

The capture of the Rafah Crossing by Israel and the subsequent accidental deaths of two Egyptian soldiers have only added to the national humiliation. Reports suggest that Egypt is accused of undermining talks and allowing the construction of tunnels within its territory, further straining its relationship with Israel. These incidents highlight the fragility of Egypt’s position on the regional stage.

Yet, Egypt’s hands are tied. The country is heavily dependent on the United States for military support and on the European Union for economic aid. This reliance renders military confrontation with Israel an untenable option. The Wall Street Journal notes that despite issuing veiled threats, Egypt has ruled out direct military action and instead adopted a containment strategy. This approach involves increasing pressure on Israel through diplomatic and economic means, a calculated effort to achieve its goals without resorting to armed conflict.

One of the key tactics in this containment strategy has been Egypt’s decision to halt the flow of aid through the Rafah Crossing. Additionally, Egypt has thrown its support behind an International Court of Justice case against Israel. These actions are part of a broader effort to assert its influence and demonstrate its discontent with Israeli policies. However, should these measures fail to yield the desired results, Egyptian officials have hinted at the possibility of a complete freeze in relations with Israel.

The United States, acutely aware of the potential fallout, has stepped in to mediate. President Biden has reportedly warned President Sisi that failure to resume aid deliveries through Rafah could lead to public criticism from the U.S. This intervention underscores the high stakes involved. The U.S. and Israel cannot afford to see the erosion of the 1979 Peace Agreement, a cornerstone of American foreign policy success in the Middle East.

This historic accord, which brought a semblance of stability to a region fraught with conflict, remains one of the few enduring achievements in Middle Eastern diplomacy. Any threat to this agreement is perceived as a potential unraveling of decades of diplomatic efforts. Thus, the current tensions between Egypt and Israel are not just a bilateral issue but a critical concern for U.S. foreign policy.

In this context, Egypt’s predicament is emblematic of the broader challenges faced by many Middle Eastern nations. The intricate interplay of domestic pressures and international alliances creates a landscape where the margin for error is perilously thin. For al-Sisi, maintaining the delicate balance between appeasing his population and preserving crucial international relationships is a task of Herculean proportions.

The hope is that through careful navigation, the al-Sisi government can mitigate internal dissent while avoiding a catastrophic breakdown in relations with Israel. The eyes of the world remain fixed on this unfolding drama, aware that its outcome could have far-reaching implications for the entire region.