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Strategic Posture Review: Egypt

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

Egyptians like to say that their country is Umm al Dunya, or "the Mother of the World," and that, as the crucible of a great civilization dating back 7,000 years, its natural place is among both regional and global powers. In many ways, the boast is entirely accurate.  By dint of its history, geography, and demography, Egypt has played a central role in Middle East politics and security policy since World War I. Successive global powers such as Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, most recently, the United States have come to regard Egypt as an indispensable asset for achieving their regional and global ambitions.  The Suez Canal remains critical to the security of the Persian Gulf and its vast energy reserves, as well as to global trade. Egypt also maintains the region's largest and most powerful Arab military.  In addition, at approximately 80 million citizens, almost one in four Arabs is Egyptian.

Beyond these hard-power indicators, however, Egypt has historically maintained a reservoir of soft power that has had a profound influence on the politics of the region and beyond.  Consequently, for the better part of the last three decades, Egypt has been a pillar of the United States' Middle East policy.  Cairo -- along with Riyadh as well as junior partners in Rabat, Amman, and the small Gulf states -- has helped create a regional political order that has made the pursuit of U.S. objectives in the Middle East -- namely, the free flow of oil, Israel's security, preventing other external powers from becoming influential, and confronting rogue states -- relatively less expensive. The question remains, however, whether Egypt will continue to be able to play this influential role as other regional powers emerge and domestic problems increasingly buffet the country. ...

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