This code has expired and is no longer valid

Egypt’s Weakness Under Sisi Is a Liability for the Middle East

Egypt’s Weakness Under Sisi Is a Liability for the Middle East
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a session of the U.N. COP28 Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 1, 2023 (photo by Jakub Porzycki for NurPhoto via AP Images).

After years of political turmoil and economic malaise, the time when the world looked to Egypt as a source of political inspiration can seem like ancient history. Yet as recently as 13 years ago, the dynamism expressed through Egyptian mass protests that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt regime generated hope that the Arab world’s most populous state was on the cusp of a democratic golden age. The way Egypt’s revolt in January 2011 then attracted global attention reflected the country’s regional influence, buoyed by the charisma of past leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.

More recently, however, the autocratic regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been unable to do anything more than react to crises around Egypt’s borders, generating a strategic vacuum that more disruptive actors have been willing to fill. Facing a severe economic crisis compounded by the Sisi regime’s incompetence, Egypt has become dependent on funding from Gulf states and bailouts from the International Monetary Fund, constraining Cairo’s ability to adopt a more assertive approach toward regional conflicts. With concerns growing over Egypt’s own stability, Cairo’s inability to play a substantial geopolitical role creates a vicious cycle, increasing the likelihood that the chaos around it further exacerbates Egypt’s own internal problems.  

It is not easy to pinpoint the exact moment when Egypt began to lose its position of regional pre-eminence. Nasser achieved a position of global leadership during the Cold War through the Non-Aligned Movement and his defiance of French and British imperial intervention during the Suez crisis of 1956. But his own failed military adventure in Yemen and the collapse of his attempt to unify Egypt with Syria in the early 1960s marked a first major setback. The humiliating defeat against Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and the growing economic reach that Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and other oil-producing states achieved in the decade that followed also diminished Egypt’s ability to shape the regional order.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.