CAIRO -- Following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt seems poised to pursue a more independent foreign policy in the Middle East. But as Cairo prepares to change course from Mubarak's unblinking adherence to the region's pro-U.S. bloc, Saudi Arabia can be expected to do its best to prevent both the current military leadership and any future civilian government from disrupting the status quo. Riyadh, whose first concern is blocking the expansion of Iranian influence, has an arsenal of political, economic and social tools to keep Egypt in check.
Saudi Arabia's rulers, long accustomed to dealing with Mubarak's autocratic regime, now face an Egyptian leadership that must satisfy a population hungry for substantial, sustained political change. That extends into the international arena, where it will entail revising Mubarak's deeply unpopular policies, including close cooperation with Israel and the United States. Many Egyptians long for the days when Cairo was a regional powerhouse. Presidential candidates are already playing on these themes, with Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa and others promising to "restore" Egypt's influence.
While the success of the popular uprising may have already improved Cairo's sway in the Arab world -- the populations of Yemen, Libya and Syria surely took note -- the government is still making substantial readjustments to its foreign policy to satisfy the public. The fact that Egypt was willing to broker the recent Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal suggests the shape of some of the changes to come.