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23 June 2007

Egypt - Is it Still a Regional Leader?

We were taught in schools that Egypt is the leader of the Arabs and their big brother with its bzillion years history and wise role. But, is this still true now!? In fact I think the Egyptian leadership has shrank due to many reasons.

Some may claim that Mubarak's regime is focused on some minor internal affairs such as preparing his son Gamal to succeed him. And this is the main reason that Egypt has lost its regional place.
"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime has focused much of its energy on ensuring its continuation. Egypt has entered a period of political uncertainty; given Mubarak's advanced age (he turned 79 in May) and deteriorating health, the president could either die or become incapacitated in the course of the next year. Mubarak's absence would destabilize the country's political system, as questions would arise about his potential successor's ability to govern as effectively as he has. Thus, Mubarak is working assiduously to hand over the reins of power to his son, Gamal", Intelli-Briefs.

Soft Power.

To be honest, I do not think this is the only - or even a major - reason. Let me first define what is soft power.
"The basic concept of power is the ability to influence others to get them to do what you want. There are three major ways to do that: one is to threaten them with sticks; the second is to pay them with carrots; the third is to attract them or co-opt them, so that they want what you want. If you can get others to be attracted, to want what you want, it costs you much less in carrots and sticks", Soft Power, Wikipedia

"Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will", Joseph S. Nye Jr., The International Herald Tribune.

So you can sometimes use the Media or any other source of advertisement in order to affect the others and capture their minds and let them want what you want, and do what you want them to do.

Another concept that we may need to define here is " The Sphere of Influence"
"A sphere of influence (SOI) is an area or region over which an organization or state exerts some kind of indirect cultural, economic, military or political domination. Also, in some areas of habitation, shopping or retail outlets or indeed destination outlets, have a sphere of influence over towns of certain areas. A country within the "sphere of influence" of another more powerful country may become a subsidiary of that state and serve in effect as a satellite state or de facto colony", Sphere of Influence, Wikipedia.

The Death of One Leader, and the Birth of Another One.

In order to unite the neighboring countries, Gamal Abdel Nasser called for a pan-Arabian unity, where he focused more on the ethnic (Arabic) characteristic of those countries. He supported the revolutions there and one of his goals was to have neighboring countries with similar secular and social ideologies in order to position those countries within the Egyptian sphere of influence hence obtain a leadership position among them. Radio stations such as Sot El Arab (Voice of Arabs) were established in order to help in spreading Nasser's propaganda. Then it was 1967 when the Arabic armies were defeated under the leadership of Egypt, and the idea of pan-Arabian unity became more foggy. During that war, Ahmed Said of Sout El-Arab famous incident when claimed that we were kicking the Israeli Army's ass and later on people realized that he was bluffing. Such incident and many similar ones made such pan-Arabian media looses its credibility. Twelve years later President Anwar El Sadat sign a peace agreement with Israel, and Egypt's membership in the Arab League was suspended for about 10 years.

On the other hand, many others believed in a religious-based instead on an ethnic-based unity. You can take the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudia as examples. During the 70's Saudia started to market their own version of Islam (the Wahabism), either by printing low-price books, or by sponsoring preachers and scholars across the Arab word. Many people went to work in Saudia especially because of the high standard of living there, thanks to the oil explorations there. The presence of Holy Mecca there made people see them as the only infallible source of Islam. It was even normal to see people here in Egypt wearing the Saudian dress (Jalabiya), and listening to Quraan reciters from the Gulf area instead of the famous Egyptian ones like Mohamed Refaat and Abdel Basset. Several books and fatwas were produced targeting the major Egyptian symbols. "Nagib Mahfooz is Kafir", "So is Taha Hussein", etc. Cinema, theater, and various forms of art were attacked in the name of Islam, simply because this was of the main methods that Egypt used to spread its culture across its neighbors. And as a result Saudia started to emerge as an alternative Arab leader instead of Egypt, with a sphere of influence that covers most of the Sunni world.

[Updated] In fact the Egyptian government has committed many mistakes. First of all it helped in the spread of the Wahabism, because they wanted to benefit from their ideas about obeying the ruler regardless of his deeds. The government control over Al-Azhar which is also financially dependant on it helped in affecting its image and people started to loose trust in it as well, and accepted the Wahabism as the only alternative to Al-Azhar.[/Updated]
"First of all, I think the regime now plays a dangerous game for letting the Wahabism spread , [because] Wahabism calls to obey the ruler whether he was good or bad. Don't forget [that] this sect was spread in Arabia with the help of Britain in order to stand against Mohamed Ali and his influence. Another why it is spreading in Egypt, simply because now the people don't trust Al-Azhar because it follows the state", Zeinobia.

The CNN Effect.
"The CNN effect or factor refers to the process by which the coverage of foreign event by CNN causes that event to be a primary concern for its audiences, which in turn forces the federal government to act", Robinson, The CNN Effect.

Here in the Middle East there is Aljazeera effect instead of the the CNN effect. Aljazeera news channel started broadcasting in 1996, and since then it became the main source for news for both the Arab citizens as well as politicians. If you come down to the streets and ask people about their opinion in stuff such as the Iraqi Resistance, Hezbollah's war against Israel last summer, or even other local issues in their countries you will sure see Aljazeera effect in their answers. In 2002 another competing news channel Al-Arabiya started broadcasting with its own agenda too. CNN became what it is because they were able to have reporters behind the enemy lines during Gulf War I. They were able to cover the war from the battlefield. Aljazeera gained its position during Guld War II, and the fall of Baghdad. Now if we look at Egypt, it didn't try to have its own news channel in order to have its effect on the Arab streets. And please don't tell me that we have Nile News, because I am sure that no one watches it.

The Sticks and The Carrots.

Sure soft power is not enough. Even USA depends on its economics influence and military force all the time. So what about our sticks and carrots. Many Arab countries such as UAE and Saudia now have multi-billion dollars investments here in Egypt and for sure they can use such economical influence when needed. On the other hand I don't think Egypt has significant investments outside its borders. About the military force I am sure Egypt is supposed to have the biggest army in the region but since the last war that we were engaged in was more than 30 years ago, it is really hard to prove if we still have our sticks or they are broken now.

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