Foreign policy is traditionally not a focal issue of interest for the mass of American voters, and this campaign is no exception, with a Republican candidate whose interest in and knowledge of foreign affairs, including the Middle East is sub-zero, and a Democratic candidate, a former Secretary Of State, whose ideas about the Middle East, as were presented in the Presidential debates indicate deep detachment from realities. It is a sorry state of affairs, as regional issues will pile up on the desk at the Oval Office, not waiting to the formal inauguration on January 20 2017, and very prominent among them will be the Middle East with its myriad of conflicts. When dealing with the Middle East during the debates, there was no mention of Egypt,and this was a stark omission considering Egypt's centrality in Middle East politics.
It is the size of the population [90 million and counting], it is the role of Egypt in modern Arab politics, including being the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother of all the current Jihadist movements and in the rise of Pan-Arabism,the turn to the Soviet Union in the 1950's, and last, but surely not least, the Peace Treaty and on-going peace relations with Israel. Egypt is the most important Arab country in the Middle East, and consequently Egypt's near- falling to the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011-2013, could be the ONE most significant development turning the Arab Spring into an unstoppable Islamist tidal wave. Not that the early manifestations of the Arab Spring lived up to the initial talks about a new dawn of democracy in the Middle East, far from it, but Egypt being Islamist could have been an apocalypse now. This was averted through a coup d'etat, led by the Egyptian Army under then General, current President Al-Sisi Coup d'etat is not something to be cherished, but the one plus year of Muslim Brotherhood Presidency, under Muhammad Mursi was by far a less cherished situation. Ask the Christian Copts, for example, but not just them. Let us be blatantly honest here -the Egyptian Army intervened with an iron fist in order to save Egypt from complete chaos, and while it was not the stated aim of Al-Sisi and his colleagues, they saved the Middle East from a complete regional chaos. Anyone who thinks that we are witnessing now the pinnacle of mayhem in the Middle East, then think again. It could be far worse and can still be. Egypt is in bad economic shape, in fact, on the verge of an economic collapse, and this situation presents President Al-Sisi with a mortal threat. His regime can be the victim of popular discontent, and if it happens, the Middle East will be in big trouble with the reverberations strongly felt in Washington, DC.
President Al-Sisi was deemed a great Egyptian reformer, in the tradition of earlier great Egyptian leaders, such as Muhammad Ali, Gamal Abd Al Nasser and Anwar Sadat, and the expectations were predicated on solid ground. He dared speak in public about the Jihadist Islam in a way unheard of before, he greatly and publicly improved the relations with Israel, he spoke about the need for economic liberalization, and altogether seemed to be focussed on solving domestic issues which seemed to be in the basis of the popular protest against both Mubarrak and Mursi, but things went wrong. The economy is fast deteriorating, with dramatic devaluation of the Egyptian currency, shortages of foodstuffs, major decline in tourism, as a result of the continuing terror campaign in the Sinai Peninsula, the core of the very vital tourist industry. The downing of the Russian plane and the on-going battles with Jihadists distance tourists from Egypt. These are immediate problems, which Al-Sisi seems unable to resolve. a To add up to this, the fundamentally structural economic problems, emanating from the population growth the massive urbanization and lack of employment opportunities for educated young professionals, and we get a very grim picture. Egypt needs international support, and the sooner the better.
The much-talked about agreement with the International Monetary Fund has to be signed quickly, and under conditions which will not compromise political stability in Egypt. The EU has to get engaged, and surely the US. The Obama Administration showed the cold shoulder to Al-Sisi, somehow being fascinated with the Muslim Brotherhood Al Mursi. The new administration, most likely, the Hillary Clinton Administration, should arrange emergency assistance to Egypt, and alongside them Saudi -Arabia and the other Gulf States should open their pockets. The survival of Al-Sisi is their utmost interest, and the price to pay for that, cannot be too cheap. Also Israel can assist in ways, which by necessity should remain discreet, but it is its supreme national security interest to do it, and when there is an interest and a will, there will be found the way.
Here is at least one formidable challenge to the new President. Many are already here, others will come up, but Egypt should be very high on the list of priorities.