‘Whatever happened to Egypt’? The American official exclaiming in dismay at Egypt’s stunning diminishing regional role in recent years. He was lamenting what he termed Egypt’s retrenchment from its previous status as the Arab world’s political powerhouse that exercised regional leadership, influencing and shaping events and mediating conflicts. Egypt’s role in those bygone years as a regional influential was supplemented by what we can call now a huge reservoir of ‘soft power’. Egypt’s intellectuals, novelists, musicians and artists created pioneering and experimental works in fiction, and theatre, edgy cinema and re-invigorated classic Arabic music by creatively incorporating western instruments and styles. Cairo inspired and Alexandria enchanted generations of Arabs in modern times.
The lament came in the context of a conversation about the utter failure of Arab states and societies to extinguish the fires of civil wars and sectarian strife that threatens the very being of some states like Syria and Iraq, and the growing, and at times suffocating influences of regional powers like Iran and Turkey in shaping and maybe determining the future of these majority Arab states. For generations Egypt was a political and cultural power to be reckoned with in the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to its immediate African environment. But today Egypt is not in the same league as Israel, Turkey and Iran. Egypt can barely shield itself from the chaos of Libya, and unable to influence Gaza on its border except by shutting the crossings. Under Mubarak, Egypt was stagnant. Since his political demise, Egypt has been a drift.
Under Mubarak, Egypt was stagnant. Since his political demise, Egypt has been a driftHisham Melhem