Egyptian Foreign Policy After the Election

Letter From Cairo

Many things are up for grabs in this month's Egyptian parliamentary elections: the role of religion, the power of the military, and the emerging shape of Arab democracy. But one thing is not: Cairo's foreign policy. Washington believes that a secular victory would be good for U.S. interests and an Islamist win would be problematic. But no matter which party picks up the most seats in parliament, the new Egypt will be less compliant to U.S. demands and cultivate warmer relations with Iran.

Egypt's spring revolution was largely directed at former President Hosni Mubarak's failed domestic leadership. But Egyptians were fed up with his foreign policies as well. To maintain good ties with the United States and Israel, Mubarak had been reflexively hostile toward Iran and its allies -- Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria. In recent years, his hostility was ever more apparent. According to WikiLeaks cables released in 2010, Mubarak had even said that "Iranian influence was spreading like a cancer from the [Gulf Cooperation Council] to Morocco." He also reportedly gave Israel a green light to conduct its 2008 bombing raids on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It is telling that the Iranian regime named a street in Tehran in honor of the assassin who killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Egypt's alliance with Washington unnerved the Egyptian public. They felt that their country's standing in the Arab world was slipping, and that Mubarak was to blame. This grievance, however, remained largely hidden from view during the Tahrir Square protests. Demonstrators burned no foreign flags, for example, and they refrained from chants against the United States and Israel. They wanted Mubarak out, and that meant relentlessly harping on domestic issues, such as Egypt's massive unemployment problem, poor educational system, and lack of government services.

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