Foreign Affairs Plus: Egypt in Crisis

As analysts debate the causes of the protests sweeping Egypt and the future of the country, Foreign Affairs is pleased to bring you select articles from our archives to capture how the past four decades of Egyptian politics appeared in real time -- and why, as Fouad Ajami put it in 1995, "at the heart of Egyptian life there lies a terrible sense of disappointment [out of which] a powerful wave of nostalgia has emerged for the liberal interlude in Egyptian politics . . . for its vibrant political life, for the lively press of the time, for the elite culture with its literati and artists, for its outspoken, emancipated women who had carved a place for themselves in the country's politics, culture, and journalism."

The following digital reprints are available for download as PDFs.

"Where Egypt Stands." By Anwar el-Sadat. Foreign Affairs 51, no 1 (1972): 114-23.
"The War and the Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict." By Nadav Safran. Foreign Affairs 52, no 2 (1974): 215-36.
"Egyptian Foreign Policy." By Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. Foreign Affairs 56, no 4 (1978): 714-27.

In 1970, when Anwar el-Sadat succeeded Egypt's first president, Gamel Abdel Nasser, he inherited a nation still searching for its position in the Middle East and the world. Writing for Foreign Affairs in 1972, he wrote of the three principles Egypt should uphold: freedom, socialism, and unity. For Sadat, this meant ridding the country of foreign influence, pursuing economic growth while promoting public services, and fostering solidarity with other Arab nations. This, according to him, would create a future in the Middle East "of justice and of peace in coöperation." A year later, of course, Egypt had fought and lost a war with Israel. Nadav Safran, then the director of Harvard's Middle Eastern Studies Program, wrote that the future of the region would depend on whether Egypt's moderates, who would enforce the terms of the peace negotiation, or Egypt's militants, who would not, would prevail. By the summer of 1978, it appeared that the moderates were generally in control. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, who was the former editor of Al Ahram, charted this evolution in modern Egyptian foreign policy -- from Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, to Sadat's expulsion of the Soviets from Egypt in 1972, through three wars with Israel, to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977.

"The Middle East: The Foreign Policy of Egypt in the Post-Sadat Era." By Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Foreign Affairs 60, no 4 (1982): 769-88.
"Egypt's Crisis, America's Dilemma." By Paul Jabber. Foreign Affairs 64, no 5 (1986): 960-80.
"The Battle for Egypt." By Stanley Reed. Foreign Affairs 72, no 4 (1993): 94-107.
"The Sorrows of Egypt: A Tale of Two Men." By Fouad Ajami. Foreign Affairs 74, no 5 (1995): 72-88.

Coming to power in 1981, President Hosni Mubarak had a difficult path to walk. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote that Mubarak would have to find a balance among keeping peace with Israel, containing future Israeli settlements, and maintaining good relations with Egypt's Arab neighbors. The key, he argued, was to resolve the Palestinian problem. At home, meanwhile, Egypt faced a major economic crisis that threatened to undo Mubarak if he did not pursue reform. But that would be hard, wrote Paul Jabber, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The military and the newly wealthy, who had a great stake in the current system, would be loath to see it go. Still, economic and social unrest were creating another problem: the rise of Islamists. By 1993, wrote Stanley Reed, Business Week's foreign columnist, "Egypt's usual calm [had] been shattered" and new clashes between the Islamists and the government were occurring on a daily basis. Mubarak managed to hold onto power, but his victory did not come cheap. Fouad Ajami, then a professor at Johns Hopkins University, described the mood in Egypt: "The country feels trapped, cheated, and shortchanged in the battle between an inept, authoritarian state and a theocratic fringe." For another decade and a half, not much changed.


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