Egypt’s comeback is a significant change in the region’s political landscape. Although Egypt used to be a regional power in the 19th and early 20th century, the country had to face the demise of its power and influence as a consequence of isolative policies, result of an increased – say, exaggerated – perception of self-importance and essentiality in the region. However, history proved that there is no essential role and no power without effort. Egypt has been trying to recover at least some of his former influence since Mubarak came to power, with not so much success. Yet, the recent events of the Arab Spring, and the ongoing regional turbulence practically deactivated the Syrian power factor, and gave space for Egypt to re-expand its power over the region.
With the political shift in Egyptian internal politics, that is, the coming to power of the religiously oriented Muslim Brotherhood under the presidency of Mohammed Mursi, Egypt is repositioning itself in the region, and appears as the Islamic conscience of the Arab people, and as champion of human rights – a role rivalling that of Turkey’s moderate Islamic politics.
Mursi has been supporting the Syrian uprising and the people’s efforts to dislodge Assad since his election and encourages the peaceful transition to a democratic system, and argues to be doing so as a moral duty and not as a religious conviction. This simple phrase dismantles the long-standing binary clause relative to the region: you speak for the Sryian people, then you side with the US-Saudi-Qatari design for the region, or you speak for the regime, and you join the criminal regime of Assad. Mursi has managed to speak his way out of this clause and presented himself as a moral champion of the region, protecting human and civil rights and standing up for democratic values.
In the same time, Mursi’s ethical commitment it not solely linked to the Syrian uprising, but also to the ongoing but less and less talked about crisis in Gaza, where the continuing clashes and violence leaves more and more dead on the ground. Support for the Palestinian people has always been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy; however, Egypt and Israel enjoyed a relatively stable, if not warm, relation that stabilised that part of the region. Yet, Mursi’s increasing commitment to support the Palestinian cause is likely to increase tensions between Egypt and Israel, in parallel to the strengthening of ties with Arab Islamic governments, including former rivals such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but also the North-African neighbours.
Egypt’s comeback as a new leader in the region is not only rivalling Turkey’s similar role, but endangering the Saudi position as the guardian of faith. And while some commitments would got Egypt closer to Iran, Mursi’s support for the Syrian revolution puts Egypt at odds with the Islamic Republic as per their political stance. This casts shadows on the unifying nature of Egypt’s comeback, and sheds light on the risk of ruptures among some countries, while also obviously pointing out new alignments in the region.
A great development as it may be for Egypt to reappear on the international scene in such a noble way, Mursi’s government should not forget to regularize the internal problems Egypt still faces, way after the dismantling of Mubarak. Economical problems and a steep decline of Egyptian currency goes along with ongoing protests of the still unsatisfied people.