Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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The Last Great Myth About Egypt

by Steven A. Cook
July 22, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Monday, July 21, 2014.

In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger fell in love with Anwar Sadat. To Kissinger, the Egyptian president “had the wisdom and courage of the statesman and occasionally the insight of the prophet.” It was from this romance that a set of ideas about Egypt became inculcated in American Middle East policy: Egypt would be a bulwark against the Soviet Union, a base from which U.S. forces would launch in the event of a crisis in the Persian Gulf, and a mediator between Arabs — especially the Palestinians — and Israelis.

Of these, only the last remains relevant to contemporary U.S. policy. It is, however, nothing more than a myth that American officials and analysts tell each other. Kissinger’s hagiography of Sadat notwithstanding, the Egyptians have never been the effective, impartial negotiators that Americans expect them to be.

As Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” nears its second week, with hundreds of lives lost, what are the Egyptians up to? They’re doing pretty much what they always do — looking out for themselves. For all the dramatic changes in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s fall, the Egyptian military and intelligence services view Gaza in much the same way they have for the better part of the previous decade or more. They want to keep the Palestinians, especially Hamas, in a box, prevent the conflict from destabilizing the Sinai Peninsula, ensure that the Gaza Strip remains principally an Israeli responsibility, and exclude other regional players from a role in Gaza.

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