Amid the intense and violent debate that engulfs Egypt on every crisis, whether it is economic, political or the result of acts of violence or terror, we can observe this time with that the ongoing discussions arise from mental images regarding Egypt and the region that are not compatible with reality.
It goes back, mostly, to the 1950s and 1960s, when Egypt was living in the heyday of the July Revolution, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, and had embarked on a promising process towards development and industrialisation. It was also a part of the Non-Alignment Movement, it supported liberation movements in Africa, and played a major role in the founding of the Organisation of African Unity.
Cairo’s discourse and the calls it issued through its superior media at the time found listening ears in all parts of the Arab world, from the Atlantic Ocean to the compromising Gulf, as it was said at the time. It even reached broader horizons and wider ranges in Africa and the Third World.
Since then lot of water has passed through the river. A world order based on two superpowers and the Cold War between the USA and the USSR has changed. This change has enabled Egypt to manoeuvre and provided it with alternatives. We are now living in the phase of America as the sole superpower.
In the same context, the region and the Arab world changed as the oil flows drew new maps of wealth and influence. Moreover, the Palestinian cause, so often dubbed the central issue of the Arab world, is no longer such.
The maps threatening the Arab world as a regional system or the national interests of each country have been subject to deletion and addition. Sometimes confusion was rife, to the extent that there was no general consensus on who is the enemy and who is the friend.
As for the domestic front, and this is the most important point, the political and also the economic situation and orientation in Egypt changed during the rule of Sadat and Mubarak. This has resulted in much confusion and distortions in the economic structure and the social fabric.
On the international stage, Egypt’s role began to decline and withdraw, giving space to other rising countries, some of which relied on existent or imaginary foundations, others driven by delusions and the search for stature attempting to play proxy roles on behalf of powers outside the region. Ambition and presence were transformed into a tool of destruction instead of being a support for a nation and its causes.
In this context, it is a duty now to be honest with ourselves. After two big revolutions and after the collapse of the entire confused and mixed-up situation that continued for four decades due to the patience and perseverance of this great people, it is not possible to carry on laying out future plans while our ideas are based on mental images that don’t exist in reality. All the circumstances and actors have changed.
Thus, we have to closely look at our situation in order to read it accurately, and to have comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the challenges, threats, and also the available opportunities. This entails redefining our interests correctly and measuring all our steps in an objective and balanced way.
The economic reformation has an exorbitant cost. It is unfair to make the disadvantaged classes bear the cost alone while their back is against the wall. Abroad we shouldn’t talk in a haphazard vague way but we have to be courageous enough to accurately redefine our interests. This in turn will result in re-setting of our objectives and as a result our plans of action.
The writer is head of the Nile Basin Studies Department at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.