Abstract

Revolutionary Egypt’s Relations with Surrounding States:  Internal Transformation, External Realignment and Regional Security

FRED LAWSON

Mills College

Egypt’s 2011 revolution reshaped both the domestic order and relations with neighboring states.  Shortly after Husni Mubarak’s ouster, Cairo embarked on a rapprochement with Iran, a country Egypt had kept at arm’s length after the removal of the Shah.  Egypt’s relations with Saudi Arabia, by contrast, cooled dramatically, prompting Riyad to interfere with the consolidation of liberal-democratic institutions following Mubarak’s departure.  Tensions escalated with Israel as well.  The shift in Egyptian-Israeli relations had important ramifications for Cairo’s dealings with rival Palestinian movements, as well as with the Turkish Republic.

This major reconfiguration of Egyptian foreign policy can be traced to popular attitudes that had been excluded from the decision-making process.  Public resentment against Zionism and sympathy for the Islamic Republic percolated into strategic and diplomatic affairs in unprecedented ways.  And struggles among domestic forces led Cairo to adopt postures that can be hard—if not impossible–to trace back to any coherent set of preferences.  Moreover, Egypt’s shifting foreign policies exhibit features found in other instances of interaction between post-revolutionary regimes and neighboring states.  Such dynamics underscore the threats that get generated during revolutionary processes and the interstate conflicts that arise as external actors respond.  Exploring the ongoing reconfiguration of Egypt’s strategic and diplomatic relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinians and Turkey improves our understanding of the complex connection between revolution and regional security.