Why Egypt’s soft power has dwindled away
We Egyptians believe that we are entitled to play a leading role in every conflict in our region — but we do not think about what we can bring to the table as much as we do about securing a permanent seat at every table. Sadly, the Egyptian state has not yet realized that its political leverage in the region has almost disappeared.
The recent meeting in Paris hosted by the French President Emmanuel Macron for leaders of the conflicting political parties in Libya, to which Egypt was not invited, was a clear sign of our declining political role in the region, a role already weakened with the appointment a few weeks earlier of a former Lebanese minister as UN envoy to Libya.
I, and probably many Egyptians, belong to an old-fashioned and unrealistic school; we believe that, using its soft power, Egypt should take the lead in resolving all conflicts in our region. Unfortunately, the Egyptian state often dampens our aspirations by insisting on applying its outdated political thinking pattern.
If the Egyptian state today were to apply the proverb, “first deserve, then desire,” it would immediately become aware of its shrinking influence. Presuming to still possess the same degree of valid leverage, we overemphasize our political desires, neglecting to accurately assess our capabilities or to consider whether the solutions we bring to the table are even remotely acceptable to the conflicting parties. Our insistence on advocating from our perspective instead of playing a mediating role has shrunk Egypt’s political standing in the region; once recognized as a strong regional power, we are viewed today as a clearly biased party.
Our political activities in the region are shaped by our internal political dynamic and our bias toward our own viewpoints, causing us to perceive regional conflicts in the form of “Us v Them.”
With good reason, the Egyptian state does not want the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates to assume power in any of the region’s countries, period. Nevertheless, political Islamists have managed to gain a solid footing in many nations, which they would not give up easily, and some countries have integrated versions of political Islam into their governing mechanisms.
Our internal political dynamic has negatively affected our soft power capacity. By appointing exceptional state executives to undertake these tasks, Egypt used to be able to formulate constructive resolutions to political struggles and to persuade the conflicting parties to accept them. Most importantly, all parties were fully confident that Egypt had studied the conflict thoroughly and conceived the most suitable proposition for resolving it.
The region once looked to leaders such as Hosni Mubarak for practical solutions to its problems, but Cairo now views issues solely through the prism of its own internal challenges.
The functionality of our “soft power pillars” substantially buttressed former President Hosni Mubarak’s regional and international weight; he was able to play a constructive mediating role in the region, receiving the blessings of most Arab nations and of key western countries with vested interests and strong leverage in the Middle East. Sadly, this effort has almost vanished. The strings we used to manipulate have become quite fragile, and we are steadily becoming marginalized in the region that we used to lead.
By default, any nation’s power and leverage go through periods of ups and downs. Our present shortcomings, which have caused us to hit political rock bottom, lie in our misperception of current regional dynamics, of why conflicts have emerged and how they can be settled. Framing ourselves in an “Us v Them” situation has diminished our status; they are working to strengthen their position and we are being weakened because we listen only to ourselves.
Strength is better expressed inside out. Egypt can easily regain its political leverage in the region, starting by adopting a new domestic stance geared toward easing existing internal political tensions, re-establishing lost political pillars and relying on true experts rather than on sycophants. We must comprehend that, for better or worse, we cannot impose the political structure that we have applied in Egypt on other nations. We need instead to offer regional propositions that meet the needs of the current political dynamics of other nations — even if they contradict our desires.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir
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