GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Abba Omar
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Egypt’s relations with the Arab and Islamic worlds: what hope for a former hegemon?
Paper Proposal Text :
Egypt’s relations with the Arab and Islamic worlds: what hope for a former hegemon?
This paper would be looking at current manifestations of two key ideological currents in Egypt- Islamist and Arabist – and how these shape Egypt’s relations with the GCC. It shall be argued that Egypt’s secular and religious elite have enjoyed, at different points in the past sixty years, almost hegemonic sway over much of the Arab world and Sunni thinking. While the post-‘Arab Spring’ developments have shaken the foundations of that relationship, support by the GCC countries to Egypt is an attempt at restoring some of Egypt’s former role, albeit under new circumstances and on the basis of new terms.
Egypt under Sadat manifested the first thread of state-level nationalism. He borrowed heavily from Islam to buttress this nationalism. Other Arab states behaved in a similar manner in the name of their own national interests. Kramer (1993:183) suggests that ‘(B)y legitimizing themselves as states, they came that much closer to legitimizing Israel’.
Islamists make three key points in their critique of Arab nationalism. Firstly, that it broke the Islamic bond between Arabs and Turks. According to the Islamists they were rewarded for this by British betrayal in the creation of Israel. Secondly, by adopting foreign ideologies such as socialism, they abandoned their reliance on God. Thirdly, Arab nationalist rulers were vicious in their attacks against the Islamists – beating, imprisoning, and even killing some of their leading lights. The Islamists were particularly mobilized after Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. Their view was that the emergence of fragmented nation-states instead of a united Arab entity was seen as an opportunity for the emergence of a single community, the Islamic ummah. The Arab states responded to this incipient Islamism in different ways.
For example Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat tried to reduce the impact of the left, which threatened the post-Nasser state, by making peace with Islamist forces. The education system and society generally was Islamised under the leadership of the ‘praying President’. Even Egypt’s progressive constitution was amended: Article 2 made Shariah the main source of the nation’s laws. Similarly King Faizal of Saudi Arabia backed the spread of the conservative version of Sunni Islam, Wahabism, within his own borders as well as throughout the international Muslim community.

Hosni Mubarak’s succession in October 1981 occurred in the context of a very different world to that in which Nasser had played a leading role. It was a period marked by the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the US’s emergence as the single superpower and then the rise of China as an economic powerhouse. His presidency spanned Sept11 and its aftermath.

While taking the above as the context, the paper shall look at how Egypt has played a significant role in the Arab world as well as the Islamic world. As far as the former is concerned, it shall look at its role in the spheres of culture and international politics. In doing so it shall trace the evolution of its relations with the GCC in particular and how that relationship produced a mutually beneficially outcome. The ways in which the Arab/Israel question was defined is an important part of this relationship. In terms of the latter it shall especially look at the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in relation to similar Islamist groupings. Within this context, the position of Al Azhar University and Egypt’s relations with Iran and the Shiite ecclesiastical order is important.

On the basis of that background the paper shall look at the fortunes of the two contending forces – secular and religious – since the uprisings of Tahrir Square. It shall be the paper’s contention that the situation remains very fluid and that policymakers in the GCC should be considering a variety of scenarios when determining their future relations with Egypt. The paper shall conclude by sketching some of these scenarios and their implications