Is Egypt able to compete regionally with the leading roles of Turkey, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia? Is the country capable of taking effective action at the international level?
The most interesting, or rather reassuring, aspect of the new Egyptian president's rhetoric is his clear awareness of the need to confirm the strong nature of the Egyptian state, without ambiguity and without any guilt placed on the state in Egypt. The state is the historical and present "ancient body" of Egypt, and it alone is the leader of any desired transformation.
For the first time, and in a rare instance of such clarity, the Egyptian president said: "The Egyptian state has prevented a civil war."
This is a great achievement at a time when states directly surrounding Egypt are collapsing. For this reason, the majority of the Egyptian people, with their deep-rooted peaceful culture, stood behind the army to prevent collapse … and the bet succeeded.
But preventing civil war is one thing, and Egypt's "return" is something else.
First, I will discuss the concept of "return."
In his speech on June 9, and even before, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi repeatedly tried to say that there is no returning to the time before Jan. 25, 2011. He stressed that his era is the result of the Tahrir Square Revolutions of Jan. 25, 2011, and June 30, 2013. We should believe him, as the civilian elite — and especially the youth — supported him so that the transformation would go in this direction, and not as many — particularly in the West — claimed that what happened was a rebound from the Jan. 25 Revolution and a return to the "security state" in its negative, not positive, meaning. This will depend on if President Sisi can prove [his presidency] is in the favor of Egypt's future.
Secondly, if we are talking about the "return of Egypt," what is it returning to?
What is agreed upon is that the "return of Egypt" means its return to being powerful both internally and externally. But this definition is not enough, given that it is very general. It is not enough to clarify, even when it comes to states that have a greater influence and presence, such as France or the United States. In our modern world, when it comes to a state besieged by a number of problems and that has suffered blows from inside and out, how can there be a huge project to build a new Egypt while it still maintains external influence based on the nationalist conceptions of the 1950s and 1960s, not democratic concepts? The time for such concepts is over, and 21st century Egypt is in need of a different approach.
In this sense, even though the will for reform and change was very clear in President Sisi's speech, the "change project" is not merely a test at the internal level. Rather, it requires time to measure its effectiveness and whether or not it is capable of achieving a radical difference compared to what preceded it. Moreover, this project is not clear at the external level. This concerns us in the Arab world, and this is what is meant by goodwill intentions from various regions of the Arab World demanding the "return" of Egypt.
Is this "Egypt" capable of a "return" in the sense that is desired by Arab elites, i.e., an Egypt that is a leader in the region and for the region, both in terms of the state and the elite, and culturally, economically, politically and religiously? Is this Egypt able to "return," or should we begin getting accustomed to the Egypt we currently know, which will not live up to our expectations? In other words, is this Egypt capable of competing regionally with the leading roles of Turkey, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia? Is the country capable of taking effective action at the international level, in light of the realities of the modern world that make the "geoeconomic" the one controlling the "geopolitical," and not vice versa?
Even if we fell back on another, less difficult meaning for the "return" of leadership — namely in the sense that it is independent of regional forces, despite the correlations between them — could Egypt maintain regional independence, not to mention international independence?
All of these are vital and serious questions for the region and for Egypt. But whatever the answers, the first and most vital thing needed for us to sense a "return" of Egypt is for its new leadership to start helping address what it did to Egypt by formulating a policy that will save — or contribute to saving — our states from the collapse they are facing and halt the civil wars.
This is the first, most noble and most effective test regarding Egypt's "return."
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