Egypt's popular triumph over the regime of Hosni Mubarak may alter Cairo's foreign policy -- and Washington's -- for the better.
Since the Camp David accord of 1979, Egypt has been forced to play a minor role in the region.
When President Anwar Sadat began planning the Camp David peace, he waged a strong campaign to persuade the Egyptian public of the merits of his "Egypt first" policy. There was no room in his scheme for the pan-Arabism of his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser.
When Mubarak acceded to the presidency after Sadat, he attached himself further to the American wheel, earning shortly thereafter the title of the greatest ally of the United States in the region after Israel.
Israel exploited every advantage accorded by the neutralization of the Egyptian 1 million-man army by waging war on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, by subjugating the Palestinians through two uprisings that began in 1987 and 2000 and by conducting an invasion of Gaza in 2009.
Yet Egypt never attempted to restrain or punish its Camp David ally in any manner. Instead, the Egyptians became silent partners in Israel's siege of Gaza and its policy of collective punishment against Gaza's civilian population.
When Israel moved to secure Gaza's exit points leading into the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt obliged. Mubarak signed two agreements midwifed by Condoleezza Rice in 2005 to fill the strategic vacuum resulting from Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He was even persuaded to borrow a leaf from the Israeli book by building a wall around his side of the Gaza border.
Egypt's alliance with Washington brought about a domestic system of cronyism and corruption. As the United States began to give Egypt about $2 billion in foreign aid every year, with $1.3 billion going to the military, the armed forces branched out into food production, transportation and construction companies. A new military-industrial complex was born.
One other aspect of Egypt's alliance with Washington was Mubarak's zeal in pursing the "war on terror." Egypt became a willing partner in "rendition," the American policy of outsourcing torture. Mubarak used the "war on terror" to fasten a 29-year-old system of emergency regulations. Independent candidates were jailed. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned from running in elections and became the bogeyman of Egyptian politics as a way to gain U.S. approval for Mubarak's extralegal methods.
Egypt's revolution should bring with it a reconsideration of its foreign policy, just as it should America's foreign policy.
Only when the United States finally embarks on accurately counting its gains and losses in the Middle East will there be a realization of the high price that America has paid for ignoring the wishes of the people of the region. For too long, the United States has been on a collision course with the legitimate aspirations of the Arab population.
With Mubarak gone -- and the public on the rise -- Washington can no longer afford such recklessness.
Ghada Hashem Talhami is D.K.Pearsons Professor of Politics at Lake Forest College. She is the author of several books on Egypt, the last two being "The Mobilization of Muslim Women in Egypt" and "Palestine in the Egyptian Press: From al-Ahram to al-Ahali." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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