Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.
Revolutions have consequences, but not always where you might expect. For now, Egypt is not a democracy. The country is governed not by revolutionaries but by a military that was the backbone of the old regime. The most significant changes are to be found elsewhere—in Egypt’s surprisingly sharp shifts on foreign affairs. Just ten weeks after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, Egypt’s new leaders have made a number of bold moves. Taken together, they suggest a policy re-orientation with important implications for the United States and the broader region.
It was no accident that the first head of state to visit revolutionary Egypt was the president of Turkey, a country that has provided the blueprint for independent foreign-policy making. In rapid succession, Egypt announced it would open a “new page” in its ties with Iran, review its gas deals with Israel, and welcome contacts with Hezbollah to boot. In another first, the Supreme Military Council hosted an official Hamas delegation in Cairo. Meanwhile, the new foreign minister, Nabil al-Araby, has been talking tough, saying that Israel will no longer get “special treatment” and that Egypt must “hold Israel accountable when it does not respect its obligations.”
In idealizing the Egyptian revolution, analysts convinced themselves that the protests were not about America, Israel, or foreign policy, but about democracy and dignity. This may be true, but the line between domestic and foreign policy can often be quite blurry—gone underreported was the fact that many anti-Mubarak chants accused him of being, among other things, an Israeli agent and a Hebrew speaker. Mubarak was illegitimate in the eyes of his people not just because he was a repressive dictator but because he was a repressive dictator who was seen as too close to the United States and Israel.