Modern Egypt currently sits at a critical juncture in determining its path forward as a state and player in global politics. The stabilizing presence of the military provides a much needed degree of order in a country rife with a history of political unrest and shifting international alliances, yet militaries are seldom suited to the intricacies of statecraft and bureaucracy. Al-Sisi could very easily install himself as Egypt’s next strongman leader, but with control over both the military and political spheres his influence could very easily expand into the realm of a dictator or even tyrant. The police state and limitations on free press Sisi has imposed do not bode well for those in Egypt who hoped for a peaceful democratic transition into a more republican state.
While Al-Sisi has not proven to be exactly promising as a champion for democratic ideals, his injunction in the political process was motivated by genuine unrest among a people who were eager to see military intervention against Morsi. Given the chance, Morsi could very well have ended up imposing an Islamic state upon Egypt, despite mass popular dissent. Given the unique role of the Egyptian military as an informal check against the dictatorial powers of past presidents, Al-Sisi’s coup was not unprecedented and may have saved the country from falling into the brutal civil war so many other neighboring Arab Spring states have encountered. While Al-Sisi has not been an exemplar of restraint in his new role, media blackouts and even prolonged martial law are relatively small prices to pay to avoid a potentially generation-scarring conflict.
In order for Egypt to thrive as a country it must move away from its Cold War model of total allegiance to the West, namely the United States. That is not to say Egypt should sever existing ties to the US, but rather explore the realm of leveraging new alliances against old ones in order to achieve the best possible outcome for its citizenry. The US is deeply invested in Egypt and has been for decades. On the surface this relationship, in which Egypt receives massive military aid, may seem to make Egypt dependent upon the good graces of the US, but in reality it has made the US dependent upon Egyptian acceptance of the aid to ensure US influence in the country and region.
The rapidly growing presence of Chinese investment in places like Cairo and the Egyptian public sector provides Egyptian leaders with a unique and almost paradoxical bargaining chip, as they can now threaten to refuse US aid in preference of China’s. Only when Egypt is truly free of Western manipulation can the longstanding impacts of colonialism, both culturally and economically, begin to fade. Egypt is still very much tethered to the US politically, economically, and militarily, but is in an unprecedentedly powerful bargaining position to reclaim portions of its state and economy that have long been controlled by exterior interests.