Egypt’s pre-eminence in the Arab world is based on history, culture, population, and the political transformation of Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser became a role model for Arab leaders for decades calling for pan-Arabism and socialism Following Nasser in 1970, Anwar al-Sadat broke with the Soviet Union, promoted capitalism, sought American friendship, and made peace with Israel. For this he incurred the enmity of radical Islamists and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Hosni Mubarak once again brought Egypt back to its traditional role as a leader among the Arab nations, and led the Arab state’s opposition to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Under pressure for greater popular political participation in 2005, Mubarak’s government passed an amendment allowing for direct election of the President. While pursuing economic reforms, the Egyptian economy continues to be challenged by a growing number of young people in need of jobs. Though Mubarak appears well entrenched, he faces a host of challenges caused by a stagnant economy, rampant corruption, and radical Islamist violence. During the 1980s and 90s Mubarak ruthlessly repressed opposition groups and silenced dissent to maintain stability. Thousands of political prisoners are still held in Egypt’s jails. However, the election reforms have encouraged groups to work toward fairer and more competitive elections in the future. While Mubarak continues to maintain a firm hand on the nation, his successor will most likely face greater demands for reform.
Jordan occupies a unique place in the Middle East, sandwiched between Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq. Because of this position, this small nation has received far more attention than it would otherwise. King Hussein was one of the major players in the Arab-Israeli conflict until July 1988 when he removed Jordan from the dispute by relinquishing claims to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, paving the way for the 1993 PLO and Israeli agreement and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of the following year.
On Hussein’s death in 1999, his son, King Abdallah II, passed economic and administrative reforms bringing a group of young, business-oriented men into the regime. Between 2000 and 2005, Abdallah faced alienation from large numbers of Jordanians due to his stance during the Al-Aqsa intifada and the Iraq War. U.S. military occupation in Iraq, violence in Iraq and between Israelis and the Palestinians, and the victory of Hamas, influenced and continue to influence Jordanian policy, especially in relation to security.
Jordan’s military and political weakness dictated a reactive foreign policy under Abdallah, while its relationship with the U.S. provides external support. Though it remains an authoritarian regime, it is unlikely that the U.S. will pressure Jordan to provide liberal reforms for fear that liberalization would strengthen anti-West Islamists. Thus, when parliamentary elections were delayed, professional organizations repressed, and repressive anti-terrorist laws passed; there was no criticism from the U.S.
Abdallah’s regime is fundamentally stable but increasing national debt, high oil prices with the loss of Iraqi oil subsidies, a widening gap between the rich and poor, expanding unemployment, and the enormous influx of refugees from Iraq, are likely to create major challenges in the future. Growing political activism among the Salafist, the Iraq War, and conflict between Israel and the Palestinians create a critical need for Abdallah to maintain his relationship with the East Bank Tribes which have traditionally provided a base of support for his Hashemite regime.
The Middle East. 11th. Washington: CQ Press, 2007.