Egypt must reclaim soft power keys in the region: analysis

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Mon, 24 Jul 2017 - 07:09 GMT

Building of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs- File Photo

Building of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs- File Photo

CAIRO – 24 July 2017: Many people talk about America's "soft power" as a key to success in defeating extremism around the world. France has overtaken the US and Britain as the world’s top soft power, according to an annual survey examining how much non-military global influence an individual country wields. On the regional level, Egypt has controlled this soft power key for many years.

Soft power, a term first coined by the academic Joseph Nye, is the ability to harness international alliances and shape the preferences of others through a country’s appeal and attraction. It also refers to the ability to win over the hearts and minds of people, to influence their thinking, and change their behavior through the spread of ideas, dialogue and cultural exchanges.

Certainly, culture, technology and entertainment originating from the United States are a potent form of influence globally. France’s rise from fifth to first is in part attributed to the influence of the centrist Macron, but is also based on the vast French diplomatic network, which is unrivalled in terms of membership of multilateral and international institutions.

In the Arab world, Egypt has been long recognized for its own brand of soft power. Home to 90 million people, it is the most populous nation in the Middle East. For the past century, Egypt has also been the most important center for scholars, artists, authors and intellectuals, who have played an essential role in shaping Egyptian society and influencing Arab populations around the world.

Egypt’s soft power keys

In the last century, Egypt was the first Arab nation to open itself to the Western world. Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz is the only Arab writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Egypt remains today the most progressive country in the Middle East in the creative fields of film, television, music and media. For example, Egypt's film industry dates to the 1930s. More than three-quarters of all Arab-language short and feature-length films have originated in Egypt. Cairo and Alexandria also host international film festivals.

Egypt’s deteriorated economic crisis forced many intellectuals and journalists to head towards the Gulf area, where they can improve their financial statuses. Most of them fled to Europe and the U.S., where they have formed Egyptian elite communities.

Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut have been the Arab cultural capitals in the past. Currently, these Arab cultural centers have lost their positions among regional countries like Turkey and Iran.

The normative evaluation of soft power seems to be highly impacted by keying out the actors who use it. While external, mainly western, soft power practices stir many reservations, Egyptian academic and journalistic writings mourning the decline of Egyptian traditional soft power seem to be less sensitive to any “manipulative” dimensions and values possibly embedded in the concept. The same judgment goes for their Turkish counterparts celebrating the rise of Turkish soft power.

Egypt’s values, culture and diplomacy on the domestic and foreign arena represent the Egyptian soft power.

In the domestic and foreign diplomacy arena, Egypt has been a great example of the soft power leader in the region for many years. The economic reforms that Egypt has taken recently, such as the currency devaluation, the removal of electricity and fuel subsidies, and the value-added tax (VAT), shall improve the living standards of the individuals. They may not witness the reforms’ impacts in the near future, but they will definitely realize their benefits later when the direct foreign investments (DFI) enrich the state treasury and increase the foreign currency reserve.

To empower the Egyptian soft power domestically, the Egyptian administration has to pay more attention to citizens’ economic and financial status. Ordinary citizens should feel happy and comfortable with their incomes.

Egyptians must return as ideal examples to other regional and global countries,as they had been real models in the past. In Algeria and the entire Maghreb countries, women adored Egyptian men, whose examples were exported via movies and songs, led by Abdel Halim Hafez, Omar El Sharif, Ahmed Mazhar,Ahmed Ramzy, etc.

Unfortunately, the current models of Egyptian men exported to the outside world via recent movies and drama distort the image of Egyptian men.

In the foreign affairs arena, Egyptian diplomacy has to concentrate more on regional issues, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Libyan crisis and the Syrian crisis.

Egyptian, French common soft power models

After France has become the world’s top soft power, Egypt has to improve its ties with France’s Macon administration, so that Egyptian diplomacy may be inspired by the French measures taken to become on the top 30 list regarding the soft power keys.

France’s talks on Monday, which were first reported by France's Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, would be the second between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Libyan National Army leader Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the space of three months after they met in Abu Dhabi in May.

"France intends, through this initiative, to facilitate a political agreement" between the two rivals as the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, takes office, the French foreign minister’s statement said.

On the Syrian level, France has contributed significantly to the Syrian crisis within the international coalition led by the U.S. Although Egypt’s diplomacy regarding the Syrian crisishas been clear since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, its foreign policy must intensify its efforts to play more significant roles in the crisis.

The Palestinian cause’s keys have always been at the Egyptian grip throughout history, owning to geographical, historical, religious and cultural reasons. However, France has played an impressive role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict recently.

Macron has hosted many meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials and called for continuing the peace process talks. In this regard, Egypt has to interfere in this topic and communicate with the French administration so that Egypt will never be excluded from this issue.

Egypt is very important for the EU, owing to its strategic location, as well as its traditional political leadership of the Arab world. Ever since the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978 and the subsequent Egypt-Israel treaty, Egypt has established close relations with the U.S.

Owing to the fact that the Middle East is an energy rich region, the European community began a conscious effort since the seventies to improve its relations with the Arab world and to balance the tilt towards Israel.The EU's Euro-Mediterranean Partnership was an effort to bring the EU member states and countries in the Middle East and North Africa on a single platform to promote peace, prosperity and stability in the broader region.

Egypt insists that it perceives the ENP as a partnership between equals, and therefore, it rejects any EU interference in its domestic affairs. While the EU professes to uphold human rights the world over, insisting that its partners observe the human rights regime, the fact is that the EU has always been reluctant to actively apply negative conditionality to the southern Mediterranean countries that do not respect human rights.

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