18 Jun 2010 Sociopolitical Situation
Economically, historically and politically, Egypt is one of the most important countries in the Middle East and Northeast Africa. Its ancient past, coupled with the fact that it was among the first countries in the area to embrace the West after Napoleon’s invasion in 1798, has resulted in it being seen by many as the region’s cultural and intellectual leader. Egypt is also one of the fastest emerging markets for land investments. The country’s largest population centers &mash; as well as the center of agricultural activity — are concentrated on the banks of the Nile River and the rich farmland of the Nile Delta. Deserts occupy much of the remainder of the country. Egypt has historically wielded significant influence within the Islamic world, though in recent decades it has been eclipsed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. In addition to Israel, Egypt also borders Sudan and Libya, and has the potential to play a major role for good or ill.
The Egyptian government maintains strong relations with that of the United States. These have deepened over years, thanks to various issues of mutual interest, including efforts to reach a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict; preserving Iraq’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; and the maintenance of overall regional and international peace and security. Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel. Over the years, this funding has been employed in financing infrastructure projects, strengthening economic and social reform programs and enlisting U.S. technical expertise. Moreover, trade between both countries has increased enormously while U.S. investments have picked up recently after a slight regression.
Since the inception of the modern Egyptian state under Gamal Abdel Nasser, the political system has been subject to continuity and change. Since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the country has been led by President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, whose stable and authoritarian government has resulted in increased political legitimacy, elite configuration, political institution building, and strong state-society relations.
At present, most decision-making authority is vested in the president. While several opposition parties exist, they pose little challenge to the ruling National Democratic Party. Harassment and intimidation of opposition members by state security forces ensures they remain weak and fragmented. Though technically illegal, the Muslim Brotherhood is the country’s main political opposition group. Its members must run for election as independent candidates.
Local extremists either affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaeda have carried out a string of relatively small attacks in Egypt over the past several years. Most have been directed at tourist infrastructure, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Significant risks remain, however, as Egypt continues to maintain its pro-Western stance.