Neorealism in Egypt’s Interstate Effects
Egypt has taken the news media by storm over the past few weeks. As the local political scene is flooded with citizens voicing their protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the international scene watches on with varying degrees of concern. Two nations in particular demand notice because of their unique relationships with Egypt – relationships that may change dramatically if political control is wrested from Mubarak’s hands.
The first of the aforementioned nations is North Korea, as covered in a recent article by The Christian Science Monitor. North Korea, a nation at odds with much of the world, has a surprisingly close relationship with Egypt. Egypt is home to “the biggest foreign investor in North Korea,” and has a history of cooperation with North Korea’s military (Kirk 2). At first glance, this may seem as if Egypt desires open conflict against North Korea’s enemies, but after further analysis Egypt is revealed to be merely a nation operating under neorealist motives.
Both North Korea and Egypt have neorealist philosophies when interacting with each other. Each is self-interested: North Korea gains a potential ally, a hub for weapon sales, and a mobile phone network (from Egypt based Orascom). On the other side, Egypt gains weapons training and technology, revenue for Orascom, and aid from North Korea as well as the United States.
At the Individual level of analysis, two factors are significant: Kim Jong-il’s relationships with Mubarak and Naguib Samiris. Mubarak actually forged ties with North Korea’s ruler after a long relationship with his father, Kim II-sung. This relationship has continued to present day. In fact, Kim Jong-il recently wished Mubarak a Happy New Year – regarded by many as “evidence of North Korea’s decades of support” (Kirk 1) and a pledge of future aid. Naguib Samiris heads Orascom, the “biggest mobile phone company in the Middle East” (2) and the biggest foreign investor in North Korea. Orascom recently created North Korea’s only mobile phone network, Koryolink, in 2008 (2). Jong-il relies on Orascom’s business and investment immensely, and has “honored Mr. Samiris with the kind of state dinner generally reserved for the few chiefs of state who have visited Pyongyang” (2). Samiris personally prefers the democratic side of the current political debate, but cannot change the fact that his company “thrives on close ties to Mubarak” (2) So for the foreseeable future; Egyptian politics, Egyptian-North Korean relations, and the future of the Orascom group appear to be intertwined.
Egypt’s influence in North Korea demonstrates the different definitions of power. North Korea is dependent on Egyptian investment and the Egyptian-made mobile network, demonstrating Egypt’s immense economic power – even as the United States sends Egypt foreign aid because of its emerging/developing nation status. Also, because of Egypt’s relevance to North Korea, Egypt is indirectly protected by North Korea’s deterrence strategies.
However, North Korea is not the only country with a large interest in the political situation in Egypt. Israel is also very aware of the doings of the country, and its role as an uneasy spectator was highlighted in a New York Times article. In this article, Israel is portrayed as a nation walking the border between neorealist and neoliberal while “following events closely” (Kershner 1) Israel is clearly self-interested, acting as a defensive neorealist seeking self-preservation. Most of Israel’s neighbors are strongly opposed to Israel’s existence, so Israel has kept its relations with Egypt – the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel – as civil as possible. While attempting to remain optimistic, some Israelis proposed “the tumult in the region and the uncertainty of the future would make it harder for Israel to take risks for a peace agreement or to make far-reaching decisions” (3). Yet still others like Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies, remain confident that “almost any government in Egypt would want to maintain the pact,” leaving the Israeli plan for dealing with Egypt just as ambiguous as Egypt’s political future (2).
Israel and Egypt also share committed relations on the Individual level. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly “confers regularly with… Mubarak,” sharing in strategic discussions as recent as January 6th (1). Binyanin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli politician known for his connections with senior Egyptian officials, was quoted in the article saying “’the cooperation between us goes beyond the strategic’” (1). However at further levels, a few factors exist that complicate the situation. Domestically, Israel is still being boycotted by Egyptian society after over 30 years of peace (1). Palestinians - Israel’s traditional enemies - appear satisfied with peace today, but may not be tomorrow if Egypt reneges on the long-standing peace agreement (2-3). At the Interstate level, Israel stands against the vast majority of the Arabic world on a daily basis, and having the long border with Egypt open to enemies could potentially ruin Israel.
Chaos within Egypt affects both Israel and North Korea’s futures for years to come. Despite this relevance, both do nothing more than wait out the storm and observe from a distance. Each nation is thinking in its own self-interest and will not attempt to intervene unless the previous status quo in Egypt appears under serious threat. The United States is also a spectator rather than an influence in Egypt’s behavior, laying down the typical role of hegemon for the time being. The United States is also acting as a defensive neorealist. Overdrawn in Middle Eastern conflict and recovering from an economic recession while facing one of the most politically divisive legislatures in history, the United States is in no hurry to dive into another conflict on behalf of another nation. Egypt’s instability leaves the rest of the world to consider the possible outcomes – many expecting the worst. Egypt’s future stance on peace or conflict (allied with North Korea against Israel, the United States, and other nations) seems like a complicated Prisoner’s Dilemma. By continuing peaceful relations, Egypt would be rather well off – but the spoils of war could prove a significant temptation to a new leader looking forward to an uncertain Egyptian future.
Using a neorealist lens, systemic levels of analysis can link together various aspects of Egypt’s situation in a way that explains the lack of intervention yet increasing levels of concern by other states, especially Israel and North Korea. Although peace agreements can produce short-term results, each state examines interstate ties with self-interests in mind. Political ambiguity within Egypt reflects the anarchic system of global politics – countless groups and individuals vying for power and opportunities to give voice to concerns.