Foreign Policy Decision Making

Egypt Table of Contents

The great risks and opportunities inherent in Egypt's foreign relations made it inevitable that foreign policy dominated the leader's political agenda. Performance on foreign policy could make or break the leadership. Nasser's charisma was rooted above all in his nationalist victories over "imperialism," and the decline of Nasserism was a direct function of Egypt's 1967 defeat by Israel; similarly, Sadat's achievements in the October 1973 War gave him legitimacy, whereas his separate peace with Israel destroyed it.

It was not surprising, therefore, that foreign policy was virtually a "reserved sphere" of the presidency. Nasser concentrated and personalized foreign policy decision making in his own hands, taking alone such crucial decisions as the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Sadat asserted a similar prerogative; a major issue in the power struggle with left-wing Free Officers after Nasser's death was Sadat's insistence on his right to make independent foreign policy decisions, such as his offer to open the Suez Canal in return for a partial Israeli withdrawal from its banks and his decision to join the Federation of Arab Republics with Libya and Syria. Once he consolidated his power, Sadat continued the tradition of presidential decision making in foreign policy, making many decisions in defiance of elite opinion and in disregard of professional military and diplomatic advice. In crucial negotiations over Sinai I and Sinai II, the disengagement agreements with Israel after the October 1973 War, he excluded his top advisers from key sessions with United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger and overrode their objections to many details of these agreements. He made his momentous decision to go to Jerusalem without even bothering to create an elite consensus behind him. As a result, both the minister of foreign affairs and his deputy resigned. Sadat allowed his top generals little say at Camp David. His unilateral concessions so often undermined the hand of his diplomats in the negotiations over the peace treaty with Israel that they sought to keep the Israelis away from him. Mubarak inherited the tradition of presidential dominance in foreign policy, but he seemed to make his decisions in closer consultation with his advisers, such as Usamah al Baz, Butrus Butrus Ghali, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismat Abdul Majid.

Despite presidential dominance, the Egyptian foreign policy bureaucracy was the most sophisticated and influential in the Arab world. Under the minister of foreign affairs was a minister of state for foreign affairs, a position long held by Butrus Ghali. Under them were a first undersecretary and a series of other undersecretaries in charge of geographical areas (America, Africa, Asia, Europe) and functional departments (economic affairs, cultural affairs, and the like). Al Ahram's Center for Political and Strategic Studies acted as a think tank in support of decision makers. Career diplomats were recruited chiefly through competitive examinations and trained at the Egyptian Diplomatic Institute. In 1982 Egypt had diplomatic relations with 95 foreign countries and had more than 1,000 diplomatic service officers.

More about the Government and Politics of Egypt.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress