Egypt was the second nation in the Middle East to begin protests against despotic regimes in 2011, the second after Tunisia. Because it is one of the most populous and influential countries in that part of the world, Egypt’s shift toward a more representative government has been closely watched, as indicated in a New York Times article.
In the first elections after this article was written, two Islamist parties appear to have won. A secular party came in third. Some have voiced concern. Will the Islamists allow freedom of religion? Will they move toward a more restrictive social environment, even attempting a ban on driving by women as in Saudi Arabia? What about the ten percent or so of Christians in Egypt? (Most are called Coptics and descend from Christians who inhabited Egypt from the early days of Christianity.) Recently, they have suffered from anti-Christian violence. Will they be granted freedom to worship as they please when a new Egyptian constitution is created? To be protected from persecution or disenfranchisement or job discrimination?
A few years ago, my husband visited a relative studying Arabic in Cairo. The relative picked up my husband at the airport, having borrowed a car from a Coptic Christian friend. It was the first time the relative had driven in the city’s chaotic (understatement) traffic. After that experience, they both agreed to walk, ride the bus, or take taxis (following appropriate bargaining in which you suggest, when the driver has quoted his fare, that you are not offering to buy the cab, merely rent it for a ride.)
The two had several visits with the Christian friend. His concerns were similar to what many of his faith are voicing today.
At the time of his visit, the Egyptians that my husband met were friendly to Americans and liked to practice their English. Tourist dollars are an important part of Egyptian revenue and the drop in visitors to Egypt has created hardship for those involved in the tourist trade.
The United States has expended much effort to foster favorable relations with Egypt. The famous Camp David accords under former president Jimmy Carter led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt after the signing of a peace treaty between the two nations in 1979. This event was seen as an important step toward normalizing Israel’s acceptance into the Arab world. However, some elements in the Middle East strongly condemned the move, one reason for the assassination in 1981 of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.
How Egypt will view its past relationship with Israel is one of the questions foreign affairs specialists now ponder.