(MENAFN - Arab News) Egyptians have a perceived notion that they once had a vital role in the political say of the Arab and Middle East's affairs, and this role was diminished or even completely lost to the emerging political and economic influence of the Arabian Gulf countries (GCC), specifically, Saudi Arabia.
While in reality, Egypt never had that alleged role, it is only a perception. However, a perception is reality that drives that unexplainable behavior of Egyptians toward Saudi government and its people. Egyptians claim that President Gamal Abdel Nasser made that political glory and was lost to Gulf countries because of oil. But oil in Saudi Arabia was discovered in the early 1940s before Gamal become president of Egypt in 1953.
Egypt was under a combined rule of Mohammad Ali royal family and British rule for centuries which was ended by the Free Officers Movement in 1953. Gamal and his officers ascended to power, with Gamal as a president. Egyptian historians mark Gamal's reign as the heydays of Egypt's vital role in this region.
Any country in the world cannot have a viable political role in its geographical sphere without possessing the primary elements of power (e. g., military, economy, knowledge and culture, research and technology, natural resources, population, and geography). Egypt, on the contrary, had almost all elements of weakness. It had agricultural-based economy, had no technological and knowledge-based industry, had almost 90 percent illiteracy rate among its population, and, of course, never had a superpower military capability.
The only power Egypt once has had is the "soft power," specifically the propaganda machine and translated literary production in the areas of humanities and social sciences. Again, Egypt lost their soft power to Gulf countries either in the fields of media or literary production, particularly to Saudi Arabia (MBC, Al Arabiya, and other media outlets), Qatar (Al Jazeera), and United Arab Emirates.
However, Egyptians, then, used their powerful propaganda machine effectively (Arab Voice and other radio stations, as well as film production), presenting the Egyptian society as a progressive and promoting president Gamal as the undisputed leader of the Middle East, especially in the eyes of Egyptian masses. This loud mouthpiece aggrandized Gamal, and he in turn internalized the role of the only Arab leader in the Middle East, making speeches on radio and television with a strut tone and sometimes belittling Arab leaders.
Gamal's condescending behavior appealed to the majority of Egyptians, and they likewise internalized the role as if they were subjects of a superpower nation. This national pride was picked up early by Israel and it decided to crush it. In 1976, Israel made a surprise attack on Egyptian fighter aircraft while they were on the ground or in their bunkers, and that led Gamal to declare his resignation on national television.
What remained from Gamal's era in the conscious of most Egyptians is that Egypt is a superpower country like the United States, or even Israel. It is a self-deceiving perception of power, or aspired power that has no foundation whatsoever on the ground.
While Egypt is seeking to be a superpower in the Middle East, it presently has a military capability that is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's militarily capability or United Arab Emirates with a variable degree, and Egypt economically is equivalent to Tunisia, Morocco, or Oman. Thus, Egypt cannot grow more than a middle-size country.
On the other hand, oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in the early 1940s and commercial production started in 1945, and that was way before Gamal ascended to power in Egypt. Obviously, oil facilitated the primary elements of power, and right from the start Saudi Arabia was pulling the strings in the Middle East, and evidently all Egyptian presidents, from Gamal Abdel Nasser up to the current Egyptian administration, visited Riyadh to discuss major political matters concerning the Middle East.
Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has the primary elements of power to exert an influence in its geographical sphere, including Egypt, this country is not interested in appearing as a leader of the Middle East for its practical reasons, and did not challenge Egypt for this alleged leadership. Egypt, however, deserted its alleged vital role in the politics of the Middle East, and it is, still, vacant.
Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh.