Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud Center for American Studies

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Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud Center for American Studies and Research

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News Article

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Cairo Debates: Understanding Arab-American Relations

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Since the 1940s, the relationship with the Arab World has been an integral aspect of U.S. foreign policy, and has played an important role in shaping the interactions between Arab states and the rest of the world. A strong relationship with Egypt has underpinned Washington’s policies, particularly after the 1967 Camp David Accords, and Cairo continues to be an important partner and U.S. ally. As Dr. Mark Miller, the Emma Smith Morris Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, explained in his lecture, the major tenants of U.S. foreign policy towards the region, namely its commitment to the state of Israel, securing access to oil, and fight against extremism have remained consistent, but the relationship has been strained since the start of the 21st century. President Obama’s vaunted 2008 speech in Cairo initially ushered in an era of optimism that relations would improve, but ultimately failed to manifest change. U.S. foreign policy toward the region was complicated by the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Protests led to the ouster of longtime U.S. allies in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, and Washington was criticized for uneven responses to popular protests in Syria, Libya, and Bahrain. As the Obama administration increasingly retracted from the region, Russian and Chinese influence has grown and regional rivalries between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have resurfaced. While it is too early to decisively ascertain the Trump administration’s policies towards the Arab World, the initial months of his presidency have left regional leaders both optimistic and concerned. The past seven years have also been an important time for Egyptian foreign policy and multilateral diplomacy in the region. Under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s domestic political scene has stabilized, allowing the country to once again assume its 8 traditional leadership position in the Arab World. Since 2013, Cairo fostered closer relationships with Russia and China, while playing an important role in the international efforts to stabilize Libya, fi nd a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict, and combat the so called Islamic State (IS). With its commitment to fighting violent extremism, Egypt remains an important U.S. ally and a close partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. As the Arab World emerges from a tumultuous decade, Egypt’s economic growth will allow it to return to regional prominence. Undoubtedly, Washington’s policy objectives will impact the region, and CASAR believes that Egyptian-U.S. relations will be a mainstay of Washington’s engagement with the Arab World. However, CASAR’s events have also examined U.S. foreign policy towards Russia and China, as the relationship between the major powers has a profound impact on the Arab World. It has also allowed Egyptian citizens to debate and discuss these countries’ foreign policy and role in the greater Middle East. Through these events, CASAR has provided AUC students and the public with an opportunity to further examine U.S. foreign policy, both as a field of academic study and as a driving force behind political decisions which continue to impact the daily lives of citizens of the Arab World. Over the course of the last seven years, CASAR hosted eleven events which addressed changing U.S. foreign policy in the Arab World. The events included guest lecture from notable experts, including Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian Foreign Minister; former Financial Times and Washington Post correspondent and diplomacy expert, Nicholas Kralev; New York Times bureau chief, David Kirkpatrick; Dr. Fawzi Gerges, inaugural director of the London School of Economics’ Middle Eastern Studies Center. To ensure wide public engagement, CASAR partnered with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, the Brookings Institute, and the Middle East Institute in Washington. During the discussions held at these events, five reoccurring themes dominated discussions on U.S. foreign policy and its impact on Arab-U.S. relations: the content of President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, the United States’ changing role in the MENA region, the influence of 9 non-American powers, the centrality of Egyptian-American relations to U.S. foreign policy, and potential foreign policy developments under the Trump administration.

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