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Saturday, February 14, 2009

MIDEAST: Egypt's Star Rising in Regional Politics Analysis by Helena Cobban

Back in mid-December, many Middle Easterners were daring to hope that, with the imminent end of George Bush's presidency, their own deeply U.S.-influenced region might see a new day of peacemaking and inclusiveness in place of the recent years of war, confrontation, discrimination and distrust.

Since then, two major developments have occurred that have almost overshadowed the excitement of Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. president: Israel's 23-day war on Gaza and the ascendancy of rightwing parties in Israel's Feb. 10 election.

Participants in the ever-shifting system of Middle East politics - and it does act as a system, however complex - are still figuring out, and adjusting to, the political fallout from the Gaza war. Now, they're starting to do that for the Israeli elections, too, and some main trends already seem clear. One of these is a noticeable strengthening of Egypt's role in regional politics.

Egypt, with its 80 million people and millennia-long history of unified state administration, has always been a key fulcrum of the Arab world, and emerged as one during the recent Gaza crisis. Its role as the one Arab state that has a shared (though short) border with the Gaza Strip kept a keen spotlight on the actions of the country's 81-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.


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