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Egypt Is on the Brink of Chaos. Here’s Why It Should Matter to Washington.

Three years after Mubarak’s fall, the country is toying with global irrelevance—except as a possible terror exporter

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Egyptians walk past a huge poster of Egypt’s former Defense Minister and armed forces chief General Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi outside the High Court in downtown Cairo, on March 27, 2014. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
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They say democracies make good neighbors. For Israel these days, it doesn’t seem so straightforward.

An even worse scenario than Iranian missiles in Gaza is the possibility of them raining down on Israeli cities from Sinai when the Netanyahu government is forced to choose between two bad options: If the Israelis give Egypt first shot at the terrorists, then Sisi’s adversaries will be able to paint him as a Zionist collaborator; if the Israelis simply do it themselves, then they’ll be violating the “honor” of the Egyptian army. Either puts Sisi, a man incapable of managing difficult situations, in an impossible one.

It’s true that Egypt has neither the will nor the materiel to make war on Israel right now, but the Egyptian army has arguably never chosen to make war on Israel. Rather, from the 1948 war until the last conflict with Israel in 1973, Egypt has been compelled to do so by a number of domestic, regional, and international forces. What we’re watching build is a perfect storm—an emboldened and energized Iranian regime smuggling weapons to Israel’s borders, Islamist militants in the Sinai, Hamas looking to rebuild its prestige in Gaza, a brotherhood-backed insurgency against Sisi building inside major Egyptian cities, and the stunning incompetence and arrogance of the man who would be president.

One argument here in Washington is that it’s precisely for this reason that the Obama Administration should be working closely with Sisi. Among other things, the White House should give him the Apache helicopters it’s withholding from the annual military assistance package in order to fight the insurgency in Sinai. And it’s true that Sisi is the only horse Washington has left to ride. The way the Egyptian masses responded to the coup against Morsi shows that democracy is a long way off, and huge infusions of Saudi cash rather than an economic liberalization program are the only rational option at present.

For now, Sisi is as good as it’s going to get for Egypt. This White House, and the next, should be planning for how to manage the decline of a civilization, a nation of more than 80 million people likely to implode. Even if the Israeli land rail makes it possible for shipping to avoid a Suez under threat of terrorist attack, the reality is that sooner or later Egypt’s problems are going to reach everyone’s shores.

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Egypt Is on the Brink of Chaos. Here’s Why It Should Matter to Washington.

Three years after Mubarak’s fall, the country is toying with global irrelevance—except as a possible terror exporter

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