Skip to main content

Why Americans should care about Egypt

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Sat July 6, 2013
  • Turmoil in Egypt over past two years has virtually halted travel by Americans
  • A pinch on oil passing through the Suez Canal would hit U.S. drivers at the gas pump
  • The most populous Arab country, Egypt's stability is seen as key to Mideast peace

Washington (CNN) -- As political turmoil engulfs Egypt, Americans are watching closely -- and they should be: What happens in Egypt will directly affect Americans in many ways.

1. Travel: See the pyramids along the Nile -- NOT

Egypt, with its 5,000-year history, the pyramids and pharaohs, was always a luxury travel destination for Americans but the political and social violence that has wracked the country for 2½ years has virtually destroyed Egypt's U.S. tourist business.

Post-coup violence erupts in Egypt

Now, the State Department is warning citizens not to travel to Egypt and U.S. citizens living in Egypt to leave. It also ordered non-emergency personnel and families of Americans working at the U.S. Embassy and consulate to leave.

U.S. military aid to Egypt on the line
Clashes in Egypt turn deadly
Violence in streets of Cairo after coup
What's next for Egypt?

Cordesman: U.S. must not fail Egypt

2. Money

Egypt is America's closest ally in the Arab world and it gets $1.5 billion a year in U.S. taxpayer money for military and civilian programs. In fact, in the last 30 years, the United States has sent more foreign aid to Egypt than to any country except Israel.

Now, that money hangs in the balance as the Obama administration decides whether to call the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsy a "coup."

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells CNN: "If this were to be seen as a coup then it would limit our ability to have the kind of relationship we think we need with the Egyptian armed forces."

3. Mideast peace

The United States helps Egypt because it's one of only two Arab countries -- along with Jordan -- that made peace with Israel. If Washington pulls its aid, it could affect prospects for peace in the Middle East.

ElBaradei: Morsy's ouster was needed so Egypt cannot 'fail'

"All of these things are tied together," says CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "The aid is tied to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, so if our aid gets cut off what happens to the peace treaty with Israel? It's a hornets' nest and that's why the administration is trying not to stir it too much."

4. Gas prices

Egypt controls the Suez Canal, a crucial sea route for more than 4% of the world's oil supply and 8% of seaborne trade. So far, the canal is running smoothly -- but increased violence could end up hitting Americans in the pocketbook.

5. The linchpin

With 83 million people, Egypt is a cultural heavyweight in the Arab world.

"The great trends that have affected the United States have come out of Egypt," says Zakaria: everything from pan-Arab nationalism of the 1950s, Islamic fundamentalism which began in Egypt in the 1970s -- even al Qaeda has its roots in Egypt and Islamic Jihad.

"Egypt is the source of all the pop music, the soap operas, the movies of the Arab world," he added, "so what happens in Egypt tends to have a much wider resonance throughout the Arab world."

Until the Egyptian military ousted Morsy, Egypt also had a claim to fame politically: a democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood party. It was a message to the Islamic world that democracy just might work. Now, there's a danger the military could violently repress the Muslim Brotherhood and it, in turn, could resort to violence.

Will Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood survive?

That would make the whole Mideast region more unstable -- a worrisome development for the United States.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:26 PM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
An Egyptian court sentences at least 528 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on charges related to violent riots in the southern Egyptian city of Minya.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
Interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour sends letter to the family of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
CNN's Sara Sidner talks about stepping in for Al Jazeera reporters since they have been barred from working in Egypt.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Sat March 15, 2014
How are the Arab Spring nations faring? What successes can they boast -- on democracy, economic progress, stability and women's rights -- and what challenges await?
updated 6:57 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
A Cairo court has banned all activities by Hamas in Egypt, calling the Palestinian movement that runs Gaza a terrorist organization.
updated 4:14 PM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Lawyers representing Muslim Brotherhood members in a jailbreak case call for the judges to be changed.
updated 5:05 AM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
Three Al Jazeera journalists face terrorism charges after being arrested in December. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.
updated 12:52 PM EST, Sun February 9, 2014
CNN's Christiane Amanpour son the Egyptian government's actions towards journalists.
updated 11:09 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
At least four people died and 14 were wounded by a blast on a tourist bus in the resort town of Taba, authorities say.
updated 11:10 AM EST, Sun February 16, 2014
Mohamed Morsy taunts officials who placed him in a soundproof glass box during his trial on conspiracy charges.
updated 8:01 AM EST, Tue February 11, 2014
An Oscar-nominated film portrays a revolution squeezed into its margins,but that's where it started, writes H.A. Hellyer.
updated 3:18 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
"Democracy" is meaningless unless the right people are entrusted with implementing it, says Aalam Wassef.
updated 4:30 PM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
Egypt's military quashes a newspaper report that quoted Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi as saying he would run for president.
updated 3:02 AM EST, Sun January 26, 2014
Muslim Brotherhood supporters (background) clash with supporters of the Egyptian government in Cairo on January 25, 2014.
At least 49 people died in violence on the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution, state media says.
updated 5:04 PM EST, Sat January 18, 2014
Voters have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, a spokesman for Egypt's electoral commission says.
updated 8:08 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
Egyptians vote for the first time since the military ousted Morsy. CNN's Ian Lee reports.
updated 8:11 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
A study suggests Egyptians are far more likely to support military rule than people in many other Mideast countries.
updated 3:54 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
CNN's Becky Anderson speaks to Amre Moussa about what went into the creation of Egypt's constitutional draft.
updated 1:12 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
Egyptians have high hopes that the referendum will put an end to the bloodshed, but will Egypt be back where it was at the start of the revolution?
updated 10:57 AM EST, Mon January 13, 2014
International correspondents demand Egypt release three journalists they say have been detained arbitrarily for two weeks.