Discuss the strategic importance of Egypt in international relations since the 16th century.

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello! Since the 16th century, Egypt has been central to trade and international relations.

The Silk Route/Road

Egypt was part of the interconnected trade routes between China, the Middle East, Europe and North Africa from antiquity to about the 1450s. From the 16th to the 18th century, Egypt was at the crossroads of numerous trade routes; the country flourished in intermediary trade on coffee, spices, and textiles.

Modern international relations

United States: Egypt is a crucial ally in counter-terrorism measures as well as an important broker in the Arab-Israeli peace process in the Middle East. While the United States is able to provide economic and political support in the region, Egypt is a key ally in helping Western powers achieve economic and political stabilization in the Middle East region.

Russia: For much of the Cold War, Egypt was a key Russian ally. Russia started supporting Russian Orthodox Church interests in Egypt as early as the 16th century. The political and economic relationship between Egypt and Russia started in 1955 when Egypt became Russia's biggest client in Soviet weaponry.

Today, Egypt remains one of Russia's largest arms importers, recently signing billions of dollars in contracts for missile systems, firearms, and attack helicopters. Recently, Egypt joined Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyr­gyzstan in President Putin's economic initiative (the Eurasian Economic Union) as a counterbalance to the European Economic Union. With Russia offering political and monetary support toward Egypt's nuclear capabilities, Western powers are taking note of the strategic importance of Egypt in the field of international relations. President Putin has found a way around Western sanctions for the annexation of Crimea through a bilateral relationship with Egypt. Both Egypt and Russia are relying on each other for a vibrant food trade. Egypt has an ample supply of fruits and vegetables; Russia has wheat surpluses and Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer.

China: With the China exerting its economic and political influence worldwide, Egypt has emerged as an important power-broker in eastern Asia, especially in the 21st century Maritime Silk Road project. This economic project aims to resurrect the routes and economic alliances of antiquity. Egypt's new Suez Canal project is also aimed at making it possible for huge tankers to cross from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, carrying goods from Asia to Europe. China's Maritime Silk Road project is aimed at solidifying a Chinese and Egyptian/African alliance, a Chinese response to similar American/European trade alliances. Indeed, China has committed billions of dollars in loans for infrastructure support in Egypt and Africa.

Global: Egypt's new Suez Canal is emerging as a factor in global counter-terrorism measures. While the Egyptian government is doing everything in its power to allay investor concerns of political instability and Islamic insurgent activity in the country, the fears of an ISIS inspired attack are very real. To that end, the new Canal alters the infrastructure of the tunnels so that future attacks on the Canal will be made more difficult. The building of new sections of the Canal has contributed to the world economy: Egypt states that 75% of the world's dredgers were hired to work on the canal project. With economic and political considerations, Egypt's new Suez Canal will continue to be a factor in years to come.