CAIRO: Although the concept of the “national interest (or “public interest ) is frequently used by scholars and practitioners, little agreement has been reached on its exact definition and the specific methods used to delineate it.
Some scholars argued that intangible goals, such as “prestige and “glory, constitute an integral part of the national interest. Others simply equated the national interest with governmental policy.
Despite these differences, scholars generally agreed about two requirements of the national interest. First, the core values, which include the nation’s security, the preservation of its territorial integrity and its material welfare.
Power, security and wealth are what states want. As one analyst put it, “the national interests of all states are broadly similar. They are centered upon the welfare of the nation and the preservation of its political doctrine and national style of life.
Secondly, the national interest should concern the interests of the whole nation. To that effect, it must transcend the specific interests of social classes, political parties, factions, officeholders, etc. This condition is not always the case, however. In today’s world, the domestic and foreign policies of many nations are not necessarily rooted in the national interest. They may reflect only parochial interest, including those of the government or any of its formidable institutions.
Broadly speaking, these two criteria could be used to test whether certain policies or decisions serve the national interest or not. The other aforementioned approaches could not be used in the case of Egypt anyway.
To all intents and purposes, glory and Egypt have only bonded in old times, and defining the national interest in terms of official policy is a flawed approach because it assumes that all incumbents of office are always both sincere and efficient.
In Egypt, the revolution of 1952 instituted a regime that was premised on an alliance between the presidency and the military establishment. Under President Mubarak, part of the business community has been incorporated into that ruling regime. The interest of the nation has, over the past few decades, been disserved when it happened to clash with the interests of these three centers of power.
To start with, often has legislation been harnessed to bolster the grip of the ruling regime, rather than to enhance life and achieve progress. One can easily list dozens of decrees and amendments to the constitution that were introduced just to perpetuate the dominance of the ruling party, hence serving the parochial interests of the ruling regime and, at the same time, weakening opposition parties and keeping them marginalized and feeble.
In the same vein, the state media – theoretically the voice of the nation as a whole – has been unequivocally turned into the mouthpiece of the National Democratic Party (NDP). Opposition figures, and any independent voices critical of state policies, are banned from state-owned channels and publications that have, in effect, been primarily used to propagate official policy and defame adversaries.
Moreover, since the introduction of the economic “open door policy in the 1970s, economic policies have, for the most part, favored the business community at the expense of the society as a whole. In the 21st century, the increasing influence of businessmen and the rise of Gamal Mubarak in Egyptian politics consolidated this tendency.
To attract local and foreign investors, for instance, state budget has been geared into areas that serve the peculiar needs and wants of the business community. Concomitantly, public services were left in shambles and the public sector was deprived of much-needed fresh investments and up-to-date technology, which pushed various profitable projects into losing ventures that burden the national economy.
In foreign policy, one could point to one obvious case where the interests of the society at large were forsaken to serve the interests of the regime. The case has to do with the endurance of American-Egyptian relations even though both governments do not see eye-to-eye on many political issues.
One of the key reasons explaining Egypt’s reluctance to jeopardize Egyptian-American relations is the regime’s need to keep its officer corps content and calm. If US military aid is cut or decreased, the military establishment might as well channel its frustration against the regime. A high political cost was incurred to avoid this scenario.
A policy that reflects the selfish interest of some groups and individuals at the expense of the best interests of the population as a whole is against the national interest. How often, one wonders, has the national interest been violated in Egypt in the past few years?
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He could be reached at: email@example.com