This thesis examines Egypt’s foreign policy in the mid-1960s through the lens of her five-year intervention in the Yemeni Civil War. It traces the fall of Egyptian fortunes from the aftermath of the Syrian secession to the eve of the Six Day War, arguing that complications arising out of the decision to intervene in Yemen bore primary responsibility for destabilizing Nasser’s foreign relations and eroding the foundations of Egyptian power.
Chapter 1 portrays the intervention as an unintentional product of Egypt’s hegemonic ambitions, sparked by humiliation at Syria’s secession from the United Arab Republic, and abetted by the Free Officers’ revolutionary ethic and the competition for power within the Egyptian regime. The outbreak of the war served to perpetuate the incompetent leadership of the Egyptian armed forces, leaving the country defenseless when disaster struck in June 1967.
Chapter 2 draws on original sources in Russian and Arabic to tell the extraordinary tale of clandestine Soviet support for the Egyptian intervention in Yemen. It exposes the historical peak of the Soviet-Egyptian revolutionary endeavor in the Middle East, standing in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Chapter 3 illustrates how the clash between Egypt and two key American allies on the Arabian Peninsula destroyed the US-Egyptian relationship. The suspension of US aid exacerbated the burden placed by wartime expenditure on the economy, already strained by the radical socialization drive of the 1960s, and drove Egypt deeper into debt to the Soviet Union. The crisis in relations between Cairo and Washington—a derivative of Egypt’s primary struggle against Saudi Arabia—formed the crucial backdrop for the descent to war with Israel.
Chapter 4 investigates Egypt’s growing dependence on the USSR as a result of the war. Soviet attempts to exploit Egyptian weakness poisoned the relationship between the two countries well before the War of Attrition brought a Soviet division to Egypt. The unhealthy dependency on Moscow, in conjunction with the rupture in relations with Washington, shattered the edifice of Egyptian neutrality, which stood at the foundation of Nasser’s international clout in the 1950s.
Chapter 5 explores the interplay between the battlefield in Yemen and the domestic front in Egypt. It begins with a revisionist account of the Egyptian counter-insurgency campaign, based on Egyptian memoirs and captured documents, and then proceeds to discuss three Egyptian taboos—casualties, cost, and corruption— demonstrating that the pursuit of revolutionary politics abroad contributed decisively to the enfeeblement of the revolution at home.
Chapter 6 studies the vicissitudes of Saudi-Egyptian relations over the course of the war in the context of the diplomatic quest for a peaceful settlement in Yemen. It demonstrates how negotiations between Nasser and Faysal faltered over mutual mistrust exacerbated by the perennial spoiling effect of Yemeni politics. The concluding chapter of this study points to the centrality of the so-called Arab Cold War and highlights a crucial shift in the regional balance of power in the late 20th century: the decline of Egypt and the rise of Saudi Arabia.