Egypt may be the unlikely winner of another round of conflict between Israel and Gaza that killed more than 100 people and caused major destruction. A speculative ceasefire was announced in Cairo where the Egyptian government played a major role. President Mohammad Mursi was a key player in brokering the ceasefire last week, even after a bus bomb hit Tel Aviv for the first time in several years.
Egypt’s relationship with Hamas was originally a derivative of the transnational Brotherhood movement and relations with Israel. Therefore most western governments do not talk to or act like they don’t talk to Hamas, while every other Arab country does the same with Israel. It has become untenable, as there have been many attempts to arbitrate a way towards peace.
Delegations of politicians, businessmen and diplomats have been shuttling back and forth between Cairo and western capitals, getting to know each other after years as the brotherhood was banned. While the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have different religious and political worldview, they want western investment, trade and expertise. They do not want to become isolated like post-revolution Iran. Especially after the Arab uprisings, governments need to take public opinion more seriously.
As western governments are applauding Egypt’s role, Obama is looking to change his focus of his foreign policy to Asia, and focus on relations with China. After spending millions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq, America is relying on other key countries to take the lead in resolving regional problems (Turkey in Syria, and Egypt in Gaza).
Mursi’s government is under pressure to support their stance in favor of the Palestinians. While Egypt’s major donors, the US and the Gulf states are encouraging Egypt to maintain peace with Israel and to be a stabilizing role. When it comes down to it, few Egyptians would want a fresh-armed conflict with their well-armed neighbor. The military worries about the risks of having the violence spill over into the Sinai Peninsula where military groups have become more aggressive. Western governments are hoping that the Muslim Brotherhood could be a positive force for stability. Islamist opponents who think he is selling out the West are already criticizing Musri. Recent protests driven by anger of the cost of living, unemployment, and lack of representation in Jordan highlight those risks as the violence in Gaza just fueled the fire.
Musri assumed new powers to issue laws independently until a new constitution s written, which is delayed another two months. The timeliness of this will convince his critics that he was approved to take on more power in return for brokering the ceasefire, as if he were deserving of an award for doing the right thing. A sudden revival of nationalism in Egypt suggests Islamist and Secularists to believe that Egypt should be at the center of regional affairs. If Egypt has leverage in the relationship, relations with Israel can be a means to this end. One crucial test will be whether Egypt can help find a system for Gaza (where a half million people are unemployed) to be able to trade.
Does Egypt have enough support to be a key player in the Middle East?
Is Obama right in leaving it to Turkey and Egypt rather than stepping in?