In interview with Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has recounted details from behind the scenes of the Israel-Gaza ceasefire agreement of last November, which Egypt had a prominent role in brokering.
“We withdrew the Egyptian ambassador [to Israel] immediately, and that was intended to be a signal to say, ‘Let’s de-escalate. Let’s make sure things don’t progress to outright conflict,'" Morsi reflected. “Also, sending the Prime Minister of Egypt [into Gaza], with Egypt's weight in the region, was to send a signal that this conflict must end and it must not escalate,” he continued.
Morsi told the Canadian newspaper in the interview published Saturday that the ceasefire was the product of a mutual opportunity grasped with US President Barack Obama.
Some 170 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and six Israelis, including two soldiers, were killed during the offensive that Israel launched with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket fire.
“I saw an opportunity for the Palestinians and President Obama saw an opportunity with respect to the Israeli side,” Morsi said. “And we found when we looked at both sides that there were some shared demands, so we made a decision to work on … the ceasefire: to come to a point where the aggression stops, where the firing stops,” Morsi said.
The Egyptian president told the newspaper that during the Israeli attacks on Gaza, considered the largest since Operation Cast Lead in late 2008, he had reached out to “maybe 40 presidents, kings and princes," along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had flown to Egypt in the wake of the conflict.
“She insisted on not leaving my office until we finished the process,” Morsi said. “I remember that. At least three hours, maybe more.”
Egypt's post-revolution 'chicken and egg' dilemma
Morsi also went on to address Egypt's state of affairs since the 2011 uprising, describing it as a dilemma of balancing economic and political development.
"It is a question of chicken and egg, trying to develop economically while getting used to democracy," Morsi told his interviewer.
He added: "Egypt will have strong democratic institutions and a developed economy in the future. Overcoming the Mubarak legacy, including corruption and the yawning gap between rich and poor, would be difficult for any government."
Egypt has seen a series of violent anti-government protests since the second anniversary of the 25 January uprising. Since, the deadlock between Islamist parties and the presidency on the one hand, and liberal opposition on the other, came to its peak.
The latter accuses the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president hails, of treading a path to dictatorship by not responding to the opposition's longstanding demands of replacing the Cabinet and amending the constitution.