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The US & Israel: What to do on Egypt?

The United States and its key regional ally Israel have seemed confused about the situation in Egypt following the removal of Mohamed Morsi. Why exactly?

Bassem Aly , Sunday 7 Jul 2013
Tahrir protesters celebrate the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
Views: 4512
Views: 4512

Israel seemed comfortable with the first wave of Egypt's revolution in 2011, unlike the case with the 30 June protests that led to the ouster of now former president Mohamed Morsi.

The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu avoided issuing any statements concerning the change in Cairo's governing regime. The United States, though commenting on the event, appeared to lack a well-built vision on Egypt, a state that became a strategic ally since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The question remains: How do both really perceive the second wave of revolt in Egypt?

Morsi leaves, Israeli confusion begins

On 30 June, millions of anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters took the streets of Egypt to call for early presidential elections.

The intransigence of Morsi and the Brotherhood's leadership led to a rise in the ceiling of demands, which reached the degree of calling for Morsi's removal from office.

On 3 July, Egypt's chief military commander, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, unveiled a "roadmap" for Egypt's political future proposed by the opposition, which included the ouster of Morsi to make way for snap presidential elections.

Members of the Israeli government stayed away from showing any signs of satisfaction or rejection on the political changes in Egypt.

Press reports said Netanyahu ordered his Cabinet to hold their silence on the crisis.

Zack Gold, a Washington-based analyst focusing on US-Egyptian relations, argued that the silence served to the advantage of the protesters to a great extent.

"If Israel praises or welcomes Morsi's ouster, such statements can be raised by the Brotherhood or other Morsi supporters as proof that the military and the Tamarod protestors were working for Israeli interests," Gold told Ahram Online.

Nevertheless, he asserted that Israeli leaders have been "of two minds" about Morsi and the Brotherhood.

"They accept as a fact the Brotherhood's long-term goal of Israel's destruction; in the short term, however, Morsi supported Israel's immediate security from the Gaza ceasefire to increased weapons-smuggling interdiction in Sinai," Gold noted.

Who to tame Hamas after Morsi?

Last November saw the renewal of military confrontations between Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Israeli troops that launched a series of destructive attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Buildings, media centres and different government facilities across Gaza, including premier Ismail Haniyeh's office, witnessed a series of airstrikes. These week-long airstrikes led to the death of more than 162 Palestinians.

Five Israelis were killed as a result of Hamas rockets fired into Israel.

Netanyahu's government saw Egypt's Islamist president as a potential friend, especially after the ouster of Mubarak, Israel's ex-"strategic treasure."

Morsi had succeeded in securing a truce between the sides after contacting various parties to the conflict, despite the fact that Washington had refused to pressure Israel in this regard.

Paul Sedra, a specialist of modern Egyptian history at Simon Fraser University, said that it is doubtful that Egypt's coming president will have much influence on the Hamas leadership "at all."

"As far as both the Americans and Israelis were concerned, one of Morsi's advantages was his close ties Hamas. He could apply pressure on Hamas in a way that no previous Egyptian ruler could, given the close MB-Hamas ties," Sedra emphasised.

On 21 November 2012, ex-Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire at a press conference in Cairo.

Ahmed Morsi, an Egyptian political researcher at the University of St Andrews, said that the security situation and continued communications with Egypt won't be affected by political changes.

"Whoever comes to power in Cairo will definitely not be interested in upsetting relations with Israel, at least in the short term," he added.

Obama in dilemma

US President Barack Obama and his administration is apparently concerned about the future of the political process in Egypt, an attitude that is reflected in contradicting statements.

Four hours after Morsi's removal, Obama stated he was "deeply concern" about the developments, calling on the Egyptian military to restore democratic, civilan government and ordering his administration to review US aid to Egypt.

The statement coincided with claims by the Brotherhood of a "military coup" against a "legitimate" elected president (Morsi).

Aaron Miller, an ex-advisor to US Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, told Ahram Online that it would be hard for Obama to balance between Egypt's different political forces.

He spoke about the army, Muslim Brotherhood and the "feloul" (remnants of Mubarak) in the state bureaucracy specifically.

"Whether we like it or not, the US had a commitment towards Morsi as a freely and fairly elected president. But Egypt's experience proved that an inclusive government, not only elections, is needed for a democracy to survive," he emphasised.

Obama, nonetheless, on Sunday said the US is "not aligned" with any political party or group in Egypt, adding that Washington is committed to the aspirations of Egyptians regarding "democracy, economic opportunity and dignity."

According to a White House statement, Obama "condemned the ongoing violence across Egypt and expressed concern over the continued political polarisation."

But Miller described the role of the military during the 30 June protests as a "military intervention."

"This action makes Egypt non-democratic; the military will not easily sacrifice its privileges in the coming period."

The ex-foreign official gave an example with the situation of the military in US society. "The US army is subordinate to the American people, full stop."

He concluded his statements by saying that the US military does not have any economic or political roles insofar as the situation goes in Egypt.

However, he revealed the fears of the US administration against the "infiltration" of Brotherhood elements into the army if Morsi had continued in power.

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