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Will the Arab moderate camp be revived?

Clues which have emerged on the political horizon in recent days call for the following question: Is Egypt regaining its role in the "moderate" Arab camp? I do not need to point out that the camp in question does not have a good political reputation, simply because it includes states that are allied with America and Israel; they are against the Palestinian resistance and undemanding on the issue of national independence; they are against Iran; and they are opposed to the idea of the unity of the Arab nation.

You may have noticed that I am suggesting that this might be the case as I do not want to say that the restoration of Egypt's role in that axis is inevitable, but it has become a possibility. I also do not want it to be thought that Egypt under Mohamed Morsi was out of the camp in question; I believe that it remained within its framework and never actually left it.

I wrote a piece during Morsi's time in office in which I noted that Egypt's foreign policy was still dictated by that put in place by former President Hosni Mubarak; nothing substantial changed, at least with regards to dealing with the United States and Israel. Even the position towards the Gaza Strip remained essentially as it was, albeit with improvements which led to some easing of the siege of the Palestinian territory. However, the Rafah border crossing is still a pressure point for the Palestinians as are the tunnels, which are the economic lifeline for the Strip; now they are being destroyed. Security contacts between the Egyptians and Israelis stayed the same under Morsi.

It is true that the president tried to change the traditional image of Egypt's foreign policy by showing interest in Africa and visiting China, Russia, Brazil and India, as well as opening a line of communication with Iran, but this did not make a significant difference. It was more an expression of intent than revolutionary inspiration.

Anyone could say that Mohamed Morsi spent one year in office, a relatively short and limited period of time, and that he was focusing on saving what could be saved at home, which did not give him much opportunity to focus on foreign affairs. Others may justify his position by saying that he was handcuffed by the promises and agreements made by the Mubarak and Sadat regimes to the Americans and Israelis, which limited his room for manoeuvre.

I have not ruled out the possibility that Dr. Morsi's calculations were simply wrong. This is possible, but it brings us to the same conclusion, which is that during his time in office, Egypt did not step out of the "moderate" box. All he did was freeze Egypt's role. This is supported by the fact that Israel was not happy because of his position on Hamas, the Gaza Strip and some of his other moves, but it was not unduly disturbed by him either. Even Haaretz published an analysis on the day after he was removed which said that Israel will point to four positive things about him: his commitment to the Camp David Accords; his contribution to the agreement sparing Israel rockets from Gaza; the demolition of the tunnels; and his alignment with the Sunnis against Shiites.

Last Saturday, July 13, the Wall Street Journal published a report with the headline, "In Egypt, the Deep State Rises Again". The report, which was not denied by anyone, included many details about the meetings held by representatives of the National Salvation Front and other opposition figures, including some military personnel, and the role played by the men from the former regime in support of "Tamarod" and the call to take to the streets on June 30. The WSJ gave the impression that the campaign to isolate President Morsi united opposition figures with some generals and representatives of the "Tamarod" movement as well as members representing the supposedly-defunct National Party.

Some of the information noted in the WSJ report was that the meetings between the opposition figures and generals were held regularly for several months at the Naval Officers' Club in Cairo. The generals, it was claimed, told them that if the opposition was able to secure a sufficient number of demonstrators on the streets, the army would intervene to remove Morsi.

It was noted that one of the lawyers of Ahmed Ezz, a Mubarak man and the former leader of the National Party, attended some of those meetings, as did a former deputy of the same discredited party in the eastern province. The latter was one of the most important supporters of the "Tamarod" campaign in the city of Zagazig.

We must beware of generalisations, however, because at the forefront of those who came out against Morsi on June 30 were patriotic people afraid for the revolution or afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn't entirely innocent, though, as the old regime and its cronies saw and seized the chance to settle scores with the revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Externally, it was noticeable that the Gulf states involved in the moderate camp, which were also allies of Mubarak and his regime, were quick to extend a hand to the new regime a few hours after the announcement of Mohamed Morsi's removal. These states had boycotted Cairo after the January 25 revolution, which later turned into a formal position after Morsi's election. One of the rulers in these countries sent a letter to Morsi after his election asking him to put an end to the million-man marches that were being held in Tahrir Square; he complained that it encouraged the people in his country to take to the streets and express their anger against his regime. At least $12 billion was pledged by the states to the interim government in Cairo within days of it taking over.

This reminds me of something I heard three months ago from one of the officials in the presidency, the gist of which was that Ms. Anne Patterson, the American ambassador, once relayed a message to Morsi that included specific requests directed from Washington. While doing so she mentioned that responding to these requests could encourage the Gulf States to direct some of their investments to Egypt to resolve the economic crisis. The expression she used in this regard was, "the keys to the Gulf States' vaults are in Washington's hands".

Israel's delight at what has happened in Egypt is obvious. Following this up I found the following:

  • On July 6, Hebrew radio reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that the Americans implement a new "Marshall Plan" for financial support for the military in Egypt, and to prevent any actions that may bring Islamists back to power.
  • On July 9, Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior official in the US administration saying that the Israeli government went through several channels to reach senior officials in Washington demanding that American aid for the Egyptian army, which is estimated at $ 1.3 billion, should not be affected by the military takeover because it may result in repercussions for the security of Israel.
  • The newspaper added that marathon Israeli-American talks were held at the end of last week and addressed what happened in Egypt. Those attending made a thorough examination of a conversation between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry, another conversation between Security Minister Moshe Yaalon and US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, and a third conversation between National Security Adviser James Amidror and his American counterpart, Susan Rice.
  • On the same day, the Israel newspaper published an article by prominent intellectual, Boaz Basmot, in which he said, "The overthrow of Morsi represents the end of the Arab Spring, which represents a strategic shift more significant than the defeat of Egypt in 1967."
  • On July 7, the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies published a research paper on its website by Professor Hillel Fritsch, in which he said that what Egypt had witnessed was "a major earthquake. The land of the Nile has returned to a military dictatorship like the Mubarak dictatorship, and the final chapter of the Egyptian revolution has ended."
  • On July 11, Haaretz published an article by Israeli thinker Arieh Shavit, in which he said that the matter is settled in Israel: "We are all with Al-Sisi, all with the military coup, all with the non-bearded generals who were educated in the United States, and we all support their right to end the rule of a bearded elected leader."

In addition to what I have already mentioned, the senior experts at the Israeli National Security Research Centre presented a set of recommendations to the government regarding what must be done to support the coup. In the introduction to these recommendations, they noted that Israel's main goal is not only to maintain peaceful relations with Egypt in the next stage, but also deepen its peaceful relations with Egypt, as Israel has a special interest in the establishment of a liberal, secular and responsible government that functions effectively throughout Egypt and is not restrained by ideological restrictions which prevent it from confronting extremist elements.

The recommendations of those experts – most of whom are retired generals – were posted on the centre's website on July 11, and included the following:

  1. Israel must deepen its cooperation with the Egyptian army and continue to allow it to deploy troops in the Sinai against jihadist infrastructures and weapons smuggling to the Gaza Strip.
  2. Israel must continue to strengthen its relationship and coordination of the leadership of the Egyptian army, and at the same time it must build its military capacity in order for the generals not to be susceptible to surprises in the future.
  3. Israel should exert great efforts to ensure the continued aid of the military leaders in Egypt. It must also encourage foreign investors to launch infrastructure projects in Egypt in order to provide job opportunities, as the deteriorating economic conditions could threaten their rule.
  4. Arab regional players in the Gulf and Jordan, who prayed for the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, should be encouraged to continue helping Egypt to ensure the success of the new regime. Israel must not exclude the possibility of coordination and deliberation with these players on how to help the military rule. Moreover, such coordination may develop in a manner that allows for the formation of a regional front against the radical axis led by Iran.
  5. Israel must attempt to establish channels for dialogue with those responsible for the Egyptian revolution at the moment, as they may find that Israel is the party that could utilise their capabilities and relationships in the service of the goals they have envisaged.

I do not want to rush to judgment on the new situation, but based on what I have discussed, I believe that we are warranted to be worried about the future, and wonder aloud: Where are we going with the January 25 Revolution?

The author is an Egyptian writer. This article is translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera net on 16 July, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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