Within the past two weeks, Cairo has received two messages of special significance. The first was from Washington and the other was from Tel Aviv.
During his election campaign, US President Barack Obama made a point of saying that Israel is a “red line” for America regarding its relationship with Egypt. Any change in the “peace accord between Egypt and Israel” puts the security not only of Israel but also of the US in question, he said. Of course, this will affect the Cairo-Washington relationship.
The second message was from the Chief of the Political Staff in the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Amos Gilad said he did not expect any dialogue between President Mohamed Morsi and the Israeli leadership now or in the future. Gilad also reflected on his disappointment with the current Egyptian regime when he described it as “dictatorial” because it “estranged” liberals and the youth.
The two messages are connected to the cold Egypt-Israel relationship ever since Israel lost its “strategic ally” when the former regime was ousted.
American efforts to arrange a meeting between the respective presidents of Egypt and Israel have been unsuccessful. Observers also noticed that President Morsi did not mention the word “Israel” in any of his speeches, and they also noticed the president’s comments on the cordial letter on the occasion of assigning the Egyptian ambassador to Israel. The president’s spokesman said that that was a mistake which would not be repeated.
Observers have also seen that no meetings between junior level officials have taken place; contact between the two countries which does take place does so only when absolutely necessary. The refusal of the Egypt’s Minister of Defence, Major General Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, to accept calls from his Israel counterpart has also been noted.
Obviously, the Egypt-Israel relationship has changed post-Mubarak, but there are four points to consider.
Egyptian caution on foreign policy is understood; internal stability is a priority. The issue is related to a country which is trying to regain its leadership role in the region. Therefore, the minimum of clarity on foreign policy is to be expected and there is no room for mass media speculation.
It is Egypt’s right to have its own “red lines” known to all. If the US President said that Israel is a red line for Washington, Egypt has to say that the independence of its national policies and respect for the state, and protecting it, are its own non-negotiable red lines.
Israel has succeeded in linking its interests and security with America’s. Obama said that any change in the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel affects not only Israel but also the US. Even if this language was used for maximum electoral effect to get votes from American Jews, it does not change the fact that Egypt and other Arab states play a significant part in the life of the industrialised countries. However, they have not succeeded in persuading Washington that they play such a significant role that they have to be included in calculations about national interests.
Warning messages sent to Cairo from Washington and Tel Aviv did not take into account their effect in the Egyptian media. America’s red lines only produced a short analysis and commentary in Al-Shorouq written by its Washington correspondent. All of the other Egyptian newspapers more or less ignored Obama’s statement.
Compare such disregard with the huge media fuss when the Israelis leaked Morsi’s letter assigning a new ambassador to Tel Aviv. It is hard to believe that there is an innocent explanation for this disparity. When the letter was published, most Egyptian commentators spoke about a “bargain” between the new Egyptian regime and Washington as the first step towards normalising relations with Israel. Serious verbal and written attacks on Morsi followed.
Moreover, when the American warning proved that such analysis was wrong, all of them kept silent. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that this was an attempt to smear and discredit President Morsi. It seems that despite all their lofty claims to the contrary, the media argument is not with Israel, but with the elected President of the Egyptian Republic. That is a major concern.
The author is an Egyptian writer. This article is translation of the original which appeared in Arabic on Shorouknews on 7 November 2012
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.