What Egypt Stands to Win From the Gaza Conflict

Even if a second cease-fire proposal fails, Egypt’s reputation in the West is getting a much-needed boost.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talk before a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Cairo on June 22, 2014.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
See more stories about...
Kaveh Waddell
July 24, 2014, 4:40 a.m.

After a con­duct­ing an openly un­fair elec­tion and com­mit­ting a rash of doc­u­mented hu­man-rights ab­uses, the new Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment is run­ning short on le­git­im­acy. But Pres­id­ent Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi now has his first chance to prove him­self to the world by ne­go­ti­at­ing a cease-fire between Hamas and Is­rael, put­ting a stop, however tem­por­ary, to an in­creas­ingly bloody con­flict in the Ga­za Strip.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry ar­rived in Cairo on Monday night, join­ing Sisi and U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon in try­ing to de­vise a cease-fire agree­ment that both Is­rael and Hamas could agree to. As of Wed­nes­day, Kerry has been shut­tling between Is­rael and the West Bank to meet with lead­ers from both sides, but an agree­ment re­mains out of reach.

This is Egypt’s second stab at peace­mak­ing in this con­flict. Last week, it put for­ward a cease-fire pro­pos­al that won Is­rael’s ac­cept­ance but was re­jec­ted by Hamas. The re­jec­tion was pos­ted to the of­fi­cial web­site of Hamas’s mil­it­ary wing, the Qas­sam Bri­gades, which claimed it was nev­er con­sul­ted about the agree­ment. When it learned of its con­tents, the Qas­sam Bri­gades called the pro­pos­al an “ini­ti­at­ive of sub­mis­sion,” in­dic­at­ing that it was not in­ter­ested in “sur­render.”

As Egypt plays host to the push for a cease-fire, it is already see­ing pos­it­ive ef­fects on its glob­al im­age. “The United States is very grate­ful for Egypt’s lead­er­ship and we’re here today — I am here per­son­ally at the re­quest of Pres­id­ent Obama — to im­me­di­ately try to find a way to sup­port Egypt’s ini­ti­at­ive,” Kerry said after meet­ings in Cairo on Tues­day. And back in Wash­ing­ton, Pres­id­ent Sisi garnered a “round of ap­plause” at a pro-Is­rael event when the host men­tioned how many Hamas tun­nels he has shut down.

Egypt is sorely in need of the good West­ern press after a rash of polit­ic­al moves that earned it world­wide cen­sure over the last year. Sisi led what was ef­fect­ively a coup against the demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted Muslim Broth­er­hood politi­cian Mo­hamed Mor­si in 2013, leav­ing his post as com­mand­er in chief of the mil­it­ary to take on the pres­id­ency. A pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in late May of this year to so­lid­i­fy his takeover saw Sisi walk away with al­most 97 per­cent of the Egyp­tian vote, amid wide­spread boy­cotts and al­leg­a­tions of a polit­ic­al land­scape pro­foundly skewed in the gen­er­al’s fa­vor.

Since the elec­tion, two sep­ar­ate mass death sen­tences were handed down to more than 800 dis­sid­ents ac­cused of ties to the Muslim Broth­er­hood, and three al-Jaz­eera journ­al­ists re­main in cap­tiv­ity after be­ing sen­tenced to sev­en- to 10-year pris­on terms for “falsi­fy­ing the truth” in their re­port­ing. The sen­tences drew the con­dem­na­tion of U.S. law­makers, who in June sug­ges­ted that U.S. aid to Egypt should be pulled as Egypt des­cen­ded “to­ward des­pot­ism.”

Des­pite all this, Egypt re­mains the last best hope for a cease-fire in Ga­za. Egypt’s strong ties to Is­rael put it in a good ne­go­ti­at­ing po­s­i­tion — these ties were af­firmed when Is­rael quickly ac­cep­ted Egypt’s earli­er cease-fire pro­pos­al. It is in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion than even the U.S., whose ef­forts have been ma­ligned by the Is­raeli side. A former Is­raeli am­bas­sad­or to the U.S., Mi­chael Oren, said that Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu had “not in­vited” Kerry to try to broker a cease-fire on Monday. Non­ethe­less, Kerry is play­ing a lead­ing role in the push for an agree­ment based on the “Egyp­tian frame­work.”

Egypt faces more of a hurdle in deal­ing with Hamas, a group that was close with the pre­vi­ous Mor­si ad­min­is­tra­tion in Cairo, but which has clashed with Sisi. But Egypt’s situ­ation right now is something of a polit­ic­al win-win for Sisi at home: if Hamas and Is­rael agree to its cease-fire pro­pos­al, he looks like a dip­lo­mat­ic hero; if not, then Is­raeli forces will con­tin­ue to chip away at an or­gan­iz­a­tion that Egypt is happy to see weakened. But the pres­id­ent must be care­ful: pop­u­lar sup­port for the Palestini­an cause with­in Egypt could make Sisi look out of touch if his dis­taste for Hamas gets in the way of ne­go­ti­at­ing for Ga­zans’ lives.

Even if the cease-fire agree­ment that comes out of this cur­rent dip­lo­mat­ic push falls short of what is ne­ces­sary, or if Kerry’s shuttle dip­lomacy is al­to­geth­er un­suc­cess­ful, Egypt is likely to come out ahead in the eyes of the West. The fact that the U.S. sec­ret­ary of State joined the U.N. sec­ret­ary gen­er­al in Cairo to re­group and be­gin the cam­paign for a dip­lo­mat­ic agree­ment af­forded Egypt’s gov­ern­ment some much-needed le­git­im­acy and bolstered its fad­ing im­age. By demon­strat­ing its es­sen­tial role in the Ga­za con­flict, Egypt and Sisi make it easy for the world to fo­cus on today’s real­ity in Cairo and be­gin to ig­nore the hu­man-rights vi­ol­a­tions and shady polit­ic­al deals.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
21 hours ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×