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 »
LOST BY HALF A PERCENTAGE POINT
Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
37 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Much Did the IRS Overpay in Earned Income Tax Credit Benefits?
4 hours ago
THE ANSWER

An estimated $15.6 billion, "according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report."

Source:
TIES TO CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE
McAuliffe Under Investigation for Fundraising
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) “is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and … the Justice Department” for potentially improper contributions to his 2013 campaign, including while he was a Clinton Global Initiative board member. ... Among the McAuliffe donations that drew the interest of the investigators was $120,000 from” former Chinese legislator Wang Wenliang. “U.S. election law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to … elections. … But Wang holds U.S. permanent resident status.”

Source:
RAISES SEX ASSAULT, VINCE FOSTER
Trump Takes Aim at Bill Clinton
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump is reviving some of the ugliest political chapters of the 1990s with escalating personal attacks on Bill Clinton's character, part of a concerted effort to smother Hillary Clinton 's campaign message with the weight of decades of controversy. Trump's latest shot came Monday when he released an incendiary Instagram video that includes the voices of two women who accused the former president of sexual assault, underscoring the presumptive Republican nominee's willingness to go far beyond political norms in his critique of his likely Democratic rival. ...In one recent interview, Trump said another topic of potential concern is the suicide of former White House aide Vincent Foster, which remains the focus of intense and far-fetched conspiracy theories on the Internet."

Source:
FUROR AFTER HOUSE OVERSIGHT HEARING
Head of Security for TSA Has Been Reassigned
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The head of security for the Transportation Security Administration, Kelly Hoggan, has been removed from his position after a hearing about the agency's management, the House Oversight Committee says." Deputy assistant administrator Darby LaJoye will take over for Hoggan on a temporary basis.

Source:
×