President Mubarak’s Surprise Visit to Sudan

Egypt’s President made an unannounced visit to Sudan today, the first time since 2003, meeting with President Bashir in Khartoum, and then making the first ever visit by an Egyptian President to Juba in the South.    It’s hard to exaggerate how important Sudan is to Egyptian security:  If Egypt is a house, Sudan is the foundation through which all of the essential electrical circuits (the Nile)  originate from.  Therefore, a lack of  order  in Sudan is a direct security threat to Egypt and for this reason Cairo is opposed to any ICC attempt to arrest President Bashir as this would jeopardize the 2005 Peace Treaty with the South, and may even make things worse in Darfur. 

On another note, the Egyptian government has been criticized by Egyptian columnists for abrogating its duty as a regional power and not being involved in Darfur.   “We’ve gotta act like the regional power we are and stop letting little Qatar get all the glory” goes the arguement (See this  post).    Today’s high-level by a delegation that included the President, the Foreign Minister and Omar Suleiman, head of the Mukhaberet, seems to be a pretty decisive response to that criticism.

Peace Process Outlook: Not so Good

The future of the Peace Process depends upon alot of things but no progress is possible unless the three main players, the US, the Israelis, and the Palestinians, are politically able, at the same time,  to engage in serious negotiations. 

I. The Palestinians and the Arabs:  As divided as ever and reconciliations talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo just fell_apart.    Hamas claims that Egypt is not acting as a neutral mediator and their argument is supported by many influential Arab columnists, such as Fahmy Huwedi and Abdel Bari Atwan.  The lead editorial  in today’s Al-Quds Al-Arabilists six factors behind the collapse of the Cairo talks.  The first factor behind the collapse is the alleged presence of a US-Israeli “veto” of any negotiations with Hamas and secondly, they blame the Egyptian government’s failure to act as a neutral mediator between the different factions.  Only after this, does Al-Quds blame the Palestian factions themselves.  Whatever the case, if the Palestinians can’t even negotiate a common front amongst themselves, its wishful thinking they will be ready to seriously negotiate with Israel in the near future. 

II.  The Israelis.  Also not currently in a position to undertake serious negotiations with Livni locked in a tight election campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu.  Livni’s failure to seal the deal and get the support necessary to become PM was a bad omen.  If Netanyahu wins the upcoming election, its unlikely that the Israeli government (or the public) will be in a conciliatory mood.    Supposedly, the Israeli public is wary about Obama and his commitment to standing firm against Iran which may favor the hard-liner Netanyahu is his battle with Livni.  Whatever the case,  if Netanyahu wins, the Peace Process, almost by definition,  loses.

III.  The United States.  Washington is not a babysitter and can’t force people to negotiate if they don’t want to, which seems to be the case right now.  But the big question is what approach will Obama take towards negotiations between Israel and Palestine and this is the central issue that concerns the Arab street and the key to improving US standing in the region.  Everything else (Iraq, Afghanistan) is secondary.  If, in general, we can say that Arabs prefer Obama, it is because they are expecting “change” on this issue.   Let’s not kid ourselves and think that if Obama adapts the same policies towards Israel-Palestine, that US standing is going to improve.   He’s going to have a window to show the Arabs something different, but it won’t be open forever.