Iran vs Egypt

Yesterday, the lead op-ed in  Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s   savaged Egyptian foreign policy, in particular the recent comments of Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al-Ghait. 

This is a big theme that (American)  people need to be aware of:  Egypt’s role as a regional power has seriously declined.  Why is this?  The vast majority of the analysts in the Arabic press blame it on its blind support of the US.  Ie its too close to the US.   This is something to keep in mind when we talk about repairing US-Arab or US-Islamic relations:   Most in the region, especially Egypt, are calling for their governments to distance themselves from the US, not necessarily to develop closer relations. 

Here’s my paraphrased summary: 

Recently, the Egyptian government has escalated its campaign against Iran.   Just yesterday, FH Abu Ghait accused the Iranians of trying to control the Middle East by trying to exploit the Palestinian cause.  According to the FM, the Iranians talk about the Palestine cause but do nothing of note to actually help it.    

Abu Ghait’s anger illustrates two points:
1) The rise of Iranian power which coincides with the decline of Egyptian
2) Iranian support for the Palestinian resistance vs Egypt’s new role as an extension of US foreign policy

“Iran controls the Middle East because Egypt withdrew from it…  Under previous Egyptian governments, Egypt invested millions of dollars and sacrified its best and brightest (ie people that died in Arab-Israeli wars)  in support of the Palestinian cause and in order to strengthen its regional position.   But the current government has wasted all of these investments in its blind pursuit of US policy and a fraudulent peace which benefits the Egyptians first and foremost. 

Iran is not to blame for this situation.  Its the Arab governments, with Egypt in particular who work hand in with the Israelis and US.  And the FM is wrong when he says that Iran presents only empty propaganda to the Israelis.  The great 2006 victory vs Israeli aggression wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of Iranian rockets. 

When Egypt returns to its role as protector of Arab interestes, and distances itself from blind support of US and Israeli policy, and actually helps its Arab brothers defend against Israeli agression, then Iran will no longer control the Middle East. 

For some context, Al-Quds Al-Arabi is virulently anti-US foreign policy, so one is unlikely to find this kind of harshness in Asharq Al-Awsat or even Al-Hayat (all three being London based regional papers) .  However, the sentiment expressed here in widely felt in Egypt.  Fahmy Huwedi,   Egypt’s most respected commentator, repeats this theme constantly in his 6 or 7 weekly columns in Cairo’s Al-Dostor newspaper.  I would add that the Egyptian street would strongly agreed with this analysis from Al-Quds.

Better Late Than Never?

In a recent interview, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made some shocking statements about what Israel is going to have to give up:

Virtually on his way out the door from the prime minister’s office, Ehud Olmert told Israelis what he really thinks of the future of the peace process.

In a sweeping interview with the mass circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahranot, Mr. Olmert said on the eve of the Jewish New Year last week that Israelis are dreaming if they think they can make peace with the Palestinians without paying the price: a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories,” Olmert told the Yediot Aharanot newspaper last week. “We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Asked if this included Jerusalem, he said: “Including in Jerusalem, with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites.”

Olmert said that for 35 years he was unwilling to look at the realities of Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Israel annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967.

OK this is nice to hear.  But why now?  Why are you saying this now, after adopting a “take it or leave it” hard-line approach towards peacemaking for your entire career in government?    And isn’t this an admission that  previous Israeli peace attempts were ingenuous?    CSM notes how the comments are complicating Tipi Livni’s attempts to form a new cabinet:

To peace enthusiasts, this is good news for the future direction of the Kadima Party, which has supported a moderate if motionless platform since taking over in March 2006. To conservatives who don’t see conditions conducive to a settlement of the conflict, Olmert’s comments show a clear leftward tilt that puts him – and possibly Kadima – squarely in the camp of Israelis who are willing to make significant concessions to the Palestinians and the Syrians.

This means that while left or middle-of-the-road parties would like to join a government led by Livni, it will be harder for her to bring in parties such as Shas, which holds 10 percent of the seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

It seems to me that Olmert’s comments, which are truly extraordinary for a PM to say, are too spontaneous to actually be spontaneous.  Maybe he is saying this as part of some kind of  coordinated effort with Livni  to gradually prepare the Israeli public for the realities they are going to have to face-if they want serious peace.