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The Israelization of Egyptian foreign policy

An Op-ed piece published in the New York Times on November 21, 2012

Ever since the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Israeli officials have been pointing out the increased radicalization of the region. The harsh anti-Israeli language that Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has been making in the wake of the recent crisis is seen in Israel as a clear sign that the post-Arab Spring Middle East is presenting them with a new set of challenges.

This conflict will continue to grow more toxic until Morsi decides to focus less on security and more on justice.

Rhetoric aside, however, nothing seems to have changed in Egypt’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mubarak may be in prison and his security chief, Omar Suleiman, may be dead, but the contours of Egypt’s attitude around the Arab-Israeli conflict show no sign of significant change, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood now holds the reins.

For many years, the entire Palestine portfolio has been snatched from the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and handed over to military intelligence. During repeated crises — Operation Cast Lead, the Gilad Shalit saga, the P.L.O.-Hamas infighting — it was not the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, but Egypt’s spy chief that foreign dignitaries, diplomats and politicians flocked to see. The ensuing negotiations would revolve invariably around security questions: When should the Rafah crossing be opened? To whom among Hamas should intelligence information received from the Israelis be passed? How to crack down on militants? Conspicuously absent were any questions of international law, historic rights, justice or equity.

This Israelization of Egyptian foreign policy — privileging security issues over all other considerations — does not show any signs of being ruffled. Egypt’s intelligence chief, Raafat Shehata, has been the one everyone’s been courting in Cairo now. The cease-fire he just brokered will most likely succeed: Israel will suspend its ground operation and stop its target assassinations, and Hamas will pledge to rein in jihadi elements and stop firing rockets into Israel.

However, in encouraging Israel to lift its siege on 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza without addressing the historic roots of this ongoing conflict, Egypt’s new president will have betrayed the principles of freedom, justice and human dignity — principles that inspired the revolution that brought him to power.

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