Mohamed Morsi in the Middle

My piece on Egyptian policy towards Israel and Gaza during the latest crisis. I filed this from the Rafah border crossing, where I waited three days to enter Gaza:

Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is walking a political tightrope amidst Israel’s assault on Gaza, balancing the need to appease domestic anger whilst keeping foreign relations with Washington and Tel Aviv on an even keel. Just this morning, Morsi expressed optimism that a cease-fire was in the works, as Cairo hosted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In recent weeks, Egypt had been trying to negotiate a truce between Hamas and Israel amid an upsurge in violence between the two sides sparked by Israel’s killing of a 12-year-old boy in Gaza earlier this month. After Palestinian militant groups agreed to an informal cease-fire last Monday, Israel shattered two days of quiet by assassinating Ahmed Jabari—the head of Hama’s military wing—and launched its most intensive bombing campaign on the territory in four years. Hamas responded by launching hundreds of rockets into southern Israel.

Morsi—who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood—quickly withdrew Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League and ordered Egypt’s representative at the United Nations to call for a meeting at the Security Council.

The withdrawal of Egypt’s ambassador is not unprecedented; former President Hosni Mubarak did the same in 2000 in protest of Israel’s vicious response to the second Palestinian intifada.

What did mark a departure from Mubarak-era policies was Morsi’s decision to send in his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, for a three-hour visit to Gaza on Friday. Standing beside Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a press conference at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Qandil proclaimed, “This tragedy cannot pass in silence and the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression.”

Click to read more