Over the weekend, as Egypt’s President Morsi prepared to fly to New York for the new UN session, the New York Times published a 90 minute interview with the democratically elected Islamist premier. Mohamed Morsi took the opportunity to lecture America on her Middle East policy and to set out his own parameters for how relations can be improved.
The interview was picked up by the Telegraph, which majored on US-Middle East relations and Egypt’s slow response to attacks on the US’ Cairo embassy. Morsi, however, also raised issues which bode ill for continued peace with embattled Israel.
Firstly, although Egypt has not had diplomatic relations with Iran for several decades, Morsi said that it was important to have a “strong relationship” with the Shia state. While, so far, the new Egyptian administration has indicated it will maintain the peace treaty with Israel, renewed ties to Iran could change that. A strong link between the two countries could leave Israel sandwiched between Iranian missiles and a long and difficult to defend border with Egypt (not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood’s aggressive offspring, Hamas).
Secondly, Morsi revealed himself as potentially a more pro-active player on behalf of the Palestinians. Accusing America of rousing anger across the Middle East by its support of Israel, Morsi recalled the 1978 Camp David Accords and called on the US to complete its obligations to oversea the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the West Bank and to assist in the creation of a Palestinian state. With Mahmoud Abbas avowedly about to annul the Oslo agreements, Egyptian involvement in the stalled peace process could lead to more conflict and more pressure on Israel.
Further, Morsi made a link between US support for a Palestinian state and the status of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. He appeared to threaten the US that if they did not do more for the Palestinians the peace treaty could become a diplomatic casualty, leaving the door open to military aggression against Israel.
Thirdly, President Morsi made much of his constitutional “coup” over Egypt’s military in regaining for the civil administration overall control of the nation’s armed forces. Under Mubarak and subsequently the military administration, the stability of Israel’s desert border with Egypt was reasonably assured. So much so that terror attacks from the Sinai have forced Israel to spend millions of Shekels fencing a previously porous line in the sand. With an Islamist president holding the overall reins of Egypt’s military, the status of the agreements between the two countries could easily become as shifting as the sands of the Sinai!
During his interview, President Morsi claimed to be an ex-member of the Muslim Brotherhood (he resigned as their leader on taking office), the democratically elected head of “…a real civil state. It is not theocratic, it is not military. It is democratic, free, constitutional, lawful and modern.” Time is still out on the effect Mr Morsi’s life in one of the world’s oldest (and previously most secretive) Islamist movements will have on his constitutional decisions.