Egypt's Interim Government and Israel

For Jerusalem, is the removal of the Brotherhood a positive or negative development?

egMuch attention has been given to the removal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office by the international media.  The Egyptian military, led by Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, removed Morsi, apparently to forestall the total collapse of the country’s economy, and in response to the people’s demand.  The near bankruptcy of the Egyptian economy, and the deteriorating civil unrest, made headlines while scant media consideration has been given to the new Egyptian interim government’s prospective policy toward Israel. The appointments of Mohammed el-Baradei as Vice President for international relations, and Nabil Fahmy as Foreign Minister, may provide some clues.

Ostensibly, the appointment of el-Baradei and Fahmy as primary spokespeople addressing the outside world, is indicative of the urgency the new government feels about soliciting recognition of its legitimacy from the western powers. Nabil Fahmy has previously been an ambassador to the United States (1999-2008) and to Japan, and he is the founder of the School of International Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. Mohammed el-Baradei, who ran unsuccessfully for the Egyptian presidency, was the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1997 to 2009.

For Jerusalem, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) from power is a positive development.  Morsi, the MB President of Egypt, provided the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza with a back wind, and in time would have done a lot more to bolster Hamas. In the Sinai Peninsula, Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in cahoots with local Bedouins, operated largely unhindered by the Morsi regime. They attacked Egyptian military posts as well as Israeli military and civilian targets, lobbing rockets into the Israeli southernmost city of Eilat.

The deposed President Morsi also flirted with Iran to the consternation of the US and Israel.  According to AP (February 5, 2013):

“Morsi's flirtation with Iran is seen as aiming to strike an independent foreign policy and broaden Egypt's connections after the ouster two years ago of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, who kept close to the line of the United States. Such a visit by an Iranian leader (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, who was a close ally of the U.S. and shared Washington's deep suspicions of Tehran.”

The Jerusalem Post reported (July 29, 2013) that the interim Egyptian government “had launched an investigation into suspicion that Morsi had been collaborating with Hamas.” In the meantime, the Egyptian military has destroyed nearly 80% of the smuggling tunnels along the border between Egypt and Gaza, which is further escalating the tension between Hamas and the new government.

The immediate task el-Baradei and Fahmy face is how to bring urgently needed economic aid to the ailing Egyptian economy. The new government hopes that the close ties the two have among western policymakers, and in particular with the US, which provides Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid, would be helped by Fahmy’s appointment.  Egypt’s new government is counting on Fahmy and El-Baradei to facilitate the return of foreign investments to Egypt, which in turn will create jobs (Egypt’s unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2013 stood at 13.2%, and not counting underemployment), and convince western tourists to return to Egypt.

The 2011 revolution which resulted in the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak’s 40 year dictatorship had a significant impact on Egypt’s tourism industry. Visitor numbers declined by 37% to reach close to 9 million, compared to over 14 million in 2010. These two leaders have been given a heavy load to lift in the six months (according to Fahmy on France 24, it will take 7-9 months to prepare the new constitution) this interim government has before elections are scheduled to take place.  Nevertheless, the two will undoubtedly seek to leave an indelible impact on their country’s foreign policy, and on the relationship with Israel.

Neither El-Baradei nor Fahmy are revolutionaries or outsiders.  In fact, they are a product of Egypt’s political elite.  Both were protégé’s of the former Secretary-General of the Arab League, and Egypt’s former Foreign Minister (1991-2001) Amr Moussa, who mentored an entire cadre of Foreign Ministry officials.  In his decade as Foreign Minister, Moussa developed a school of thought whose central theme was that “Israel must be brought to its natural size.”  This concept became not merely theorem, but an active Egyptian policy.  Its tenets sought an Israeli withdrawal from all “occupied” territories.  It also desired to strip Israel of its deterrent assets, which would make it possible to confront it with greater ease.  Moussa considered Egypt’s role, as the leader of the Arab world, to confront Israel in every UN forum, and especially over the nuclear issue.  It was the nuclear issue in which both El-Baradei and Fahmy, each within the context of their specific careers, “cut their teeth.”

Nabil Fahmy, in particular, is likely to devote some of his best efforts to resuscitate the 2012 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference, which failed to take place.  Fahmy will be eager to call for the implementation of the 1995 decision to create a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East, or more specifically, a “nuclear-free” Middle East, aimed primarily to strip Israel of its undeclared nuclear weapons. In April, 2013, Egypt walked out of the NPT preparatory meeting in Geneva (scheduled for 2015), allegedly because the 2012 conference was skipped. In reality, however, it was a way to create a crisis atmosphere in which to extort the US to compensate Egypt.

Interviewed by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in May, 2010, Fahmy had this to say: “Israeli refusal to participate (in the NPT) and the lack of Western pressure on Israel to do so” is the reason for the failure to create a Nuclear Free Middle East. Asked about Iran, Fahmy replied: “There is opposition to further sanctions (against Iran), not only from Arab states that are irritated with Israel’s refusal to join the NPT, but also from countries like Brazil and Turkey.” Fahmy conveniently ignored the fact that Iran is a signatory to the NPT Treaty.

Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to the US, told Israel Radio that the appointment of El-Baradei is problematic.  “I am worried about his appointment. For many years he was very comfortable for the Iranians, and without this softness I don’t think the Iranians would be where they are today (regarding their nuclear program). I don’t think his intentions toward Israel will be comfortable, though this will have to be tested.” El-Baradei publicly censured Israel following its attack in 2007 on the nuclear installation in Syria. He accused Israel of “taking the law into its own hands.” Yet, as a leader of the IAEA, he did nothing to prevent the Syrians from developing a secret nuclear facility.

It is too early to qualify which direction the two Egyptian foreign policy leaders will take on the issues affecting the Middle East, including the nuclear issue, and the Palestinians. Will El-Baradei and Fahmy cultivate a relationship with Iran and Russia while seeking to neutralize Israel’s alleged nuclear arms? Or will they join the Sunni coalition currently led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in a face-off against Iran and its Syrian ally?  And, will the two try to bring the Palestinian factions (Fatah and Hamas) together at the expense of peace with Israel, or will they shun Hamas and support Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority?

Answers to these questions are as vital to American taxpayers as they are to Israelis. What is clearly apparent is that neither El-Baradei nor Fahmy are too keen on Israel.

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