Egypt's leader must perform tough balancing act

The arrival of Turkish and Qatari officials in Cairo to help mediate peace talks between Hamas and Israel illustrates the pivotal role that Egypt has played since the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak last year.

Since becoming Egypt's first freely elected president in June, Mohamed Morsi has set Egypt on a course more friendly to Hamas, while reasserting its erstwhile role as regional diplomatic leader by reaching out to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in an effort to mediate in the violence in Syria.

Following years of the Mubarak regime's perceived collaboration with Israel, Mr Morsi, a passionate defender of the Palestinians, has signalled a hardening in the relationship with Israel. He has extended the arm of friendship to Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party to which Mr Morsi owes his political career.

In the latest outbreak of hostilities, he has denounced Israeli aggression. But he has shown more restraint towards Israel than many Egyptians would like, mindful of irking Washington and jeopardising the billions of dollars that Egypt receives from the international community, which is essential to shoring up post-revolutionary Egypt's flagging economy and restoring stability.

That means safeguarding the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and stepping up to lead the truce negotiations between Hamas and the Jewish State.