Egypt's President Morsi is in an impossible position in relation to Israel's aggression in Gaza

Either he imposes his will on the Israelis, keeps his powder dry and risks his reputation as the guarantor of Muslim freedom in the region. Which will he choose?

Share
Related Topics

Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood mastered the art of local politics, built a formidable propaganda machine and deservingly cashed in on their social investments with victory in the Egyptian elections. But there was always an accident in waiting. Israel.

We all knew President Morsi’s policy in the region was going to be driven by pragmatic calculations of trade and geopolitics, but the latest act of Israeli aggression in Gaza challenged the durability of that approach. Not only is it fuelling much fury and desperation in Egypt, but the government’s promise of being a safety net for Palestinians has been firmly called into question. Without being too critical of the Egyptian President, he did recall Egypt’s ambassador from Tel Aviv with immediate effect, appealed to the Arab League to mediate the situation and to an extent, upped the diplomatic ante on Israel.

But I’m not sure insisting on diplomacy and multilateral efforts will cut much ice with ordinary Egyptians, who are now reflecting whether their government’s claim of being an effective buffer against Israel was more a pipe dream than a realistic scenario.

Quandary

Even before he came to power, Morsi was aware that the moment Israel began flexing its muscles, Egypt could be landing itself in uncharted territory. Calls for him to chart an independent course in any conflict involving Israel, even if it meant flirting with the idea of amassing troops on Israeli border zones, would reign in thick and fast. Now, the Egyptian President is in a deep rut over Israel. He either rides the mounting political demands of his countrymen and imposes his will on the Israelis, or keeps his powder dry and risks his reputation as the guarantor of Muslim freedom in the region.

Morsi’s political quandary doesn’t end there. Elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are marred with division and there is no settled consensus on how the party ought to settle their score with Israel. The historical rift between the Brotherhood’s pan-Islamists and pan-Arab nationalists are yet to be bridged, with the former preferring a hard-line stance against Israeli aggression, and the latter content with leading from behind. And although the President has proved resilient to internal revolt, showing no signs of imploding thus far, old wounds have yet to heal and a proxy contest for control continues.

Morsi’s measured response to the flare up so far may be part of a multi-pronged strategy to foster a pacific international image amidst Egypt’s deteriorating security situation, and one which denies SCAF any window of opportunity to exert itself, which the President can ill afford. But in the process, he could alienate the more gung-ho factions of his party and set himself at loggerheads with his Islamist constituency, however dwindling a segment they may be.

Judging by the mood of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, the President’s drearily familiar response to the conflict has not garnered sympathy from the Arab street. For everyday Egyptians, Palestine is no peripheral state. An attack on Gaza is an attack on them, which explains why a strong momentum is building for the Egyptian government to send a thunderclap of authority across the border. The popular feeling is that issuing ringing declarations of support for the Palestinians will do little to placate war-hungry Netanyahu and deflect Israel from the conflict it craves.

Rapprochement

What’s also clear is that anti-Israeli sentiment cuts right through Egypt’s sectarian maze, so the Brotherhood’s political fortunes depend not only on whether it can appease its Islamist strand, but also whether it can meet the rising expectations of ordinary Arabs, many of whom are happy to be locked into the struggle for Palestine’s future. If government ministers remain ambivalent about Egypt’s regional presence, I can see the pendulum easily swinging in favour of the more ultra-conservative religious right, who would gladly if given the chance, funnel cash and weapons to occupied Palestinians.

But having already courted the US government and insisting on the normalisation of bilateral relations with Israel in the past, Morsi is likely to stray far from suggestions that he adopt a more aggressive regional stance. If he crafts his message to strike a loud chord with those favouring military solutions over diplomacy, it could potentially stymie his presidential mission, still at its infancy.

For Morsi, the moral urge to intervene in Gaza and tighten the screws on Israel conceals more important, underlying factors. If the past few days are anything to go by, he will try everything in his means to prevent the crisis from morphing into a political standoff and reach tipping point.

Rapprochement with Netanyahu is unlikely to compromise Egypt’s fragile security, which for Morsi, is a safer option than diverging from the script and pinning hopes on a showdown with Israel, which could have unintended consequences. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little