The fallout of the Arab Spring continues, and the winter dance performances are complex indeed.
Newly installed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is firmly in the Muslim Brotherhood camp, but as the ruling leader of a vast country with gaping economic, political and religious divides, he may not be able to take the kind of expected hardline against Israel that might be expected.
Today, November 16, President Morsi sent his Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil, on a “humanitarian mission” to Gaza. Kandil was traveling with a small delegation, but given the wracking poverty of so many in Egypt, it may be hard to justify a big showing of charity to outsiders. In addition, Hamas is the sworn enemy of the Egyptian old guard military and security forces, and Morsi needs to keep the displeasure of those groups in check. Complicating matters still further, is what is on the current dance card of U.S. President Barack Obama. While many either congratulate or blame U.S. President Obama for ushering out former Egyptian President Hosnai Mubarek, and thereby helping to usher in Morsi, at the moment the Obama administration is firmly playing the role of Israel supporter, committed to Israel’s right to self-defense and unequivocally casting Hamas as the party in the wrong in this November 2012 Gaza-Israel War.
Yesterday’s State Department and White House Spokesmen’s press conferences left no ambiguity.
Mark Toner, at the State Department:
MR. TONER: Anyway, let’s go to your questions, Matt.
QUESTION: Let’s start with the situation in Gaza and Israel. The Secretary made a call yesterday or took a call from the Egyptian Foreign Minister; is that correct?
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: What was the content? What was the message?
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, obviously, as I said, she did speak, as you noted, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr yesterday. I’m not sure what time, frankly. In the convoluted time zones that she’s in versus us, I’m not sure what time of day it was. But her core message was that we need – the necessity of a de-escalation of the ongoing situation and an end to the violence. That’s what’s most important here. And for —
QUESTION: And based —
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: No, no. You go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, based on that conversation and also on what you know, what you may know, about the President’s conversation with President Morsi —
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: — do you think that Egypt is going to do the right thing here, or do you have the sense that they’re going to? What was the response from the Egyptians? It’s —
MR. TONER: Well, I —
QUESTION: Because publicly, their response doesn’t seem to be very consistent with what you’re asking of them.
MR. TONER: I think – and in fact, the White House has issued in a readout of the President’s calls yesterday – both we and the Egyptians agree there needs to be a de-escalation, and we urged the Government of Egypt to take steps to support that kind of de-escalation.
QUESTION: Such as?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, using their influence in the region. But we want to see, obviously, a de-escalation of the violence. We need to see the violence to -stop. We need to see Hamas stop its rocket attacks on Israel so we can end the violence.
QUESTION: Okay. And the other day, I asked you whether or not the United States spoke to – or not spoke to, but had messages delivered to Hamas to knock it off, if you’ve used Egypt or Qatar, particularly since their Emir just visited Gaza, to send a message to Hamas that these rocket attacks have to stop whether or not they are actually firing them or not. I was told and – or I was led to believe that the answer is no, that you don’t pass any messages on to Hamas through third parties; you don’t talk to them yourselves. And I’m curious; is that correct? And if it is, why? Why not?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure – again, I’m not sure – you’re talking about what I told you in terms —
MR. TONER: — of my response? Okay. I think what I said was that – at the time was we certainly do convey our concerns, certainly to Egypt as a regional leader, as someone who has influence in the region. We convey our concerns and we consult closely on them whenever there’s this kind of outbreak of violence.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus