Egypt to Keep Peace Treaty, but Anti-Israeli Pressure Remains

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Clark Boyd: We mentioned earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just in Egypt. She met with President Mohammed Mursi over the weekend. Today, Secretary Clinton was in Israel, but Egypt was still on the agenda there. Israeli leaders have looked on with concern at the rise of Islamists like President Mursi. Michael Hanna is a fellow at The Century Foundation in New York. He says the Obama administration is engaging Mursi simply because it has to.

Michael Hanna: This is the first time we've seen this level of contact between a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is now the president of Egypt, and a US Secretary of State. That being said, while it does reflect major shifts that have happened in the region, this is the reality that the United States now deals with. I think there's simply no other alternative. This is the president of a long-time US strategic ally and if there is to be a future for this bilateral relationship, one that is figured prominently in regional security for the United States, then the United States now has the task of reconstructing political ties and a new relationship and a new foundation for this relationship going forward.

Boyd: Now, Egypt has told Hilary Clinton that it will meet its treaty obligations with Israel. What's the benefit for Egypt in doing so?

Hanna: The Muslim Brotherhood understands that abrupt shifts, changes in these international frameworks, would damage Egypt's ability to cooperate with other actors, and at this juncture when there is a need for foreign direct investment and security cooperation with other actors, those aren't risks that any Egyptian leader would be willing to take.

Boyd: Do you think that Israel can trust that Egypt will do what it says?

Hanna: Well, I think it's important to recognize that this new president, Mohammed Mursi, is not in control fully of all executive functions, and particularly when it comes to sensitive regional files that have been run by the intelligence services and the military even prior to the regime being toppled. It's not as if he now has carte blanche to refashion these arrangements and to upend the nature of security-intelligence cooperation. And so the role of the military, for better or for worse, is a fact of life and that's a reality that will govern and limit the ability of Mohammed Mursi to shift the direction of Egyptian foreign policy in the near future.

Boyd: So how do you think the new Egyptian president, Mohammed Mursi, reflects anti-Israeli opinion there in Egypt?

Hanna: Well, frankly anti-Israeli opinion is very common. Palestine and the question of Palestine, the occupation, these things are vital issues for Egyptians and many in the Arab world. And I think the big shift now is that Egyptian foreign policy cannot simply ignore popular opinion as it could under the Mubarak regime. Now that has to figure into how the country's foreign policy is made. When you are democratizing and creating a space for representation politics popular opinion matters in a way that it didn't use to prior.

Boyd: You were talking about the new government in Egypt and how Mohammed Mursi doesn't have complete control over it. Does that mean that there's uncertainty over the way it will now react to events? And is that uncertainty likely to make Israel more restrained or conciliatory?

Hanna: I would hope that Israeli leaders are cognizant of the fact that they are operating in a new regional environment. If they do prioritize the strategic importance of the Camp David Accords then they are going to have to, themselves, approach bilateral ties between Egypt and Israel in a different way. This is all a work in progress. I will say that the existing security ties between the military and the intelligence services in Egypt remain and there is still bilateral contact and cooperation on that front. So it's not as if Israel is operating in a completely new environment, but clearly now they have to contend with politics in a way that they never had to in the past.

Boyd: Michael Hanna is a fellow at The Century Foundation whose focus includes US-foreign policy in the Middle East. He joined us from New York. Thanks for your time.

Hanna: Thanks for having me.