No Resting on His Laurels for Cease-fire Hero Morsi

It is still too soon to tell how Morsi's cease-fire coup will play out domestically.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was as busy as can be on Monday. Between meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and speaking with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, he managed to get to Zagazig University Hospital, about 80 kilometers north-east of Cairo, to say a prayer for his sister Fatima, who died that day.

Egypt was still reeling from the horrific deaths, on Saturday, of 53 children in a train-bus collision, and Morsi was trying to calm public rage over the failure that led to the accident. When he returned to Cairo, Morsi was faced with a violent demonstration marking the one-year anniversary of the first major protest against the Mubarak regime. And a few days earlier, some members of Egypt's constitution committee had resigned over disagreement concerning the application of sharia law. Morsi needed the Gaza crisis like a hole in the head. But after seeing students at Al-Azhar University protesting in solidarity with Gaza and reading intel on plans for similar demonstrations on other campuses, Morsi tasked his new intelligence chief, Rifaat Shehata, with obtaining a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Shehata was involved in the prisoner release deal for Gilad Shalit and also knew the Hamas military commander whose assassination by Israel sparked the Gaza operation, Ahmed Jabari. Shehata is also close to the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal.

Last Wednesday Morsi called Shehata back from an official visit to Turkey. Back in Cairo, army Chief of Staff Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi told Shehata that after Jabari's assassination Morsi failed to broker a cease-fire and did not want to negotiate with Israel. The president was leaving that up to the military, led by Shehata.

Egyptian journalists covering the crisis told Haaretz that Morsi was extraordinarily cool during the crisis, "like an engineer who must solve a structural problem," one said.

While both Turkey and Qatar played some role in mediation efforts Saudi Arabia, which fears the Muslim Brotherhood's success reaching it, settled for cheering from the sidelines. The London-based, Saudi controlled Arabic daily Asharq Al Awsat ran opinion pieces that were critical of Hamas. Writing in the paper, the Kuwaiti columnist Mohamed Al Rumaihi noted that Iranian missiles were being fired at Israel from Gaza but also killing civilians in Syria. He also named, as two of the Gaza conflict's achievements, that it "revived talk of Iran being the indisputable backer of Palestinians" and "boosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection chances.

While Morsi may be facing headwinds in the Arab world with regard to his relationship with Hamas, this week Washington provided him with a stiff tailwind. Morsi and U.S. President Barack Obama logged more phone minutes in the past several days than they have since Morsi came to power. The question is whether Morsi can leverage this into more U.S. aid for Egypt.

It is still too soon to tell how Morsi's cease-fire coup will play out domestically. And while the Palestinian problem is in the "heart of every Egyptian," as Shehata said, Meshal's effusive praise and thanks from the U.S. and Israel will not help Morsi when his supporters submit the bill for his election promises: economic development, modern education, democracy and religion, too.

Protesters chant anti-Israel slogans in Cairo last week.Credit: AP

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