Egypt's Army Must Decide Whether It Wants Peace With Israel or Peace With Tahrir Square

It appears interim regime doesn't want to exploit recent events as means to scrap relationship with Israel., nor does it want popular protest movements to formulate Egypt's foreign policy.

Egyptian video clips circulating since Saturday feature Ahmed al-Shahhat, the "hero" who ripped down the Israeli flag above the Cairo embassy, and demands by four Presidential candidates to expel Israel's ambassador, recall Egypt's ambassador, and annul trade agreements with Israel. These are just a taste of the swell of data indicating a nadir in Israel-Egypt relations.

This crisis is real; and Egypt's interim military government, on which these candidates sit, is under tremendous pressure, as masses in the country claim that Israel has displayed abominable insensitivity toward Egypt. Still, it is too early to talk about a definite rift in relations with Egypt.

Tahrir, Egypt - AP archive

Egypt's dilemma is not limited to the problem of forging a response to the killing of five of its soldier. Instead, the country has to decide who makes its foreign policy. Is it Tahrir Square - are the masses of protesters now the sovereign power which determines national and strategic interests; or will the masses allow the interim government to determine the boundaries of the country's strategic interests?

This dilemma was reflected by the contradictory moves coming out of Cairo on Saturday. One statement called for the recall of the country's ambassador in Israel, but the envoy stayed firmly in place.

Sunday, state-affiliated media published a series of op-eds in which Israel figured as a criminal entity that must be punished for the killing of five Egyptian soldiers and the infringement of Egyptian sovereignty. Though Israel was roundly accused of trying to exploit Egypt's current political weakness, none of the articles called for severance of relations with Israel, or for the annulment of the Camp David peace accords.

It appears that the interim regime does not want to exploit recent events as a means to scrap the country's relationship with Israel. Nor does it want the popular protest movements to formulate Egypt's foreign policy.

In the past, American pressure and cautious leaders exercised restraining influences in Cairo. From this point onward, the public's voice is more likely to figure in diplomacy decisions.

When Egypt's army or an interim government has to decide whether the national interest is better served by peace with Israel, or by peace between it and the country's masses, the country's foreign policy course is likely to change.