Mohammed Morsi, Israel's Brother

It is worth remembering that Morsi is not a religious legal scholar, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not a Hasidic sect.

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

The conflict of the past week has produced a number of surprises, President Shimon Peres told Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and they include Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's efforts to play a serious role in diffusing tensions. Strangely enough, Peres added, Hamas was not listening to Morsi and it was Israel that had been attempting to work with the Egyptian president.

Nothing better distills Israel's official and distorted view of the world.

At the origins of this way of thinking is the perspective which holds that Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, its offspring Hamas and all the terrorist organizations are of one piece. According to this angle of vision, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian president - the brotherhood's senior representative - must stoke the tensions, feed the fires of war and drag Israel into a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Look, that's their character. And that's where the surprise is. The chance to argue that there is no partner on the Egyptian side has slipped away.

About a month ago, Morsi sent Peres a letter with the credentials of the new Egyptian ambassador to Israel, referring to Peres as his dear friend and concluding it, "Your faithful friend, Mohammed Morsi." The Egyptian president suffered the barbs of the Egyptian media for his warm choice of words, and the criticism didn't come just from Islamist groups. Leftists and liberals, proponents of democracy and not democratic impersonators such as the Muslim Brotherhood, viewed the wording as a dangerous break from the consensus.

This is the same Morsi who, through his military leaders, asked Israel to allow Egypt to introduce troop levels in Sinai beyond the levels allowed in the peace treaty with Israel - for the purpose of combating fundamentalist Muslim Salafist terrorist cells. This is the same Morsi who, before the war in Gaza, sought to get a cease-fire in place between Israel and Hamas; who rejected Iranian requests to renew diplomatic relations with Egypt. It is he who "surprised" Peres. You see, defusing tensions and fighting terrorists are major characteristics of Israel and only Israel. Therefore it is not possible that this Muslim Brother would act as Israel would wish him to.

This same distorted view which holds that Morsi and Hamas are one and the same is by necessity taking another hit. How strange, Peres wonders, that Hamas is not listening to Morsi. It would never occur to him that a faithful stalwart of the Muslim Brotherhood would not obey an order from his spiritual leader.

It is worth remembering that Morsi is not a religious legal scholar, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not a Hasidic sect. The movement has undergone bitter ideological splits since its founding. Leaders have quit and established competing movements. And Morsi was not the brotherhood's preferred candidate for the Egyptian presidential election. The young guard bitterly criticizes the older generation. Even the movement's founder, Hassan al-Banna, on several occasions preached in favor of giving preference to Egyptian national interests over involvement in foreign conflicts such as the Palestinian struggle.

Hamas, too, has always come to its own decisions without taking direction from the Muslim Brotherhood. Its close ties with Shi'ite Iran, which have been severed in the meantime, and the haven that Hamas found in secular Syria, which slaughtered members of the brotherhood, didn't particularly please the Muslim brothers in Egypt.

And one final thing to consider - the idea that compared to unruly Hamas, which fails to accord respect to Morsi, it is Israel that has been attempting to work with him. After he surprised us with his efforts to diffuse the tensions, Morsi is now a colleague, our close friend. All of a sudden, he reminds us of the Egypt that we had gotten used to in the era of Hosni Mubarak. No longer is he the disaster that befell the Middle East and Israel. He is no longer a symbol of the "Arab winter" or of a shocking dictatorship.

If he is battling Hamas, he is a friend. If he is fighting terrorism in Sinai, he is our brother. Whether or not he turns Egypt into a theocracy, whether he promotes liberal values, whether or not he deals with the Egyptian economy, we no longer care. Israel is not in dialogue with the Egyptian, Jordanian or Palestinian people - although Morsi, it should be remembered, is conducting such a dialogue. And it is important for Peres to know and not be surprised that Morsi's people are different from Mubarak's. Now the Egyptian people not only talk. They also have influence.

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