WASHINGTON – Egypt’s US envoy said Thursday that the party that wins control of the government in Cairo is likely to respect the country’s treaty with Israel but could want to have it “revisited” or “reformulated.”
Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Egyptian Ambassador to the US Sameh Shukry assessed that “Most of the political parties and the government certainly have indicated respect for the peace agreement [and] respect for their legal obligations and will continue to do so in the future.”
He continued that “most political parties recognize the benefits and the value of the peace treaty,” listing security, the ability to concentrate on Egyptian economic development and avoiding armed conflict as among those benefits that a future government would recognize as well.
But he added, “That doesn’t preclude that there are areas of the relationship that might be revisited, that might be reformulated through mutual dialogue.”
Problematic issues have existed between Israel and the Mubarak and even Sadat government, Shukry noted, implying that the future government would be no different.
Robert Satloff, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy expert, who appeared in the same panel as Shukry Thursday, cautioned that it was important to note that the stance of the Muslim Brotherhood toward the treaty with Israel had some fudge room. He was referring to the notion that the Brotherhood could revisit the treaty with Israel should the Egyptian public demand it.
“This is an escape clause, which at the moment they’re not pressing, but which at some moment might be quite convenient to use as an escape clause to use external difficulties as an alternative in dealing with domestic problems,” he said. “At the moment, there is no urgent challenge to the relationship between Egypt and Israel but I do think this is a very serious thing that one needs to keep their eye on.”
Satloff also noted that already Islamic groups have broken their their pledges to the Egyptian people that they wouldn’t run a candidate for president, wouldn’t seek a majority of seats in parliament and would have a constitutional assembly inclusive of all Egyptians.
“The three most important promises they have made, they have violated,” he said.
Shukry, for his part, said that he came away from recent conversations with Islamist elements of the Egyptian parliament “somewhat reassured” by what he saw as a “pragmatic perspective in terms of the US-Egypt relationship” and an interest in continuing it.
When asked about the recent dispute of American aid to Egypt and the threat made by some in Congress to condition it on more Egyptian steps toward democracy, the ambassador indicated he opposed the approach and suggested such a policy could do more harm than good.
US Gen. Jim Jones, who served as President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser and also participated in the BPC event, additionally expressed skepticism. He said that conditioned aid could be used as a level to affect democratic change, but warned that it could also have the opposite effect.
“I think that you have to be careful that you don’t push too hard in this race for democracy,” he said. “It takes a long time to build a democracy. It’s a rheostat, it’s not a light switch.”
He concluded: “At the moment, I think economic assistance and the involvement of the private sector are probably one of the most important things we can do to change attitudes.”