PostScript: Morsy’s Egypt and us

This is the time to use circumstance to bind the peace agreement, not excuses for undermining it.

Egypt's Mohamed Mursi at Tahrir Square rally 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
Egypt's Mohamed Mursi at Tahrir Square rally 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
The security problems that have developed in Sinai, and the way the Egyptian government is responding to them, could be navigated toward either opportunity or a crisis.
Since Mohamed Morsy took office as the country’s fifth president on June 30, relations between Israel and Egypt have been even more precarious and incendiary than ever. In tandem, the security situation in Sinai has deteriorated significantly, with jihadi attacks on Egyptian military and strategic targets there becoming bolder and more deadly than ever.
Neither Israel nor Egypt can allow the security situation to deteriorate further.
There is a formal peace treaty that binds the sides that could be interpreted with goodwill, or used as a club against the peace treaty itself. It all depends on what the leaders want. Morsy has to tread carefully between the expectations of the Islamists who put him into power, the terms of the peace treaty and continued American monetary and military support.
And Israel has to ensure that the peace treaty is not unilaterally violated, opening the potential for the unraveling of the accords altogether.
Israel and Egypt both have inherent interests in maintaining law and order in Sinai. Neither wants to see a total meltdown of authority with jihadis filling the vacuum. Both Egypt and Israel already face problems from the porous segment of the Egyptian-Gaza border at Rafah. There is the safety of American and international troops deployed in Sinai to consider, who are only there because of the peace treaty in the first place. The Egyptians want to attract tourists back and to protect their gas terminals, and Israel wants security cooperation in preventing terrorism and illegal immigration from Sinai into Israel.
In September, Morsy will be on his way to Washington for his first formal meeting with the American president and key members of his administration.
Egypt is the recipient of over a billion dollars a year in American aid and dependent on American weapons and supplies for its army. It can be expected that Egypt’s first non-soldier president will try to present himself as a responsible moderate, unabashed about his deep Islamic beliefs but, at the same time, committed to democracy, not unlike the leadership of today’s Turkey. Egypt, he can be expected to argue, is not part of the problem, but essential to regional stability. Undermining the peace treaty with Israel, it seems, is not something Morsy would logically want to do at this stage, though anything is possible.
This would be a good time for Israel to grab the initiative and lever the security situation in Sinai into the start of a measured dialogue with the new regime in Egypt, starting with low-level security talks, like those held after a terrorist attack into Israel from Sinai last year, and judiciously being advanced into something more pertinent to solidifying the Camp David Accords.
Both sides need the peace treaty and the current situation in Sinai shows one reason why. And while Morsy’s Egypt and Israel may have serious problems with each other, they share the more urgent problem of jihadi terror in Sinai, which can claim victory over both if the peace treaty comes apart.
Israel and Morsy’s Egypt have a lot more in common than meets the eye. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a whole different kettle of fish compared to fragments of the organization in other parts of the Arab world. In Egypt the Brotherhood has traditionally advocated nonviolence and Islamic family values.
Morsy’s upcoming trip is to the US is a sure signal that he intends to stay on a pro- Western track. He has inherited an incredible mess in terms of social and economic anarchy in Egypt, and the need to change an old order. He needs to continue to exert civilian control over the military and find employment for hundreds of thousands college graduates. A fight with Israel and America over the peace treaty right now seems about the last thing he needs, and hence the seeds of opportunity for changing the Israeli-Egyptian dynamic from one that is spiraling down, to slowly moving in a constructive direction.
Those who have written Morsy off as an Islamic fundamentalist not to be dealt with would do well to reconsider and at least give him a chance. If asked for their opinions, neither most Israelis nor most Americans would have voted him in, but the Egyptians did, almost entirely for domestic reasons, and we would do well to respect the outcome of the election. The right to vote, after all, is something we all hold dear and true.
This is the time to use circumstance to bind the peace agreement, not excuses for undermining it; to encourage Morsy to court the West, not fight against it; find workable solutions to the security problems in Sinai, not exacerbate them; and to wish Morsy well on his trip to America, not wish for his failure.