The Middle East peace process has new hope due to Egypt's
role as the new "honest broker" between the Israelis and the Palestinians,
according to two top foreign-policy aides to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.
While street clashes between Morsy's supporters and the
opposition have escalated this week, the two aides have been in Washington on a
charm offensive, meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Sens. John
Kerry (D-MA), John McCain
(R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
Their message: Egypt is back as a diplomatic player in the
Middle East after years of drift and decay under deposed president Hosni
"Let me tell you why the Gaza mediation worked. For the
first time in a long time, there was an honest broker," Khaled al-Qazzaz,
secretary of the president for foreign affairs, said in an interview Wednesday.
The Egyptian government's first priority will be a new
initiative to first achieve reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian
Authority, followed by a new dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israeli
government, the advisors said.
Essam al-Haddad, who is the equivalent of a national
security advisor to Morsy, said that Palestinian reconciliation is necessary so
that nobody will be able to claim that the Palestinians are not speaking with
one voice or that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. He also said that
Egypt will press for more rights for Palestinians in Gaza.
"We would like to see a new road map in order to make sure
[Israeli-Gaza violence] will not happen again, to make sure the people in this
part of the world to enjoy a human and peaceful life," Haddad said. "They have
the right to move freely, to be educated. It is not acceptable to besiege 1.5
million people in the 21st century. This is the biggest open-air prison on
Haddad said the Egyptian government will not tell
Hamas to recognize the state of Israel or renounce terrorism.
"We don't tell people what to do. We help them to make the
proper choices and we try to create an environment that will be conducive
enough to achieve the long-term objectives," he said.
But he heavily criticized the Israeli government's recent decision
to move ahead with plans for 3,000 new residences in East Jerusalem.
"This announcement of
new settlements is really closing the small window of the possibility of a two-state
solution," Haddad said.
Haddad said that Morsy is interested in expanding the
strategic relationship between the United States and Egypt and using that
relationship as the basis to expand Egypt's efforts to promote regional
democracy and stability.
"We're trying to build a relationship. We were invited to
Washington for two reasons: to prepare for President Morsy's visit to
Washington early next year and to start understanding how can we build a
relationship between the U.S and Egypt on a new basis and based on the new
structure and vision of Egypt," Haddad said. "We have huge potential for
building a strategtic partnership between the U.S. and Egypt to build a more
stable, prosperous, democratic region in the Middle East, which will have an
effect beyond the region as well. Egypt can play a greater role in maintaining
regional peace and security and the United States is highly interested in
making that happen."
Skepticism in Washington about the Morsy government's
commitment to democratic principles is high, however, particulary after Morsy
issued a decree last month declaring that his edicts are beyond judicial or
legislative review, a move that sparked protests in Cairo that have left more
than 200 people injured.
Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton was in Cairo the night before the decree was issue and met with Morsy,
but Morsy didn't tell her the decree was coming, nor did he tell President Barack Obama when they spoke over the
phone, Haddad acknowledged.
"Gaza was the overwhelming issue during Secretary Clinton's
stay in Cairo," he said. "The domestic information reaching the president -- he
decided not to leave town, and the decision to issue the decree was made the
next day, which is something that is totally domestic."
Haddad said that the decree is temporary and will be
nullified when Egyptians go to the polls Dec. 15 to vote on a referendum on the
new constitution. He also said that if the United States supports democracy in
Egypt, it should support the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the
Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), from which Morsy hails.
"If you could find
all the excuses to support the dictatorship for 30 years, providing them with
full support, I think it will be much easier to support a democracy in Egypt,
and even a moral obligation," he said.
Haddad and Qazzaz said that the Morsy government was doing
all it could to prevent violence but that violence was coming from the
protesters, including Molotov cocktails thrown at FJP offices.
"Protests in the streets are something normal and accepted.
It's a good sign of our democratic changes. It's an acceptable way of
expressing views and as long as it is not violent, it is even encouraged," Haddad
said. "We must admit there has been some use of violence, but we hope this use
of violence will end as soon as possible and the security [forces have] very
clear instructions not to use violence and they are restraining themselves to a
That message may not resonate on Capitol Hill, where $450
million of U.S. economic aid to Egypt is now on hold due to objections by leading lawmakers. A $6 billion
IMF loan is also in the works -- a desperately needed cash infusion for a
country that has been devastated by the economic fallout of its political
Haddad said that if U.S. lawmakers are willing to become
better informed about the FJP and its goals, the Egyptian government is
confident it will allow the aid. He also said that international NGOs, which
were persecuted by the last Egyptian government, will be allowed to return to
Egypt as soon as a new NGO law is passed.
"We believe in our new Egypt that civil society is a main
pillar in building a new state. As soon as we have the parliament, there will
be a new law. International NGOs should be allowed to operate within the legal
framework of Egypt," he said. "You can come, you can operate. You have to be
transparent, you have to be legal, and you have to follow the framework. We are
happy to welcome more NGOs to help develop the civil society of Egypt."
The Muslim Brotherhood does not want to create a
theologically based state in Egypt, the aides insisted. But it does want sharia to inform Egyptian government and
law going forward, he said.
"We are going to be a democratic, modern, civil state. From
our point of view, this is pure Islam... The sharia is a reference for most of
the laws," Haddad said. "We have no room, no acceptance of a theocratic state."
Washington-based Egypt experts say that the jury is still out
on whether the Morsy government will live up to its promises to uphold
democratic values and practices.
"There's a real divide in Washington right now
inside the U.S. government as well as in the expert community between those who
are willing to assume good intentions on the part of President Morsy and those
who believe that what he has done recently proves he has no intention of
carrying out a full democratic transition," the Atlantic Council's Michele Dunne said. "Developments in
Egypt over the next few weeks might settle this argument one way or the other."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images