Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (L) in Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 202
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (L) in Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 202
Photo: AFP
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo last week

Gaza truce shifts focus to Egypt's regional role

Analysis: Diplomats say Cairo efforts to end May fighting more visible than during previous rounds of violence swaying U.S. in favor of Egyptian president after he was criticized for human rights violations

Associated Press |
Published: 05.30.21 , 11:05
Egypt's work to broker and secure the truce in the Gaza Strip has thrust it into the diplomatic spotlight, prompting top-level reengagement from Washington and overshadowing moves by several Arab states to normalize ties with Israel.
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  • The efforts have earned Cairo recognition at a time when it was struggling to strike a rapport with U.S. President Joe Biden's administration amid differences on human rights, and to make progress on its top foreign policy goal - a deal to regulate an Ethiopian dam that Egypt sees as a major threat to its supplies of Nile water.
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    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (L) in Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 202
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (L) in Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 202
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo last week
    (Photo: AFP)
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was due in Cairo on Sunday for meetings on the ceasefire.
    While Cairo has mediated during previous rounds of violence between Israel and the Palestinians through its ties with both sides, analysts and diplomats say its efforts have been more visible than in recent years.
    As the week-old ceasefire took hold between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that controls Gaza, Egyptian security delegations shuttled between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories.
    Next week, Palestinian figures including Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh are due to start visits to Cairo to further shore up the truce, Egyptian security sources said.
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    Children at a rally days after a cease-fire was reached in an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel
    Children at a rally days after a cease-fire was reached in an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel
    Children at a Hamas rally days after a cease-fire was reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's rulers and Israel in May 2021
    (Photo: AP)
    "There is a more active effort by Egypt and President (Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi. It was clear throughout the 11 days of war," a Hamas official told Reuters.
    Though Hamas has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed and subject to a severe crackdown in Egypt, Cairo has well-established intelligence ties with the group.
    Because of the importance Egypt attaches to security on the border between its Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, it is "super pragmatic" about its dealings with the Palestinian faction, said one diplomat.
    Other Arab states have played a more limited role. These include Jordan, which like Egypt has a decades-old peace treaty with Israel and shares a border with the Palestinian territories, and Qatar, which has provided financial support to Gaza.
    They also include the United Arab Emirates, which called for de-escalation and was the most prominent of four Arab states to announce it was normalizing ties with Israel last year as part of the Abraham Accords promoted by former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
    The agreements triggered speculation that Egypt's regional sway could be diluted, but analysts say this month's violence put the signatories - who include Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco - in a sensitive spot as Arab sympathy with Palestinians surged.
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    L-R) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain
    L-R) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain
    L-R: PM Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahraini FM Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani at the White House for the signing of the Abraham Accords, Sept. 2020
    (Photo: EPA)
    "The recent descent into open conflict, in Jerusalem and Gaza, has underlined how little control the Gulf signatories have over Israel's behavior," wrote Kristin Smith Diwan of The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
    The UAE Foreign Ministry declined to comment on whether Emirati officials had been in contact with Israel to try to calm the recent violence.
    The UAE's ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, said last month that it was possible to "do business with Israel and have a tough conversation about the Palestinian issue at the same time".
    Asked if Israel saw the UAE as a partner in cooling tensions with the Palestinians, Israel's envoy to the UAE, Eitan Na'eh, told reporters on Wednesday that it was too early to say, adding that the UAE could encourage moderation in the region.
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    Iron Dome activates in southern Israel as rockets are fired from northern Gaza overnight Thursday
    Iron Dome activates in southern Israel as rockets are fired from northern Gaza overnight Thursday
    Iron Dome intercepts rockets fired from northern Gaza at Israel during the fighting this month
    (Photo: AFP)
    For Egypt and Sisi, who enjoyed good relations with Trump, one achievement of the ceasefire push has been the sudden resumption of contact with the White House.
    After an awkward silence that had lasted since Biden's inauguration in January, the U.S. leader spoke twice with Sisi in five days.
    However, U.S. and Egyptian reengagement around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be limited by the current lack of prospects for a peace process, analysts say.
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    A crater remains where the al Masri home stood before it was destroyed in an Israeli strike onBeit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip
    A crater remains where the al Masri home stood before it was destroyed in an Israeli strike onBeit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip
    The aftermath of an IDF strike on Gaza earlier this month
    (Photo: AP)
    "This is mostly conflict management rather than conflict resolution," said Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian foreign minister.
    In the past, "our engagement was on peace process issues as well as on the security issues in Gaza when things broke out. Presently there are no serious peace process issues."
    Egypt, which receives some $1.3 billion of U.S. military aid annually, has also faced strong criticism from U.S. Democrats over its human rights record. After a visit to Cairo this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said human rights remained "very much on the agenda".
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    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Czech counterpart Jakub Kulhanek and Slovak counterpart Ivan Korcok as they visit the site of a building damaged by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week, in Petah Tikva, Israel May 20,
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Czech counterpart Jakub Kulhanek and Slovak counterpart Ivan Korcok as they visit the site of a building damaged by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week, in Petah Tikva, Israel May 20,
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi escorts his Czech and Slovak counterparts to a building hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But Egypt has learned to wait out bumps in its relationship with Washington and after proving itself over Gaza had won some breathing space on rights, said Hafsa Halawa, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.
    "Egypt has become a patient foreign policy actor, and that really comes from the core institutional belief that Egypt is too big to fail," - a concept Egypt sees the United States and other allies as sharing, she said.

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