Egypt's Morsi Has Reassured Israel, But Future Is Uncertain

Article Summary
Egypt's Morsi has requested that a new building be found for the Israeli Embassy demolished during the Arab Spring. But Smadar Peri writes that the new president avoids talking about Israel, and it is unclear where he will stand as the Muslim Brotherhood tightens control of the country's institutions.

The good news is, and this is a hot report, right out of the political oven in Cairo: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi instructed the relevant elements in his regime to go out and find a suitable building in Cairo for the Israeli embassy. It's a year now that no property-owner in the Egyptian capital can be found who would be willing to have his name "tarnished" in a sale transaction involving Israeli representatives, so that Israel's small diplomatic team has to work out of the ambassador's residence. True, the embassy staff is not overburdened with meetings; however, there is no Israeli flag waving on the banks of the Nile.

The less pleasing news is that the Egyptian Rais seems to be (still?) unable to pronounce the explicit name of Israel. It should be noted that the Israeli delegates are doing their job as if it were business as usual, at least as usual as it used to be in the Mubarak era, and Morsi keeps reiterating the pledge to honor the "international agreements" and, referring to the deployment of Egyptian tanks in the Sinai Peninsula, gives his word that there should not be any kind of "international or regional" concerns at all from the presence of Egyptian security forces there [having said as much in an interview to Reuters on Monday, Aug. 27, just ahead of a trip to Iran and China]. However, one may wonder what Morsi means when he says "international or regional" and who is it that should not be concerned.

Over the weekend, Morsi invited leading screen and stage actors to allay their fears, too, and promised that there would be no settling of accounts. The Egyptian stars took advantage of the opportunity and, on the steps of the presidential palace, released an announcement of their own to the press to hold the president to his pledge that Egypt would be a democratic, civilian state of all its citizens. At the same time, Morsi appointed 10 new provincial governors, six of them associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The circle of his close associates and advisers consists for the most part of Muslim Brotherhood adherents and the same holds true for the key positions in the (Egyptian state) media, whose role in Egypt has traditionally been to clarify to the public who is the boss and where the wind blows.

Foreign observers are currently witness to an Egypt torn between two camps: The Islamist camp, which emerged victorious from the (recent presidential) election, on the one side, and the alarmed camp of secular Egyptians and intellectuals who have not found their place yet in the new constellation, on the other side. The image of the hijab-wearing TV newscaster, veiled in the style adopted by the wife of the Egyptian Rais, is telling the new story of Egypt. It isn't at all simple to be a Coptic academic at the American University in Cairo or a liberal, secular Muslim in Egypt these days. I have been told that the veiled attire has become a trend even among the women of the Christian community in Egypt.

Yesterday [Sept. 8], a letter of clarification was received at the Yedioth Ahronoth editorial office, sent by the leaders of the small Jewish community in Egypt. They are uneasy (so they say) with the publications in Israel about the cancelation of the (upcoming) Jewish New Year's prayers in Cairo and Alexandria. The Joint (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization) has already sent the holiday meals (to the local Jewish community), the synagogues are being burnished, but the quorum of 10 Jewish adults required for holding the prayers [minyan] is unlikely to be found in either of the two cities and there will be no one there to open the synagogue Ark, where the holy "Torah" scrolls are kept. The Israelis who used to arrive every year to celebrate the holiday (with the local Jewish community) are no longer allowed right of entry.

"It isn't on account of us," the Jews in Egypt uneasily apologize, citing the excuse of security considerations dictated from above. "It isn't due to us," claims the Egyptian regime representative. "The Jews here are welcome to hold the event according to their tradition." It seems that a small group will convene around one single long table at the ancient Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, and another group will celebrate the holiday in low profile in Cairo, while the Americans will keep guard and watch over to ensure the safety of the gradually vanishing (Jewish) minority. Both alike are worried by the (international) conference (on Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries) slated to convene this week in Jerusalem (opened on Monday, Sept. 10) with the purpose of demanding international recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, above all, the glorious community of native Egyptian Jews. That's all they need now — legal claims for lost property pressed against the Morsi regime.

So far, from his point of view — and that of Israel, too, it should be conceded — Morsi has not made even one single mistake. Mubarak is now ancient history. Morsi's road map is designed to reinstate Egypt as the leader of the Arab world, the way it used to be (in its heyday). Looking around him, Morsi sees no challenge on the part of any of the neighboring Arab states. Other Arab countries swept by the Arab Spring have set up shaky regimes, while those not yet shaken by the upheavals are preparing for a last-ditch battle. Morsi has emerged strengthened from his recent visit to Tehran. He missed no photo opportunity, but has left the Ayatollahs empty-handed. He has taken charge over the Egyptian military operation in the Sinai and he is making the Hamas leadership in Gaza sweat. He is seeking to gain international recognition, and to change the image of the Muslim Brotherhood in the eyes of the world. His advisers are trying to deliver the message to the Israelis as well: "Give him time and you will see for yourselves how good he is at what he is doing."

Found in: synagogue, muslim brotherhood, muslim, morsi, israel, embassy, eliyahu hanavi, egypt, alexandria

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