No longer coy, Egypt’s president picks a side, and it’s not ours
By Joel Brinkley
November 23, 2012
The chameleon is finally showing his true colors.
Since taking office in June, Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s not-so-new president, has been equivocating, trying to balance Egypt’s longstanding diplomatic and financial relationship with the West with his true self: a Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalist who is contemptuous of the West, hates Israel and wants to turn Egypt into a fully Islamic state.
“He speaks of moderation for the West,” Perihan Abou-Zeid, a 28-year-old Egyptian officer for a media-production company in Cairo, told me. “But then when Salafists blow up churches, there are no arrest warrants.” And Egypt experts agree: You can’t be a Muslim Brotherhood officer without holding as your goal the imposition of Shariah law nationwide.
When Hamas began firing hundreds of missiles at Israel last week, and Israel understandably responded, Mr. Morsi’s deceptive duality fell away. He gave himself away.
He sent his prime minister to Gaza City. There, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil theatrically broke into tears at the sight of a boy injured in Israel’s retaliatory bombing and said, “What I am witnessing in Gaza is a disaster, and I can’t keep quiet. The Israeli aggression must stop.”
Mr. Morsi also withdrew Egypt’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, lectured Israel’s ambassador to Cairo and publicly castigated Israel for what he called “wanton aggression on the Gaza Strip.”
All of that is so typical for Muslim fundamentalists. Neither Mr. Morsi nor any other Egyptian official offered even glancing acknowledgment of the rocket volleys Hamas fired into Israel. That’s what ignited this current crisis, not anything Israel did — other than to exist.
This time, Hamas’ arsenal included longer-range missiles, though they’re still unguided. Several hit suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Find me a single nation on earth — including Egypt — that would not respond if terrorists fired missiles at its two largest cities.
“Shooting into the most important city is like shooting rockets into New York,” said Tzipi Hotovely, an Israeli Knesset member.
Mr. Morsi’s hypocrisy here is of the sort that has been on full display ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Before, when Israel and Hamas fought, we didn’t hear much comment from Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian leaders. But now, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, said in a televised speech: “Today’s Egypt is unlike that of yesterday.” With that, he also thanked Mr. Morsi “for the quick and brave decisions he made.”
Mr. Mubarak considered Hamas the enemy. The rest of the world still does, with the exception of some Arab leaders and Muslim extremist groups — even though Hamas is nothing more than an unrepentant, unchanging terror group.
“From our ideological point of view, it is not allowed to recognize that Israel controls one square meter of historic Palestine,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, told me when I visited him 10 years ago. Then, just a few days ago, Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said: “We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine.”
Obdurate, unredeemable, the leaders of Hamas can now rely on Mr. Morsi as their new best friend. The Arabian Business News, a Gulf-based publication, described the new relationship as “an unprecedented display of solidarity.” Hamas was born of the Muslim Brotherhood, as were most leaders of al-Qaida. So now that we can see the direction Mr. Morsi wants to take Egypt, it’s a fearsome thing.
For one thing, he’s on record disparaging Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Almost two years ago, before he had any idea he’d be running for office, Mr. Morsi was a senior Muslim Brotherhood officer. He offered his view that a new parliament needed to review the treaty with Israel.
The treaty, he added, “talked about a just and comprehensive peace, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Where is that peace, and where is that state?” (That stated concern is fair, but until recently the Palestinians shared at least equal blame.)
Right now, some other Muslim Brotherhood leaders are openly calling for cancellation of the treaty with Israel.
Meantime, in Cairo and Alexandria last weekend, thousands of young Egyptians held riotous demonstrations, waving Palestinian flags and in some cases shouting “Death to Israel! Death to America! To Gaza we’re going, millions of martyrs!”
Unlike during the Mubarak days, Egyptian police stood by and watched while, in Cairo the same day, Mr. Morsi issued another statement.
Egypt, he declared, “will not leave Gaza on its own,” while warning “the aggressor to stop the bloodshed or face the wrath” of the new Egypt.
Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.
Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun