POMED Notes: “Israel and Egypt: In-Depth Reports from a Changing Region”
On Wednesday The Washington Institute hosted a conversation on recent political developments in Israel and Egypt which featured David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process; and Eric Trager, the Next Generation Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Makovsky and Trager recently returned from Israel and Egypt, respectively.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF version.
Makovsky began the discussion by talking about his impressions from his recent visit to Israel. The dominant issue there, he said, is the prospect of Iran developing nuclear capabilities, and whether or not Israel will preemptively strike. Israelis generally do not like the 5+1 diplomacy process, because in their view, it is based on the false premise that time is on Israel’s side. The diplomatic effort is actually having an adverse effect in Israel, Makovsky said, where people wonder why there is no sense of urgency in the international community as the window of opportunity closes for Israel. Regarding Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel, Makovsky suggested looking at it from the perspective of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who is concerned with how either Obama or Romney would react to an Israeli strike against Iran. Finally, Makovsky said, Israel generally wants to stay out of the conflict in Syria, as long as the country’s chemical and biological weapons do not turn into a liability for Israel.
Next, Eric Trager spoke about his recent trip to Egypt, during which he had several in-depth conversations with Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) officials. Trager began by noting that in 2010 Mohamed Morsi said in an interview that if Mubarak died the following day, the MB would not nominate a presidential candidate, because society would not be ready for MB leadership. Two years later, Trager was in Tahrir Square for the announcement of the presidential election results. The square was a tense scene full of Brothers and Salafists, who Trager said made clear their preparedness to confront security forces in the event of an Ahmed Shafiq victory. Now that the FJP controls the presidency, he said, there will be a long power struggle between the MB and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The recent standoff between SCAF and Morsi was not as serious as implied in Western media, though; the two sides are simply testing the new boundaries and limits of their power.
Through interviews and sitting in on meetings, Trager determined that the FJP really is not separate from the MB, with the Shura Committee of the MB connecting the two organizations. In the meantime, the MB is the most cohesive, best mobilized force in Egyptian politics and is unlikely to moderate its positions anytime soon. Additionally, the Salafists want to help Morsi because they feel they will gain from his success. There is little opportunity for U.S. influence here, Trager said: when prompted, most Egyptians had little understanding or patience for the idea of the U.S. conditioning military aid on positive political developments in the country- people see the military aid as separate from Egyptian politics. Still, Trager said, the U.S. can and should use the aid as leverage with Egypt.
An audience member asked if the U.S. has any interest in seeing Morsi succeed or fail. Trager responded that the U.S. should be willing to work with the MB, as long as it is a productive and cooperative relationship. The MB is particularly interested in U.S. education and technology, and will want to work together in those areas. Another audience member asked why Egypt seems not to “care” about the increasingly chaotic situation in the Sinai Peninsula. Trager said that firstly, the military is already stretched thin as it continues to patrol cities; secondly, there would be potentially undesirable ramifications involved with challenging Bedouin who are increasingly under the influence of extremist groups.