Charity Begins at Home: As Egyptian Diplomacy Was Making Steady Progress into Recovering Its Traditionally Leading Role in the Region, There Was Good and Bad News for President Hosni Mubarak's Government on the Domestic Front

Article excerpt

The New Year started with the government announcing what has been going on behind closed doors in the rapprochement with Iran. The latter, in exchange for restoring diplomatic relations with Egypt--severed after Ayatollah Khomeini took over the running of the country as Egypt gave sanctuary to the late Shah--decided to rename the road that immortalised the terrorist Khalid El Islamboli, found guilty of murdering President Anwar Sadat. It also gave an undertaking to refrain from its propaganda campaign and support of radical Islamic groups, and most importantly as Far as Cairo is concerned, to drop its opposition to the 25 year old Egyptian Israeli peace pact. Cairo made no concessions.

America continues to use Egypt's good offices to attempt to pressurise Iran on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the continuing war on terrorism and seeking to help to pacify the Shi'a in southern Iraq.

However, most of Egypt's diplomatic foreign policy efforts over the past three years have concentrated on mediation between the Israelis and the Palestinians--especially securing a ceasefire among the radical groups in order to hopefully, help guide the Road Map, back on course. However, a chain of events has led to certain voices within President Hosni Mubarak's own camp questioning Egypt's diplomatic role among Arab nations and the Palestinians.

Some setbacks on that front came to the aid of Egyptian nationalists. The Syrian policy of obstructing Egyptian diplomacy paid dividends when the Baathists' 'old guard' in Damascus, successfully pressurised Palestinian radical groups residing there, to frustrate Egypt's attempts to secure a ceasefire between them and the Israelis as part of a commitment to the Road Map. This was shortly followed by the humiliation of Egypt's Foreign Secretary Ahmad Maher during his visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, at the hands of angry Palestinians who beat him unconscious. The Egyptian official's life was spared by the intervention of his Israeli bodyguards who were forced to enter the mosque to rescue their Egyptian guest. Later, he was visited in hospital by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Palestinians were said to have been angered by Mr Mailer holding talks with the Israelis at a time when Arabic satellite television channels and noisy Arab nationalist columnists wanted Egypt to tear up the peace accords and send in an army to help defend them, rather than sending the Foreign Secretary to mediate for peace.

It was a wake-up call for EDTpt and one swiftly exploited by the fast growing Egyptian nationalists seeking to recover and restore Egyptian identity. The nationalists accuse the late Colonel Gamal Adbul Nasser of stealing Egyptian national identity in order to help 'Arabise' Egypt, as part of his pan-Arab plans. But even commentators within Mubarak's own camp were quick to condemn Egyptian foreign policy as well as roundly condemning the Palestinians for whom, until recently, support was unswerving.

Ibrahim Sedah an ally of President Mubarak and a member of his ruling National Democratic Party and the editor of Akhbar El Youm, the world's largest Arabic language circulation paper, urged the Egyptian Parliament to re-define Egyptian foreign policy and focus on Egyptian interests' not on foreign interests.

"How many times has the Egyptian army fought for Palestine?" asked a leading writer in Ahkbar El Youm. "Do the Palestinians deserve the Egyptian blood spilt for them so many times? They gave us the answer with their barbaric attack on our Foreign Minister."

A columnist in Al Ahram contradicted the Palestinian Authority claim that it was 'a mob' made up of a 'minority' that was responsible for the attack on Mr Maher. The actions of the attackers, Al Ahram said, reflected "the views and sentiments of the majority of Palestinians and of Arabs who do not want peace or progress, but would prefer to live on slogans and remain in a permanent state of anarchy, violence and confusion. …