Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Communique: Davos Clash between Israel's Peres and Egypt's Amr Moussa Spotlights Contrasting Visions for Future

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Communique: Davos Clash between Israel's Peres and Egypt's Amr Moussa Spotlights Contrasting Visions for Future

Article excerpt

CAIRO COMMUNIQUE: Davos Clash Between Israel's Peres and Egypt's Amr Moussa Spotlights Contrasting Visions for Future

The clash of visions for the future of the Middle East region is on, and it was starkly in evidence at the World Economic Forum held in Switzerland in January. Israel's Minister of International Cooperation Shimon Peres -- the man who coined the phrase "Middle East market" -- said at a seminar attended by Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Moussa that Israel didn't want to be a "rich state in a sea of poverty."

Moussa was notably upset. He called the comment "unacceptable" and, back in Egypt, vowed that the region's future was as "Arab world" and not "Middle East" and all that implies about Israeli leadership.

It was clear at the seminar, as it was a few days later at revived multilateral talks in Moscow, that the United States shares the Israeli, not the Egyptian vision. The world is offered American-led globalization, but for the Middle East there is "Israeli globalization," as the London-based Al Hayat of Jan. 31 put it.

The proposition that so upsets Egypt is this: Israeli know-how, Turkish water (maybe Egypt's, too), Gulf capital and a sea of cheap labor from the urban Arab centers of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. For Egypt, the largest Arab country and cultural motor of the Arab world, the prospect is distasteful. Intimidated politically and militarily by the Jewish state, Egyptians see this plan for the region as embodying cultural and economic defeat as well.

On top of that, the U.S.-Israeli vision sees this carnival of regional cooperation occurring before bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached a final agreement. In its attempts to challenge this, Egypt has found itself cast in the role of the naysayer.

Egypt refused to attend a Mideast summit in Oslo in November. Then Egypt agreed, only grudgingly, to go to Moscow -- and even then to raise "the negative issues," as Moussa put it, such as Israel's nuclear deterrent.

Moussa summoned the U.S. ambassador to Cairo on Feb. 17 to protest Israeli air-raids on Lebanese civilian targets. This was a highly unusual move for Egypt to make, quite apart from the fact that it was an Israeli, and not an American, act that, technically, Egypt was protesting.

In the current tense, sulky atmosphere between the two countries, it's hard to imagine that the U.S. would want to announce that an EgyptAir pilot was indeed responsible for bringing down Flight 990 off the North American coast last October, killing all 217 on board. Writers close to President Mubarak were livid when an EgyptAir pilot sought political asylum in Britain in February, claiming he had information about the troubled national carrier. One, Samir Ragab, editor-in-chief of the daily Al Gomhouriya, claimed the pilot was a "cheap tool" that America would use to pin the accident on Egypt.


The one positive thing Egyptian diplomacy seems to be striving for is an Arab summit and some form of coordination between old foes Hafez Al-Assad of Syria and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Egypt tried to get at least representatives of the two together in a mini-summit following Ehud Barak's victory in Israeli elections last May.

However, Damascus, sensing that it was more likely to get occupied land back in unilateral talks with Israel, rejected the move, causing a rift between Egypt and Syria that lasted several months. But Cairo has been maneuvering to put the Syrians in a position where they can't very well say no to a summit.

Since December, when Syria and Israel finally began talking, Egypt has been making very public efforts to back Damascus in its talks with Israel. President Hosni Mubarak made a mid-December Gulf tour, taking in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and Moussa talked of an "Arab support network" for the Syrians.

In Egypt's view it's critical for the two of them to coordinate. …

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