Al-Ahram Weekly Online   20 - 26 July 2006
Issue No. 804
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Cairo draws the line

Egypt dotted the I's and crossed the T's on how far it is willing to support Hamas and Hizbullah

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Trying to find a settlement to the crisis in Lebanon, Mubarak had talks with King Abdullah of Jordan and Lebanese MP and leader of the parliamentary majority Saad Al-Hariri

It is no secret to the leaders of either Hamas or Hizbullah that Cairo has for long been impatient with what it perceives as their radical approach in handling relations between Israel on the one hand and Palestine and Lebanon on the other. It is a well-known fact, for Hamas, Hizbullah and many concerned international and regional forces, that Cairo has very little faith in the ability of the resistance groups to conduct any meaningful negotiations with Israel. "It is our firm belief that Arab rights can only be attained through negotiations. We need to get all the parties to sit around the negotiations table," commented a senior Egyptian diplomat.

Speaking to Dina Ezzat as the Israeli assault against Lebanon and Gaza continued unabated, the official attempted to defend what was publicly rejected as a weak Egyptian reaction to the Israeli attacks which have left hundreds killed and wounded and have eliminated the civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon.

The official argued that the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hizbullah might be legal from the point of view of international law that acknowledges the right to take prisoners of war, but it is not so from the point of view of the balance of power on the ground, not to mention "the international political scene that is not at all sympathetic with Hamas or Hizbullah."

According to Egyptian diplomatic sources, Cairo did not need to think twice before adopting the official stance it declared earlier in the week in relation to developments in Gaza and Lebanon. Sources say that Cairo, "at very high levels," was disturbed by the news of the kidnapping of the soldiers and thought it was counterproductive.

On Friday, following their talks in Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak and visiting King Abdullah of Jordan issued a joint statement lamenting the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza but put much blame at the doorstep of Hizbullah and Hamas for the current state of affairs. The statement referred to "uncalculated adventures that do not serve the interests of the region".

The language, Egyptian officials explained, was aimed at sending a clear message to Hamas and Hizbullah that they cannot count much on total, official support when they decide to rub Israel's nose.

The joint statement also made indirect reference to the need to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army in the otherwise Hizbullah- controlled south of Lebanon.

Egyptian officials say the angry public reaction to the government's position, which coincided with similar stances taken in Riyadh and several other Arab capitals, is largely sentimental.

"Lebanon is in a mess right now. We are not concerned about appealing to the sentiments of the public. Our main concern is to help Lebanon get out of this mess," commented the senior Egyptian diplomat.

However, a few days later, Cairo, at the highest level, sought to defer all accusations levelled by Hizbullah and the Egyptian public that its stance, along with that of some other Arab countries, had given Israel justification for the aggression against Lebanon and Gaza.

In press statements on Sunday and in an interview accorded to Al-Watani Al-Yom, the Tuesday weekly mouthpiece of the ruling National Democratic Party, President Mubarak asserted that he was not questioning the right of people under occupation to seek resistance but was arguing the need for wisdom to be exercised while practicing this right.

"Nobody is questioning the right of resistance but the Palestinian resistance and the Lebanese resistance need to consider the gains and losses that could result from their actions," Mubarak told Al-Watani Al-Yom. He added that it was extremely unwise to set the whole region ablaze in order to reach limited objectives. The resistance movements, he said, should not lose sight of the end objectives and the right of the people to seek stability.

Mubarak, sources say, is very disturbed by the developments and has been concerned that Syria will somehow be dragged into the confrontation. Egyptian

In subsequent press statements accorded yesterday to the weekly magazine Al-Mussawar, Mubarak denied allegations that Egypt was working with Jordan and Saudi Arabia to dissolve Hizbullah. The fate and role of Hizbullah, Mubarak stressed, is a matter for the Lebanese people to discuss and decide.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit was recently delegated by the president to Damascus to appeal for Syrian pressure to be exercised on Hizbullah.

This week in Washington, Abul-Gheit was also expected to relay a message from Cairo on the need for the US to exercise some pressure on Israel "to avoid the further provocation of the peoples by the scenes of killing and bloodshed" being televised every hour from Gaza and Lebanon as a result of the Israeli aggression.

In press statements on Sunday, Mubarak warned Israel it will gain more hatred than ever due to its aggression.

This stance, however, is not meeting much sympathy on the street. "This is not the time to preach wisdom. This is the time to take the side of the Palestinian and Lebanese people," commented Mona, a civil servant in her early 30s.

"If we want to blame Hamas and Hizbullah we have to have an alternative. We have given them nothing. We do not need to preach to them," said Khalil, a Cairo taxi driver in his late 40s.

Regional developments and the potential role of Cairo in containing the current crisis have been subject to a round of talks conducted by the president with world leaders, including US President George Bush and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mubarak is expected to discuss the situation today with European Union Higher Representative for Political and Security Affairs Javier Solana and with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice if she stops in Egypt during her planned visit to the Middle East.

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