Monday, 11 January 2010

Egypt - anomalous but key

The expulsion of George Galloway, the British MP, from Egypt at the weekend for attempting to break Egypt’s blockade of Gaza opens up an interesting line of thought.

Pro-settlement as against anti-settlement – how do the interests stack up these days?

Anti-settlement: Iran and its satellites – namely Hamas in Gaza, Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels in Saudi and Yemen, and radical Islamist movements in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and some of the gulf states.

Pro-settlement: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kuwait and other Arab states determined to resist Iran’s bid for dominance in the Middle East and the overthrow of non-Islamic fundamentalist Arab governments (President Hosni Mubarak has spoken of Iran seeking to 'devour the Arab world').

Thus Egypt’s strangely anomalous, but key, role over the past year.

On the one hand, ever since Operation Cast Lead, Egypt has maintained just as stringent a blockade of Gaza as Israel, refusing to allow the import across their Rafah crossing of any goods that could be of strategic importance to Hamas – and, moreover, taking determined steps to block off the network of tunnels which Hamas has been using to by-pass the border proper.

On the other hand, Egypt has been taking a prime part, together with a German mediator, in negotiating with Hamas the intricate technicalities of a possible exchange of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners currently in jail in Israel. Egypt is also playing a key role in urging forward peace negotiations. Last week President Mahmoud Abbas met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Sulaiman, the official in charge of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks. This week Abbas is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Movement there undoubtedly is.

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