After days of anxious negotiations in this city on the Nile, the bargain that was struck between Israel and Hamas marks a powerful comeback by Egypt on the international stage. The country has long prided itself on being the central arbiter of diplomatic and cultural power in the Middle East but had become increasingly irrelevant under Hosni Mubarak, whose 30-year reign ended last year.
The rapid changes in Egypt have left the United States and Israel with a less pliant but potentially stronger partner, analysts say, as Morsi, an Islamist, can claim to speak for the Egyptian people in a way Mubarak never could. And Egypt’s pledge to underwrite the cease-fire may lay the foundations for Cairo to serve as a trusted go-between in any future peace negotiations.
Morsi managed to keep Israel’s trust while still reflecting Egyptian public opinion, which long chafed at Mubarak’s deferential approach to the neighbor across the Sinai desert. This time around, Egypt came down firmly on the side of Palestinians, while still keeping its peace with Israel and shuttling between the warring sides.
The end result — an agreement between Israel and Hamas, which have long refused to acknowledge each other, brokered by a neighboring Islamist government — would have been unthinkable before the Arab Spring reshaped the region less than two years ago, toppling autocrats who had long held political Islam at bay and strengthening the hand of once-isolated groups such as Hamas.
“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, announcing the cease-fire deal alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr.
Her words were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking just minutes before the truce took effect Wednesday night.
“I would like . . . to express my appreciation for the efforts of Egypt to obtain a cease-fire,” he said in Jerusalem.
Egypt “did not forget its status as an Arab nation,” Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, said in Cairo. Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely aligned with Morsi.
Egypt’s evolution may be especially important as Turkey, another country that has sought an expanded diplomatic role in the region, has taken a more aggressive tack against Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Israel was engaged in “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza, rhetoric that left his country less able to serve as an interlocutor.