For Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a ceasefire this week would mark a significant foreign policy victory, even if the violence in Gaza is a lower priority than myriad domestic issues in the minds of many Egyptians.
In Cairo, local media outlets closely followed news of a potential ceasefire well into the night. But many of the country’s popular TV news talk shows also focused on a host of domestic crises – including a fresh round of protests in downtown Cairo.
For the second straight day, violence broke out among protestors and security forces near Tahrir Square. The demonstration marks the one-year anniversary of a bloody five-day clash in Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Street that saw more than 40 people killed. Hundreds of protestors took to the same street again this week, calling for those involved in last year’s killings to be tried. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The protest forced the American University in Cairo to temporarily close its Tahrir campus. But it also provided fresh evidence that, for many of those who participated in Egypt’s revolution, a successful end to the violence in Gaza does little to alleviate the deep mistrust of the country’s new government.
“Morsi was okay in this situation, but it did not change my point of view about the government of Egypt,” said Mohamed Sami, who spent 18 days in Tahrir Square during the start of the Egyptian revolution in early 2011 and has been heavily involved with the movement since.
“What they did in this situation was the best I would have wished. In the era of [ousted former President Hosni Mubarak] in a situation like this, the government wouldn’t have taken any action under the cover that taking action would lead the country toward war. At least this time the Egyptian people who wanted to enter Gaza to support the Palestinians were allowed.”
At a time when the country’s economy shows little sign of post-revolution resurgence, and as a fiery debate rages among Islamic and liberal factions over the wording of Egypt’s constitution, Mr. Sami said Egyptians are divided over how much effort the government should exert in trying to solve the Gaza conflict, as opposed to focusing solely on Egypt’s myriad domestic problems.
“For me, restructuring the ministry of the interior and the state security organizations is important, freedom of the media and freedom of information is important,” he said. “A lot of Egyptians are not against Gaza, but don’t feel that it should be first on the list right now.”
Nonetheless, successfully brokering a ceasefire in Gaza would give the Egyptian President some breathing room in his country’s delicate relationship with Israel, Hamas and the United States. By recalling Egypt’s ambassador to Israel in protest, sending his foreign minister to observe the situation in Gaza, and allowing Egyptian activists to cross the border into the region, Mr. Morsi took a stronger stance than former President Mr. Mubarak did during previous clashes between Hamas and Israel.
But while such moves may have temporarily placated both everyday Egyptians – who are overwhelmingly against Israel’s shelling of Gaza – and Mr. Morsi’s allies within the Muslim Brotherhood – they were seen as benign enough not to risk damaging Egypt’s peace with Israel or its relationship with the U.S., which still provides Egypt with much-needed aid money.
Should the conflict in Gaza intensify, however, Mr. Morsi would be under much more domestic pressure to take stronger measures, or risk seeing his domestic support plummet. Even though many of those involved in Egypt’s revolution have been focused primarily on the country’s internal challenges, a ground invasion or other uptick in the Gaza conflict could quickly change that mindset.
“Remember, after [Mr. Mubarak and his Prime Minister were ousted], one of the biggest protests of the revolution was outside the Israeli embassy,” said Mr. Sami.
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