Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Gaza crisis threatens outlook for Mubarak

Posted by claudiacampli su 27 gennaio, 2009


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CAIRO: Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza have brought it no peace at home.

Its restive population has taken to the streets by the thousands in protest, blaming President Hosni Mubarak for his inability – or unwillingness – to help Palestinians in the coastal enclave, more than 1,300 of whom died in the three-week conflict. Taxi drivers replace Arab pop with Palestinian martial music on their cassette radios, businessmen in central Cairo sport checkered Palestinian scarves, and art galleries produce instant antiwar exhibits.

If negotiations fall apart, Egypt’s credibility as a self-declared regional stabilizer and leader of the Arab world will be damaged. Mubarak’s popularity was already low among Egyptians because of the country’s increasing economic problems. Turmoil even threatens a smooth transition to new leadership – with Mubarak’s son, Gamal, as heir-apparent to his 80-year-old father.

“This is a nightmare for Egypt,” said Abdel Monem Said, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “It’s hit from all sides.”

He said the problem with Egypt’s mediation is its desire to be all things to all people: peaceful associate of Israel, ally of the United States, backer of the Palestinians, standard-bearer of Arab nationalism – at a time when its citizens want Mubarak to take the Palestinian side.

Egypt has been involved for more than a year in indirect talks between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza and whose erratic rockets into southern Israel provoked the Jewish state’s attack on Dec. 27. These discussions focused mainly on efforts to free an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas captured in June 2006.

In trying to broker a cease-fire, Egypt is on a bigger stage. It played this role before, refereeing a truce between Israel and Hamas that went into effect in June 2008 and expired Dec. 19, just eight days before Israel launched its latest Gaza offensive.

This time, Mubarak’s endeavors so far have been mainly window dressing: Israel ended its military operation Jan. 18 not as a result of negotiation but because of a unilateral decision. This was followed hours later by a similar declaration by Hamas.

“When you pretend to be the Arab leader and can get nothing done, you become a laughingstock,” said Diaa Rashwan, a political analyst and an expert on Islamic political movements.

Egyptians and Arab countries complained that Mubarak kept the official border crossing between Egypt and Gaza closed before and during much of the war. The most populous Arab country – and the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979 – Egypt has been subject to scorn in Yemen and Lebanon, where mobs have marched on its embassies in the past few weeks. It has also been the target of criticism from the tiny Gulf oil state of Qatar, as well as Syria and Iran. All support Hamas.

At the same time, Israel complained that the Egyptian police turned a blind eye to arms smuggled though hundreds of tunnels beneath the Gaza border.

On Jan. 17, Mubarak took the unusual step of defending his government’s policy on television, saying Egypt had a long history of supporting Palestinian nationalism.

“I certainly can’t remember Mubarak having to justify his policies, ever,” Said said.

Egypt‘s delicate role coincides with a period of domestic commotion exacerbated by the Gaza crisis.

Secular pro-democracy movements – as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic party that is both Egypt’s largest opposition force and a political ally of Hamas – defied Mubarak’s restrictions on free speech and sent thousands of demonstrators into the streets of Alexandria, Minya, Arish and other cities during the war. Only a massive show of strength by the police kept demonstrations in Cairo, the capital, small.

Widespread labor strikes over privatization, layoffs and high food prices have closed government-run factories off and on during the past two years and forced the Mubarak government to raise state wages at a time when Egypt’s budget deficit ballooned from about 7 percent of gross domestic product to almost 10 percent.

“With few peaceful outlets for dissent, more than 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line and a government increasingly unresponsive to its citizens’ most basic needs, Egypt is sinking into turmoil,” wrote Jeffrey Azarva, a research fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, in a report released in December.

And that was before Gaza exploded. “Mubarak didn’t need this crisis,” Rashwan said.

The aging president is nearing the end of his reign after 27 years in power, having taken over after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. He has ruled under emergency laws that prohibit assembly and limit the speech and activities of opposition groups.

His son Gamal, 45, has positioned himself as successor in the presidential election, scheduled for 2011, by virtue of a high position in the ruling National Democratic Party.

Egyptian analysts conjecture that Gamal’s lack of military and security experience will disqualify him in uncertain times. Analysts say a likely option would be for the military to step in and rule. Hosni Mubarak is Egypt’s third military leader since 1952.

Meanwhile, talks continue in Cairo. So far, Israel and Hamas have used Egypt not to negotiate with each other but rather to cut separate deals to get what each wants out of the war: Israel, a pledge from Egypt to tightly close the Gaza frontier to arms smuggling; Hamas, to have Egypt open Gaza’s borders to the outside world through the Sinai Peninsula.

“Egypt is being asked to deliver victory to both sides,” said Said of Al Ahram. “That’s very hard to do.”



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