(CAIRO) — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is being credited with brokering the cease-fire Wednesday between Israel and Hamas, but the international gratitude and praise he is getting could come with a political price at home.
Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama heaped praise on the Egyptian president. Obama called his Egyptian counterpart Wednesday to thank him for his efforts in the negotiations, and Clinton expressed her gratitude personally in the press conference announcing the deal.
“I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence,” said Clinton. “This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
In the last week Egypt emerged as the third and maybe the most pivotal party in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Both Obama and Clinton made multiple calls to Morsi, understanding the long-term diplomatic consequences for America’s historically strongest Arab ally in the Middle East, an ally that receives billions of dollars in aid annually.
The latest crisis was considered a crucial moment for Morsi. Both the U.S. and Israel for years had come to trust and depend on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s right hand man, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. He brokered the initial peace deal between Hamas and Israel and was respected by both sides. Suleiman lost power when Mubarak stepped down and died in July. Under Morsi, Egypt, whose new governing Muslim Brotherhood party has a relationship with Hamas, also must maintain its peace treaty with Israel to keep diplomatic relations with the United States. But Morsi has a different mandate. As the first democratically-elected president, he is accountable to the people of Egypt, and must walk a fine line between meeting his constituents wants’ and maintaining Egypt’s diplomatic needs.
Throughout the crisis Morsi and Egyptian officials have spouted harsh rhetoric against Israel, calling the Jewish state the aggressors in the conflict and declaring that the Palestinians have the right to self-defense.
Behind the scenes, however, Morsi has received high marks by his Israeli counterparts with Israeli President Shimon Peres calling the Egyptian president a “nice surprise” at the height of the talks on Tuesday.
Those familiar with how the cease-fire was eventually brokered credit the Egyptians, and say this was an Egyptian achievement, announced in Egypt.
But the fact that the announcement was made by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, allowed Morsi some political cover from the negative swelling of Egyptian opinion over this deal.
While the U.S., Israel and Hamas may be happy about the deal, there has been significant backlash from Egyptian citizens who claim that despite the election and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood background, he is no different than Mubarak, a puppet of the West. There are reports of calls for national protests this Friday.
There are also Egyptians who claim the president they elected cares more about the Palestinians than the many domestic problems Egyptians are facing.
For example, on Saturday a high-speed train crashed into a school bus carrying Egyptian children, killing 51. According to reports, Egyptians are angered at the fact that president never visited the train site, with some blaming the accident on the lack of proper infrastructure.
When National Security Council adviser Ben Rhodes was asked on Wednesday if Morsi was a better negotiator with the Israelis than former President Hosni Mubarak, Rhodes didn’t want to compare but did say that the status quo seemed to be intact.
“Egypt has been a critical part of our effort to manage that conflict and pursue peace. That was the case under President Mubarak and it continues to be the case under President Morsi who has upheld the peace treaty with Israel,” said Rhodes. “What we’ve seen is, again, our engagement has been focused on practical and constructive cooperation that can reduce tensions but ultimately, again, it’s going to have to be Hamas within Gaza that takes the step of, again, not pursing rocket fire into Israeli territory. But we agree that Egypt can and should be a partner in seeking to bring about that outcome.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN