Egypt's tough words for Israel are just rhetoricby Rachel Aspden / November 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
At noon last Friday, worshippers and TV crews spilled out of every door of Cairo’s ancient al-Azhar mosque. Inside, Palestinian flags waved as Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, often described as the “spiritual leader” or “godfather” of the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned Israeli attacks on Gaza. “The people [of Gaza] do not deserve to be killed, why should they be killed? Israel is the liar that has been lying all through history,” he thundered. It was the 86-year-old’s first sermon in Egypt since the 2011 revolution, and his first ever at al-Azhar, the country’s most important mosque. His appearance was a measure of Egyptian popular outrage over the Gaza conflict and the government’s new willingness to support its expression.
Operation Pillar of Defence is the first test of the new balance of power in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Egypt, Israel’s peace partner for three and a half decades, is keen to signal that its position has shifted. “Egypt today is different from the Egypt of yesterday, and the Arabs today are different from the Arabs of yesterday,” Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi told worshippers at a mosque in New Cairo on Friday.
200 miles to the north east, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Qandil had just left the Gaza Strip. At Gaza’s Shifa hospital he carried and kissed the body of a four-year-old boy killed in an Israeli air strike. “The Egyptian people are supporting you. The Egyptian revolution will be side by side with the Palestinian people,” he said to onlookers. Other Egyptian delegations to visit Gaza over the weekend included one led by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a prominent doctor and candidate in this year’s Egyptian presidential elections. Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood now in power in Egypt, is no longer as isolated as it was.
But Egypt’s support for Gaza remains less ideological than pragmatic. Morsi is keenly aware that success in brokering a truce between Hamas and Israel would boost his country’s shaky regional standing. Over the weekend, key figures including Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the Emir of Qatar and the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met the Egyptian president in Cairo to discuss a potential ceasefire. Erdogan told students at Cairo University that together Egypt…