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A new axis in the making

an interview with George Giacaman

bitterlemons: How do you think changes in Egypt will impact the peace process?

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
Giacaman: We should keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was basically a sub-contractor for Israel and the United States in the region on many issues, including Israeli-Palestinian talks. For instance, for the past several months Egypt under Mubarak has been prodding the Palestinian Authority to go back to direct negotiations and drop [its] conditions that Israel stop all settlement construction.

But more broadly speaking, I think the changes will be clear only after the election of a new Egyptian parliament--if elections are free and not rigged. Whatever regime is in existence at that time, there will subsequently be an internal opposition. Like there is in Israel. The Americans constantly bring this as an argument before the Palestinians--that the [Israeli] coalition will collapse or there is "opposition". Finally Egypt will have internal opposition on a wide variety of issues, related broadly to American policy in the region but more specifically on the question of Palestine.

From this perspective, the United States and Israel will face a crisis as to what to do. From a strategic perspective, if they are not going to "lose" Egypt then they will have to move on the peace front more seriously than they have before.

It is interesting that although it is quite early the president of Israel Shimon Peres mentioned yesterday that "because of Egypt" we should move on the peace process. I think it is clear to them that the peace treaty with Egypt, even if it is not canceled, will always be at risk if there is instability in the Palestinian context, which is bound to remain as long as there is no final agreement.

bitterlemons: Are you quite convinced that there will in fact be change in Egypt?

Giacaman: The most crucial aspect has to do with future elections for parliament. It doesn't matter if the army is still the force behind the regime, or even if Omar Suleiman or somebody like him is reelected, which seems quite unlikely.

But if you have an assembly of elected members that is sensitive to the opinion of Egyptians, then it will put pressure on policies, both internal and external. This is the crux of the matter. But this will be a gradual process, and we should not expect changes before the elections take place.

bitterlemons: How would you rate US policy during the crisis?

Giacaman: I think they went through phases. Everybody was surprised [by the events], including possibly the people who congregated in Tahrir Square. They are in touch with various elements of the regime, including the armed forces, but ultimately they are not in control of what happens.

[In the long run], we should expect that Egypt will move closer to Syria and a new axis will be formed in which Egypt will be a leading partner. Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be emboldened to put more pressure on the US vis-a-vis the Palestine question where in the past they were ineffective and ineffectual. It will take a year for this to be seen clearly. -Published 7/2/2011 © bitterlemons.org

George Giacaman is a political analyst and teaches at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
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