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Analysts: Egyptian Troubles at Home Hinder Diplomacy Abroad

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's first months in office have descended into a profound sense of internal division, overshadowing what began as an attempt to forge new international alliances.

Egypt's domestic troubles have eclipsed what some saw as a promising start for President Mohamed Morsi on the world stage.

Just a day before he kicked off a crisis by granting himself extraordinary powers, Egypt basked in its resurgent role as a diplomatic player, brokering a truce between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza.

Foreign affairs efforts

The November cease-fire brought to new heights Morsi's foreign affairs offensive, highlighted by trips to Beijing and Iran just two months into his term.

"At the beginning he was clever to choose China and Iran to visit in order to say, 'I am independent of Western interests and American interests,' " said Mustafa el Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies.

In Beijing, Morsi deepened political and economic ties, which were small but symbolic counterweights to Egypt's decades of tight cooperation with the United States.

The Iran visit marked the first by an Egyptian head of state since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. But Morsi, who leads a mainly Sunni nation, held his own by lashing out at Tehran's support of the Syrian government, run by Shi'ite offshoot Alawites.

Charges of compliance

To some, however, Morsi appeared to be playing into U.S. hands even more than the old government regarding Iran.

"Obama wants a Sunni alliance in the Middle East, in Arab Spring countries, to besiege Iran," said political sociologist Said Sadek. So in this sense, the Muslim Brotherhood will not have a foreign policy that would not be different from the [Sunni] Gulf States."

Even credit for the Gaza truce, argued political analyst Hisham Kassem, is less a triumph for Morsi than it is for the U.S. and its allies in Egypt's traditional sources of power, which show no appetite for conflict with Israel.

"This is a situation where Morsi has no other option because the real players here are the Egyptian intelligence and the military," said Kassem.

The perception of Morsi being used by the U.S. has spilled over into protests at home.

Sadek said it all combines to make any foreign initiatives by the president more difficult. "Egypt needs to build the inside before they do outside."

The analysts say the domestic front likely will keep Morsi very busy in the coming months.
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