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Clinton to Ask Egypt for Help; Can Cairo Deliver?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is winding up her Middle East trip with a last minute stop in Cairo. While she is expected to seek help in ending the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, Egypt has increasingly appeared unable to lead Arab opinion on the issue.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comes to Cairo after angering many Arabs by offering praise for an Israeli offer to curb settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land, an offer that was met with outrage by many Arabs, who continue to demand Israel halt all construction.

But round after failed round of Egyptian-mediated talks to reconcile the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah continue to underscore how little even traditional leader Egypt can accomplish.

Cairo is also still reeling from criticism during Israel's war in the Gaza Strip early this year. Those who decried the plight of Palestinian civilians trapped inside Israeli-blockaded Gaza also pointed to Egypt's role in keeping its border to the besieged territory largely closed.

Political analyst Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut says that while Egypt has yet to reconcile Hamas and Fatah, at least it approaches the issue with a peace-based agenda, something no one else has done. As for Gaza, Hamzawy argues Egypt has a right to stop the potential influx of violence.

"However, what Egypt did undermine, to an extent, especially in the last two years, has been to combine its legitimate defense of national security concerns with a wider appeal to Arab interests and Palestinian interests at the core of them," Hamwazy said.

"Arab interests" is the banner held aloft by an increasing number of players in the region. Qatar has tried to exert its influence as a bridge with non-Arab Iran. Such overtures were among the reasons Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak skipped this year's Doha-hosted Arab League summit.

There is also the long-time rivalry with Saudi Arabia, whose petro dollars continue to carry weight. And there are non-Arab actors such as Turkey, which has leveraged its straddling of East and West into aggressive foreign policy outreach.

The Carnegie Center's Hamzawy says Cairo has been getting used to such challenges.

"Competition does not undermine the Egyptian role right away," said Hamzawy. "It depends on what the Egyptians will do out of it and how they focus the investment foreign policy-wise in key spaces which are relevant to national security issues where Egypt has a greater chance of success."

The political analyst believes Cairo would be better off to focus on issues close to home, whether successful or not. He argues Egypt simply does not have the resources to engage in larger regional concerns.