Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi emerged as a winner after brokering a Gaza truce hailed by world powers, but striking a balance between Israel and the Palestinians remains a tough task.
The United Nations and United States were among those that welcomed Wednesday’s ceasefire that ended eight days of Israel-Hamas violence that killed nearly 170 people, amid hopes it will lead to a “sustainable” solution.
Although it was the new Egyptian government’s first successful turn on the diplomatic stage, signs of uncertainty still remain.
Mursi bowed out of a scheduled trip to a Pakistani summit, his office saying he needed “to monitor internal developments... and also to monitor the commitments of all parties regarding the ceasefire in Gaza”.
The equation is complex for Mursi.
He wants to distance himself from his predecessor Hosni Moubarak, who was criticized in Egypt for a policy seen too conciliatory with Israel. At the same time, Mursi wants to maintain the credit as a negotiator inherited from previous administrations.
The Muslim Brotherhood, to which Mursi belongs, is historically very close to Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza, while there is an overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinian cause among Egyptians.
“This is not the Egypt that we used to know,” an Egyptian presidency official said on condition of anonymity.
“The government is now elected and accountable to the people,” contrary to the autocratic regime of Mubarak who was overthrown in February last year, said the official.
El-Sayed Amin Shalabi, head of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said Mursi was “balanced”.
“The Gaza truce was the first big test for Mursi, and it is doing well. He led the negotiations in a balanced manner,” said Shalabi.
For Egyptian columnist and political analyst Hassan Nafaa, “Mubarak was used by the Israelis to pressure Hamas”.
“Mursi, however, cleverly used relations with Hamas to help achieve a primary objective of Egypt, which is a cessation of violence near the border,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Cairo for the truce announcement, hailed Egypt’s role in the region, a tradition carried by presidents Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, who were firm U.S. allies.
“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said.
Some experts argue, however, that relations between Israel and Egypt are no longer marked by the same confidence as before.
Mursi used virulent rhetoric against Israel’s Gaza operation, saying it was a “flagrant aggression against humanity”.
And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under heavy U.S. pressure to endorse the agreement, according to Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed of the University of Cairo.
“One wondered about Netanyahu's reaction to a ceasefire that appeared as a failure because it has not met Israeli military objectives,” he said.
The accord, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, calls on Israel to “stop all hostilities... in the land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals” and urges the Palestinian factions to end “rocket attacks and all attacks along the border”.
Israel would be obliged to ease restrictions on Gaza residents -- open the enclave’s borders and allow free movement of people and goods -- under the accord which specified that “procedures of implementation shall be dealt with” 24 hours after the ceasefire went into effect.
Mursi has promised to work to improve living conditions in Gaza.
“But one wonders if Mursi’s political foundation, the Muslim Brotherhood, is ready to be satisfied with an agreement that reminds the group of all that was made under Mubarak,” Sayyed said.