A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Morsi's Denial of Peres Letter is Just His Latest Fumble

The denial by Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi's office that he had sent a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres thanking him for Ramadan greetings, despite the fact that Peres' office says it came from the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was also notified, is the latest fumble as the President tries to juggle his role as the first Muslim Brotherhood President of Egypt with his pledges to represent all Egyptians. While the letter was probably a formality composed in the Foreign Ministry, the outright denial that it had been sent seems strange, since it is a routine sort of diplomatic nicety with a country with which Egypt has diplomatic relations. Since the Israelis had already confirmed it as legitimate, the denial suggests Morsi is trying to have it both ways.

And perhaps that is precisely what he is doing, gambling that his domestic constituency, who have no fondness for Israel, will believe him over the Israelis, though in the process he loses the international credit he had gained from the initial news reports, where it was seen as proof of his commitment to maintaining the peace with Israel. But now he merely seems craven, unwilling to acknowledge what is not, after all, much of a gesture. One wants to say, Man up, Morsi, and admit to it.

It's not the first such misstep. Instead of releasing all political prisoners, his decision to free only Islamists, and in many cases Islamists convicted of violent acts, has angered supporters of the revolution who are furious that he did not free revolutionaries convicted of peaceful protest but freed radicals instead.

Morsi is between a rock and a hard place anyway, trying to steer between the Brotherhood from which he comes and the country as a whole, particularly the military, which may be hoping he will discredit the Brotherhood and lose a new election under a new constitution. His new Cabinet, now starting to leak out and becoming public tomorrow, seems part of just such a balancing act — "bureaicrats, technocrats and Islamocrats" in a mix of several ministers from the Ganzouri Cabinet, a few other veterans, some Islamists, and few surprises.

It is perhaps better overall that Morsi seems to be weak and vacillating rather than a radical reformer bent on imposing the veil, disrupting tourism and presiding over an Islamist revolution, but with its economy a shambles after the revolution and three decades of misrule, the last thing Egypt needs is a leadesrhip vacuum.

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