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Egypt's peace role – and its influence – under fire

As one of the few parties to speak to both Israel and Hamas, Cairo sees itself as a natural mediator. But now Turkey has called into question its effectiveness.

By Liam StackCorrespondent / July 31, 2009


Since the historic 1979 Camp David Accords with Israel, Egypt has used its regional clout to broker peace in the Middle East – and curry favor with the West.

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With ties to both Israel and Hamas, Cairo sees a natural role for itself in helping to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a just solution. But its neutrality, motives, and, more recently, its political influence, have been challenged by other countries, calling into question its effectiveness as a peacemaker.

For the past two years, Cairo has hosted reconciliation talks between secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas, giving the Palestinians a unified front in negotiations with Israel. The deadline for final-round talks has been twice extended after the two feuding Palestinian factions failed to produce a deal by early July, and is now set for Aug. 25.

On Thursday, the pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera reported that Turkey called for Cairo to step down as mediator of the reconciliation talks.

But Egyptian officials, who say their country's history as a Mideast power makes it a natural peacemaker, are unlikely to relinquish Cairo's role voluntarily. Many see its mediation as a political tool used to preserve a steady flow of donor aid from the US and prop up Egypt's flagging regional influence.

'Most favored nation' – with $1.3 billion in US aid

Once an unparalleled regional leader, Egypt today is "decaying," says Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University in Washington. "There is competition over who will be the leading regional power," he adds, between countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, which backs Hamas.

Cairo hopes its close ties with the US will tip the scales in its favor.

Its role as a pro-Western peacemaker has been institutionalized since the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel, says Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based independent analyst. According to the US State Department, Egypt receives more than $1.3 billion of US military aid each year, in addition to significant economic and development assistance.