THE BLOG
07/26/2013 11:49 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

Egypt, Hamas and Turkey -- Turn of the Tables

The Egyptian situation is still fluid and the riots of the third Friday of the Holy Ramadan demonstrate it. The military takeover is constantly challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets of Cairo and other big cities, and by armed jihadists in the Sinai peninsula. Clearly, the Islamists are in for a prolonged fight and show no sign of giving up on their claim for control of the country, which they won in free elections after 80 years of oppression.

The one major novel element which has to be emphasized is that the Islamists lost their traditional control of the street. The masses which can be called the Tahririyun [the people from Tahrir square] are there as well, thus breaking the Islamist domination of the street protests in Egypt, an element of Egyptian politics which became so familiar and taken for granted.

So, while the instability is continuing to dominate the political scene, it is too early to declare ultimate winners and losers in the domestic arena, and so in the regional one. It is not too early though to pay attention to a significant development which can and likely will have important regional implications. Hamas, the Gaza-based terror organization, seems to be in the losing side of the military coup. Just a few months ago it seemed that the organization, which is the Palestinian section of the Muslim Brotherhood, was on top of the world, surely on top of the hated rivals from the Palestinian Authority. Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas PM and Muhammad Morsi, the elected Egyptian president, were bosom buddies, allies in a joint political struggle against Israel. The Hamas government in Gaza seemed to score a victory over Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israelis were alarmed by the prospect of this cooperation and its potential implications over their security situation.

Hamas just started to recover from the loss of its traditional base and headquarters in Damascus, which was terminated as a result of their support of the Syrian Sunni rebels against Bashar Assad, so Egypt could be more than a suitable alternative to the lost ground, but it is not to be.

The Egyptian military is going to press charges against Morsi, according to as yet unofficial reports, claiming that the deposed president committed national treason by his close cooperation with Hamas. This is not an unsuccessful joke, this is a reality, another indication that Arab politics are full of surprises, and possibly much beyond that, that hatred to Israel is no more a good entry card to the new, post-Morsi Egypt.

The military resented Hamas interference in domestic Egyptian politics and their support to the jihadists in Sinai who attacked Egyptian soldiers, killing and injuring many of them; in short, the military hated Hamas trying to be what they were not supposed to be: an influential player in shaping Egypt's foreign policy, possibly dragging the country to an undesirable confrontation with Israel.

The truth is that the Egyptian political and military establishment has never regarded the Palestinians as equal partners of Egypt, and this patronizing attitude goes all the way back to the Nasserist regime in the 1950's when Gaza was used as a base of aggression against Israel, but the Palestinian population there and in Sinai was kept under an iron-fist regime of the military. To put it more bluntly, the Egyptians always felt that their senior status in Arab politics meant that they will be the ones to make the decisions, not the junior partner, the Palestinians.

It was in 1994, when the then Israeli PM Rabin and Yasser Arafat were the guests of President Mubararak, about to ceremoniously sign an agreement following the Oslo accords. Arafat was hesitant in the last minute, but Mubarrak was not. In a whisper well-heard by all attending, he approached Arafat, using a derogatory Arab term, which cannot be put in writing, demanding his signature. Arafat, needless to say, complied...

So, the Egyptian military is conducting now a wide-range operation in Sinai, and the commander of the Second Army issued stern warnings to Hamas. The language used was not the best of literary Arabic... Israeli generals would never have used such language. What it all boils down to is yet to unfold, but Mahmoud Abbas must be happy, and so are the Israelis. A defeat to Hamas is always good news to the peace camp.

The Israelis must feel good also about the Egyptian-Turkish crisis. The feisty Tayyip Erdoghan visited Cairo and it seemed that Egypt and Turkey were on the verge of forging a regional alliance of great significance. This blog cautioned that it was not to be so simple to do, as the anti-Israel sentiments of Morsi and Erdoghan could not provide an effective, lasting common denominator to a new Middle East axis between two powers traditionally estranged, both with competing claims for an influential regional status. Indeed, the love affair proved so short-lived... Erdoghan still recognizes Morsi as the legal President of Egypt, the Egyptian generals do not like it, to put it VERY mildly, and the relation is in a limbo.

Erdoghan's regional policy of zero rivals is long gone; in fact, the true state of affairs is that Turkey under Erdoghan and the AKP is left with no regional friends. It is about time to remind Erdoghan that Israel is waiting... and to remind us all how shifty are the sands of Middle East politics.