Egypt’s Morsi irks Israel with Mideast stance

Egypt’s Morsi irks Israel with Mideast stance

Egypt’s Morsi irks Israel with Mideast stance

Egypt’s Islamist President Morsi aims to create strategic balance in the Mideast. AFP photo

Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, wants to “reconsider” his country’s peace deal with Israel and build ties with Iran to “create a strategic balance” in the Middle East, Iranian media reported yesterday.

The stated goals are certain to alarm Israel and its ally the United States as they adapt to the new direction Egypt will chart with Morsi at the helm. They could also boost Iran’s influence in the Middle East at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and the West.

“We will reconsider the Camp David Accord” that, in 1979, forged a peace between Egypt and Israel that has held for more than three decades, Morsi was quoted as telling a Fars reporter in Cairo on June 24, just before his election triumph was announced. The peace treaty remains a lynchpin of U.S. Middle East policy and, despite its unpopularity with many Egyptians, was staunchly upheld by ousted President Hosni Mubarak, who also suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belongs.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a careful statement after Morsi was declared the winner. “Israel values the democratic process in Egypt and respects the results of the presidential election,” his office said in a statement.

But a senior official, who spoke to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity, said Morsi’s win was not encouraging for Israel. “The victory of Islamists is not likely to reassure Israel. ... We hope for a pragmatic attitude on their part,” he said.

Morsi also said he was ready to improve ties with Iran. The Islamic republic broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1980, a year after Cairo signed the peace deal with Israel. “We must restore normal relations with Iran based on shared interests and expand areas of political coordination and economic cooperation because this will create a balance of pressure in the region,” Morsi was quoted as saying.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Morsi’s triumph but its message made no mention of Iran and Egypt resuming diplomatic ties. Although Iran’s predominant faith is Shiite Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood adheres to the Sunni branch of Islam, Tehran has been reaching out to the organization in Egypt in recent months.

Morsi began selecting a new government yesterday as his supporters pursued a sit-in to pressure the ruling military to hand over full powers to him. Morsi, once a prisoner under Mubarak’s regime, moved into the presidential palace and had already begun talks to appoint his new Cabinet, days before the military is scheduled to transfer power, a spokeswoman said. “He has already started, with a list of names he is considering. He says he will declare the Cabinet soon,” said Nermine Mohammed Hassan, a campaign spokeswoman.