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Israel's killing of Hamas military chief leaves Egypt in quandary

November 14, 2012|By Jeffrey Fleishman and Reem Abdellatif

SANA, Yemen -- The Israeli killing of Hamas' military chief Ahmed Jabari in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday came amid a much-altered political landscape in the Arab world, especially in Islamist-led Egypt looking to regain its regional prominence.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has long had close ties to Hamas, became the  dominant force in Egypt after last year’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is certain to encounter increased pressure from ultraconservative Islamists to scrap Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

"The brutal aggression on Gaza proves that Israel has not yet learned that Egypt has changed," said Saad Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. "The Egyptian people revolted against injustice and will not accept an attack on Gaza.”

PHOTOS: Israeli forces assassinate Hamas' military chief

How Morsi and the Brotherhood maneuver in coming days will be a critical domestic and international test and probably will indicate a dramatic shift from the Mubarak era, when Cairo was disparaged across the region for its perceived compliance toward U.S. and Israeli interests.

Hamas and the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza present a number of potential pitfalls for Egypt, which is seeking billions of dollars in Western aid and investment to bolster its faltering economy. This balance is at the core of Egypt’s concerns as it seeks to move beyond the Mubarak years without sacrificing its national pride. 

Morsi, a pragmatist, will have to show solidarity with Hamas to remain a credible Arab leader. At the same time, however, Egyptian tribal elders have blamed Hamas and other Palestinian groups for aiding the resurgence of deadly militant networks in Sinai Peninsula.

Since he took office in June, Morsi has not met with Israeli officials but he has indicated he would honor the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty. Last week, Egypt acted as an intermediary to press Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel and the Israelis to show restraint.

One analyst suggested Morsi’s response would be measured because most Egyptians are more worried about their own deepening social and economic problems.

PHOTOS: Israeli forces assassinate Hamas' military chief

“Egyptians will not tolerate any extremely strong-worded statements against Israel,” said Sayed Okasha, an Arab-Israeli expert at the Al Ahram Center Political and Strategic Studies. "They want to focus inward."

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--Fleishman reported from Sana and Abdellatif from Cairo.

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