The latest news from the Middle East may look to point toward a looming conflict between Israel and its neighbors. With the help of the interim Egyptian government, the two warring Palestinian factions have brokered a unity deal, presumably strengthening their position in relation to Israel. Egypt has also suggested it wishes to open relations with Iran, a country that Israel and America view to be the greatest threat to peace in the region. To make matters worse for Israel, its longtime partner in the Middle East, Turkey, has also pressed on with its deals with the Iranian government.
Still, these developments should be seen in an optimistic light – in each case peace, not violence, will likely be the result of Arab Spring developments.
Egypt’s recent diplomatic actions should not be viewed solely through the lens of Israeli security concerns. These moves are all about Egypt, and for the first time in recent memory, the Egyptian leadership is keenly aware of the will of its people and is acting accordingly.
Egypt can open relations with Iran, but it would be wrong to assume that this move is the beginning of an attempt to forge a military alliance because the two states are still deeply suspicious of each other. The former Shah of Iran is buried in Egypt, which hosted him in 1979 following the religious revolution. The Iranian population is majority Shi’a Muslim, while Egypt’s is majority Sunni. This intra-Muslim rift will continue to be at the heart of Egyptian/Iranian relations for years to come. Both countries have large populations, immense militaries and political ambitions throughout the region. As Egypt progresses, it will no doubt continue to rival Iran as both countries vie for a place atop the Middle Eastern political and military hierarchy. However, opening up channels of communication will do more to avert potential conflict in the region than create it, as Egypt, relishing its role as peacemaker of late, looks to add more diplomatic instruments to its toolbox.
Egyptian peacemaking was on display recently as it helped create a peace treaty between Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah. While a unified Palestinian voice poses a risk towards Israel if violence were to escalate in the near future, it also allows the Palestinian people to negotiate in one voice. This will make sustainable peace all the more likely in the future, as all Palestinians will now be held accountable to any future peace settlement with Israel. A more unified Palestinian political presence should bring forth greater stability along Egypt’s eastern border and open up economic opportunities for all three parties involved.
As Egypt inches closer to democracy, it should not surprise anyone that its government is doing more to express the will of its people. For supporters of Middle East and Arab democracy, this is a good thing. Across the region, Arabs are marching towards democracy, and supporters of their advancement must not get cold feet at the first sign of disagreement with established democracies. After all, Western, democratic countries disagree on important decisions all the time. What matters is that they do not fight wars over their political disputes. We should view these latest diplomatic developments through the lens of Egyptian political progress, not filter our judgments based on short-term Israeli security interests.
Photo Credit: Daniel Bender