The Washington Times
Friday, February 22, 2008

Threat to Egypt

Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy admits that his country faces a security threat from the chaos in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas and under an Israeli blockade to prevent rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

“We have a problem in that there is a Palestinian-Palestinian discord in the situation inside Gaza and who controls that,” he told the Palestine Center in Washington.

Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, violently seized control of Gaza in June, forcing the Palestinian Authority, which has been negotiating with Israel, to the West Bank. Israel, facing rocket attacks from Hamas, responded with a blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In his speech, Mr. Fahmy criticized what he called the Israeli “siege” of Gaza, even though Egyptian troops forcibly sealed Egypt’s side of the border with Gaza last month after thousands of Gaza residents broke through a border barrier and dashed into Egypt on a desperate 11-day shopping spree.

“We will never be able to solve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the security situation on the borders between Gaza and any of the neighbors, without dealing with the political situation in the Middle East, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said.

“This is not a humanitarian crisis alone. It’s not a security crisis alone. It’s a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis and a political problem all at the same time, and I don’t think you can solve it without dealing with all three elements.”

Mr. Fahmy called Israel’s blockade of Gaza “a policy of complete failure” because it is creating shortages of food and medicine in Gaza without forcing Hamas terrorists to stop firing rockets into Israeli towns and killing civilians. Gaza civilians have also been killed in Israeli retaliation.

The “siege” is “morally and politically untenable,” he added.

The ambassador also said Palestinians themselves share some of the blame for the chaos.

“The Palestinians are the ones who have to call on Hamas to change their policy,” he said. “The Palestinians are the ones who will have to see that the alternative to Hamas, which is the Palestinian Authority and what it is trying to pursue, is a realizable alternative, not a rhetorical alternative.”

Egypt, he added, supports Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his efforts to create a Palestinian state living next to an Israeli one, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

Egypt, which established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979, also understands that “negotiating with Israel actually has its dividends,” but “you need to have a peace process,” Mr. Fahmy said.

Institutional change

An Arab specialist who held key positions in both the Defense and State departments is taking over as vice president of the Middle East Institute (MEI).

Michael Ryan, most recently a vice president of the Millennium Challenge Corp., replaces Ambassador David Mack, who retired but will remain an adjunct scholar with the institute.

“Mike Ryan has a deep knowledge and respect for the Arab and Muslim cultures, which enhances MEI’s long-standing commitment to bridge the gap of misunderstandings between our societies,” said Wyche Fowler, chairman of the board of governors and a former Democratic senator from Georgia.

Mr. Ryan, who has a doctoral degree in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, worked at the Defense Department as a political and military analyst for Middle East and North African issues. He also served as a deputy assistant secretary of state and director of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Mr. Mack is a 30-veteran of the Foreign Service who served as deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs in the 1990s.

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