As Egyptian expats and their supporters across the Arab world celebrated the news of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster Friday, rumors began to spread about how the regime change might affect Middle East politics, including the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, said in a telephone interview that Palestinian activists and Islamists in neighboring countries had already begun to speculate that a new Egyptian government might permanently open the Rafah crossing at the border between Gaza and Egypt.
The border crossing has been closed since Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2007. It was opened briefly after the war in Gaza in 2008 and the deadly flotilla raid last year but closed again two weeks ago after turmoil broke out in Egypt. The crossing is a sensitive issue for Israel, which has accused Hamas of smuggling weapons into Gaza to mount attacks on Israelis.
“I think they will allow some movement, but I don’t think it’s going to be totally open borders,” Kuttab said of the Rafah crossing. “I think they will be careful. The army is still in charge, and the army is still in general support of the peace agreement” with Israel.
Kuttab speculated that the establishment of a democratic government in Egypt might also undermine Israel’s efforts to maintain its military dominance in the region — for example, keeping its nuclear program secret — on the grounds that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
“I think its going to be very difficult for Israel to request military superiority in the Middle East because of the fact that they are a democracy,” Kuttab said. “If we have democratic government in Egypt, I think it will be very hard for Israel to insist on having military superiority.”
Perhaps the most notable geopolitical implication of the uprising in Egypt, Kuttab said, is that Egyptians will simply become more concerned with their own economy and their own domestic political affairs than with external issues such as the peace process. “Egyptians are going to be taking a much more inward look now than an external look,” Kuttab said. “Their economy and their internal governance is going to occupy a lot more space in terms of their interests.”
For example, Egypt has historically played the role of mediator in reconciliation talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Now, those talks may have to continue without Egypt’s help as an impartial broker. “Omar Suleiman was the one brokering all that,” Kuttab said, referring to Mubarak’s former vice-president and right-hand man, “and I think he’s going to be out of a job.”