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Egypt: Why key US ally in Mideast peace is weaker

While Egypt’s pressure on Hamas has backed the Islamist movement into a corner, it has also inflamed Palestinian anger by doing so – and thus weakened Egypt’s power as a regional negotiator.

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With renewed promises of revitalizing Middle East peace negotiations, US envoy George Mitchell is due in Beirut today – the first stop of his inaugural 2010 regional tour. But a key ally in his efforts, Egypt, has gotten off to a bad start in the New Year, further complicating American interests.

The US has long hoped that Egypt would prove a key intermediary in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace. But Egypt has a poor relationship with Hamas, the Palestinian organization that controls the Gaza strip, and its recent effort to beef up its border fence with Gaza has backed Hamas into a corner and inflamed wider Palestinian anger against Egypt.

As a consequence, many Palestinians see Egypt as an ally of the US and Israel. The country's ability to act as an honest broker has been weakened as a consequence.

The problem is that Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular and powerful opposition movement. The regime of President Hosni Mubarak has been almost as eager as Israel for the Islamist movement to fail in Gaza, for fear it could encourage more Egyptians to support the brothers. But Egypt remains eager to hang on to its role as a perceived potential peace-maker since that inflates its importance to the US, which provides it with $2 billion in aid each year.

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