Mubarak Pressured by Domestic Dissent and Regional Challenges

Posted in Africa | 13-Sep-06 | Author: Dario Cristiani

At the start of the recent Israel-Lebanon conflict, Cairo criticized Hezbollah over its confrontation with Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak labeled Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers as an act of "adventurism," implying that Hezbollah's moves were in response to an "Iranian agenda" rather than a Lebanese one. Mubarak remains concerned over the further growth of Iran's power in the Middle East since Cairo considers the Persian, Shi'a country as a threat and competitor. This concern is shared by other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, because the rising of a Shi'a alliance led by Iran could destabilize the region and weaken their regimes.

Egypt perceived Hezbollah's action as part of a wider project by Iran to increase its regional status and to challenge Egypt's prominent role in the regional balance. This Iranian project was manifest in Iran's attempt to play a deeper role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which Tehran is attempting to show itself as the Islamic power closest to the Palestinians, and manifest in Iran's attempt at pursuing a controversial nuclear research program.

After Mubarak's criticism of Hezbollah, he was condemned by many Arab commentators because of his failure to support Lebanon against Israel and his failure to influence the United States and Israel during the conflict. These same commentators pointed at Cairo's past failure to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. They portrayed Egypt as a weak power and portrayed Hezbollah as a valiant organization withstanding an assault by one of the world's most powerful militaries.

Cairo Reverses its Stance

Not long after the start of hostilities, Cairo began to change its tune. As Hezbollah's popularity began to grow among Arabs, Mubarak recognized that his current policy of being critical toward Hezbollah was unpopular and was increasing resentment against his government. In his public speeches after this point, Mubarak accused Israel of violating international laws and of using disproportionate force against Lebanon. Moreover, he recognized that Hezbollah was a fundamental part of the Lebanese national political and social fabric.

As the Arab public increased their criticism of Egypt, Mubarak understood that the loss of domestic and regional support could further weaken his internal political position. During the months before the start of the conflict, for example, clashes in Egypt between the police and Muslim Brotherhood activists had placed strain on the regime. The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as a growing problem for Cairo. In the November 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood were able to win 20 percent of the seats, making them the largest opposition bloc. During the Israel-Lebanon conflict, some leaders of the movement called on Muslims to support Hezbollah and announced that the movement was recruiting about 10,000 activists to fight with the Lebanese against Israel.

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