x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Diplomacy led by Cairo is still a stabilising force

The Gaza ceasefire brokered by Egypt indicates a stronger diplomatic role that the region badly needs.

It was Egyptian mediation that secured a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after four days of deadly clashes. For all of the changes in Cairo since Hosni Mubarak's fall more than a year ago, there are signs that it is resuming its role as a powerhouse in the region. Especially because of the changes in Cairo, that renewed diplomacy has been a welcome development.

The violence in Gaza over the past four days, which killed more than 25 Palestinians, had taken on a logic of its own. Aside from politics, and aside from the Palestinians' legitimate right to resist the occupation, the tit-for-tat exchanges between Israel and Islamic Jihad were mindless attacks that achieved nothing. And as ever, those that suffered the most were Palestinian civilians.

Tempering this self-defeating violence is a crucial and continuing role for Egypt's leaders, both the legacy leadership of the generals and the newly emerging political class. Far more than the Mubarak regime, which was hostage to the interests of its US patrons, an elected government in Cairo will be more responsive to Egyptians' demands - and offer Palestinians a broker that has not been co-opted by American bias.

And it is in Palestinians' interest to curb the violence. The strength of the resistance is not on the battlefield and the fighting disrupts the tenuous reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah.

Cairo occupies a singular position of influence in these events, as the former patron of President Mahmoud Abbas and, increasingly, an ally of Hamas. Prior to this ceasefire, Egypt had shown its influence - and ability to broker a deal with Israel - in the October prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel, in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released. Israel has partly reneged on that deal by rearresting Palestinian activists, which actually reinforces the need for continued diplomatic pressure.

There is no question that Egypt is busy with its own challenges as the presidential elections get underway. Its domestic politics will affect the region, and in turn be influenced by regional events. In the need for leadership - in the row with Iran, the violence in Syria and the vacuum that is the Arab-Israeli peace process - Egypt has a crucial role.

Before the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egypt was simply perceived as an inadequate broker. That perception has already changed and several Palestinian leaders have spoken in its favour.

Amid the Arab risings, and the crisis in Palestinian unity and resistance, Egypt must play a stronger role. As it gets its own house in order, its neighbours stand to benefit.