Egypt’s ambassador to Lebanon said his country will pursue a relationship with Hezbollah, a “real political and military force,” The Daily Star reported Saturday. If implemented, the decision would constitute a dramatic policy shift from that of the former Hosni Mubarak administration.
Egypt’s relations with Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Islamic group that is considered a terror organization by the United States, have been strained, in large part, by Cairo’s 1979 peace accord with Israel. The ambassador’s comments on a possible Hezbollah-Egyptian rapprochement came on the heels of the passage of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood-backed constitution by President Mohammed Morsi last week.
Speaking from his office in Beirut, Ashraf Hamdy told the Lebanese news source that Egypt’s new foreign policy objectives include the need to explore fresh modes of communications, which means keeping regional contacts “tight,” even with its enemies.
“You cannot discuss politics in Lebanon without having a relationship with Hezbollah. It is a real force on the ground. It has a big political and military influence in Lebanon,” the ambassador said.
“We are stretching our hand out in the proper, balanced way to all regional powers, but of course, we will continue to develop our foreign policy according to our interests,” he told the paper.
He called the role of Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, that of a real regional power and a “doer” on the scene, particularly through its mediation efforts and intrinsic soft power.
“In discussions we said we want Hezbollah to remain as a political force in Lebanon acting in the interests of the Lebanese first and not others,” Hamdy continued. “Resistance in the sense of defending Lebanese territory … That’s their primary role. We … think that as a resistance movement they have done a good job defending Lebanese territory, and trying to regain land occupied by Israel is legal and legitimate.”
He warned, however, of mixing the “legitimate” goals of resistance with the Lebanese political process — something Egypt and other Arab countries wouldn’t welcome, he said. Elections and a democratic process are imperative for Lebanon, he added.
Touching on Hezbollah’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hamdy stated: “We want to keep all the parties in Lebanon away from what is happening in Syria. Not only Hezbollah.” He claimed that Western-style of democracy may not be appropriate for Syria at this moment, but said Egypt favored a political solution to the civil war — one that doesn’t include Assad.
Hamdy served as ambassador to Syria under Mubarak before starting his post as top envoy to Beirut in 2010.