Egypt’s new leader vows to uphold ties with Israel

After ‘technicality’ prevented inviting Netanyahu, Peres to El-Sissi inauguration in Cairo on Sunday, Israeli envoy will attend

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reviews honor guards, April 24, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Watson/Pool)
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reviews honor guards, April 24, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Watson/Pool)

Egypt’s President-elect Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told Israeli leaders in a phone call on Friday that he was committed to his country’s peace treaty with Israel, and that he sought to develop it for both countries’ benefit, Egyptian media reported Friday.

According to Ahram Online, el-Sissi “reaffirmed Egypt`s commitment to all its international treaties, especially the peace treaty with Israel” in a phone conversation Friday with Israeli leaders. The former defense minister, who was elected president last week after ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in a coup in July 2013, said it was an opportune time to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict and promote regional peace.

Israeli leaders spoke with el-Sissi Friday and congratulated him on his victory in the national elections. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he called the Egyptian leader and noted “the strategic importance of ties between the countries, and the peace agreement between them.” The Israeli premier also wished the Egyptian people “a future of stability, prosperity and peace.”

President Shimon Peres also phoned Sissi to congratulate him, saying he wanted to bolster ties between the nations.

“President Peres stressed Israel’s commitment to maintaining the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and strengthening the cooperation between the countries,” his office said in a statement.

Sissi won some 97 percent of the vote in late May in a barely contested election seen by many as a formality.

International leaders were invited to el-Sissi’s inauguration ceremony scheduled for Sunday, but Israel’s elected officials were not, Israel Radio reported Saturday. Instead, a representative from the Israeli embassy in Cairo will attend.

Egypt's former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is seen during an interview on a nationally televised program in Cairo, Egypt, May 5, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Egypt's State Television)
Egypt’s former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is seen during an interview on a nationally televised program in Cairo, Egypt, May 5, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Egypt’s State Television)

A source in Egypt told Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the lack of invitations was a technicality, because Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Haim Koren, had not yet been able to present his credentials to the president, which must be done first.

The Israeli embassy building in Egypt was ransacked in 2011 by an Egyptian mob and the staff were evacuated from the country.

Some embassy staff returned to Cairo in 2012 and began providing services from an unofficial location.

A 2012 letter from then-president Morsi to Peres calling the Israeli president a “good friend” and expressing a desire for “maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations” between the two countries sparked an outcry in Egypt for marking a new level of normalization with Jerusalem.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of Morsi in July, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the recent calm.

The 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, Israel’s first with an Arab country, has been a cornerstone of regional security for three decades. It has allowed Israel to divert resources to volatile fronts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. For Egypt, it opened the way to billions of dollars in US military aid.

Although diplomatic relations have never been close, the two militaries have had a good working relationship. These ties have only strengthened since longtime president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising almost three and a half years ago. With both armies battling extremist Jihadi groups in the Sinai Peninsula, near the Israeli border, Israeli security officials often say that relations with their Egyptian counterparts are stronger than ever.

With so much at stake, Israel has generally remained quiet since the Egyptian military ousted Mubarak’s Islamist successor, Morsi, in a coup on July 3, 2013. Morsi, who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group considered the parent organization of the terrorist Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip and seeks Israel’s destruction

Meanwhile, Morsi’s political party said Wednesday it considers el-Sissi’s election as the next president “null and void” and will accept nothing short of the reinstatement of Morsi.

The statement by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party underlined the depth of the rift in Egypt.

El-Sissi, then Egypt’s top officer, masterminded the removal of Morsi in 2013 after massive protests against the country’s first democratically elected president. Since then, the military-backed government has waged a crackdown on Morsi’s supporters that has killed hundreds, arrested thousands and shattered the Brotherhood, once Egypt’s strongest political organization.

The Freedom and Justice Party said it “doesn’t recognize the alleged coup regime or any of its decisions that have been or will be issued since July 3 until the return of the elected President Mohammed Morsi to his post as the president of the Republic of Egypt.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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