China could play key role in Egypt-Israel diplomatic puzzle
By Hayley Slier |
Posted: 16 July 2012 1515 hrs
JERUSALEM: It is likely to prove a tough year in the Middle East for the new government in Egypt and its anxious neighbour Israel. Throw into the mix doubts over the power relationship with the world’s biggest economy, China, and you have yet another diplomatic puzzle in the region.
Recent demonstrations in Egypt appear to be heralding a more Islamist stance.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which now has control of Egypt, have been shouting slogans in Tahrir Square: “Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing!”
The anger in Tahrir Square, where the people take out their feelings, reverberates far from here. Just 427 kilometres away, Jerusalem watches and waits.
“(I do not) believe ideology will dictate Egyptian foreign policy … The Arab Spring is basically for reforming the political system (of each country),” Dr Said Sadek, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, said.
But more and more Israelis are worried that this anger could threaten the fragile peace treaty Israel and Egypt signed 33 years ago.
Already, there are rumblings from the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
“Naturally, there is a lot of concern in Israel about the developments in Egypt. No one really knows what the new leadership will bring,” Dr Gedaliah Afterman, fellow of The Jewish People Policy Institute, said.
Neither does anyone knows if the developments in Egypt will upset partnerships far beyond those between Cairo and Jerusalem.
Since 1928, Egypt and China have enjoyed formal relations. In contrast, Jerusalem established diplomatic ties with Beijing just twenty years ago
Both are keen for the status quo to remain.
“Both countries (Egypt and Israel) would like to have China on their side. The Chinese tell both of us we are not going to join your ship,” Dr Shalom Solomon Wald, senior fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, said.
Beijing is in a powerful and precarious situation, with China having to walk a tight rope in the Middle East.
Cairo is weighing its options.
“It depends on what kind of relationship they’ll have with Israel. If they are going to have economic, technological relations and they will use that to make more concessions in the peace process, then it is fine,” Dr Sadek said.
“But if it is only for military cooperation to help the Israeli army … then it will be problematic.”
There is a lot at stake, as China is the 22nd largest foreign investor in Egypt, with an accumulative investment of more than US$300 million dollars.
As such, it is highly unlikely Egypt would want to cut off relations with China.
It is also important to have a Chinese presence in the Middle East to balance the alliance between the United States, the European Union and Russia.
As for Israel, as China’s fastest growing economic partner, it is hoping the Tahrir turmoil could work to its advantage.
“I think the instability in the region actually makes Israel look more attractive in Chinese eyes. I think China, in some ways, can even play a positive role in relations between the two countries,” Dr Afterman said.
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