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Egypt's Shifting Role As Mideast Mediator


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Israel and Gaza continue to exchange fire today. Another humanitarian cease-fire that was supposed to last for 72 hours fell apart after mere hours.

Meanwhile, Egypt today has renewed calls for the two sides to consider their proposal to end the fighting. A Palestinian delegation, including President Mahmoud Abbas, is headed to Cairo to talk about future steps, but conspicuously absent will be delegations from Israel and Gaza. Joined in our studios by NPR's international correspondent, who's based in Cairo, Leila Fadel. Thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: And where does the President Sisi of Egypt stand on this current conflict?

FADEL: Well, they've really taken a hard stance on this conflict. The Egyptian military has a historic relationship, more than three decades old, with the Israeli military. And they have open contempt for Hamas, which is seen - it was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, the same Muslim Brotherhood that Sisi ousted last year. And so there's been no secret that they have no love for Hamas. Its activities have been officially banned in Egypt. And so you've seen a lot of hard rhetoric towards Hamas in the Gaza Strip even while a lot of Arabs among this population are very sympathetic with the Palestinians.

SIMON: Have there been any demonstrations, outpourings of public sentiment? Because opinion has been pretty strong on behalf of the Palestinian cause in Egypt.

FADEL: We haven't seen huge demonstrations in Cairo, which is kind of a change. But it is a time where protests against the government or any of these types of things are basically illegal so that may be a part of it. We've seen people organizing medical convoys, which at first were being turned away, but are now being let in at times. So there isn't a huge sense of what public sentiment fully is, but in general, populations in these countries are sympathetic with the Palestinian cause and are going against, really, this hard-line stance. So there could be a backlash in the view of its population down the line for Egypt taking the side of Israel.

SIMON: Egypt did host some negotiators who were trying to bring about a cease-fire over the past couple of weeks, including Secretary of State Kerry. Do you have any indication as to why it didn't get anywhere?

FADEL: Well, basically during these negotiations, Egypt never spoke to Hamas - a main party within this conflict. And so when the cease-fire was announced, Hamas rejected it saying nobody came and asked us what we want, what we require in order to get the cease-fire. So if Egypt's not talking to Hamas, then how do they accept the cease-fire is what they say.

SIMON: Tell us what's story Egyptian media has been telling.

FADEL: Well, a lot of the state media and privately owned media have been touting the same line - a very much - a government line in many ways. A famous right-wing TV host named Towfiq Akasha said he who defends Gaza is a dog like Hamas. Others said things like get killed, it's none of our business. You've already caused us enough misery. And a columnist for a newspaper called AlWatan said sorry, people of Gaza, I'm not going to sympathize with you until you get rid of Hamas. So really, the lines that you would expect to hear in the mainstream Israeli media showing up in the Egyptian media. In Egypt, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have been openly demonized now for over a year. There's a case against the former president, Mohamed Morsi, accused of espionage with Hamas, accusations that Hamas was trying to destroy Egypt. And now, there's a conflict here, Hamas at the center of it, in a country that has been told, you know, Hamas is also the enemy of Egypt.

SIMON: Would Egypt still have any interest in trying to broker something now? And is anything going on now that you can tell?

FADEL: Now, we're starting to see a sort of softening of that rhetoric to a certain extent. Today, when I spoke to the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, even though the cease-fire has ended, he says that they want to continue the negotiations in Cairo. Everyone is welcome to the table. When I asked is that included Hamas, he said of course it includes Hamas - anybody who the Palestinian Authority brings. So you're seeing a little bit of a shift now as this conflict has grown so deadly.

SIMON: Leila Fadel, NPR's international correspondent in Cairo. Thanks so much for being with us.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.