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November 25, 2012, Sunday

Many winners in the cease-fire: My thanks go to…

Everyone is proud of having contributed to the recent cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel. Everyone seems very happy. Everyone is also insinuating that his country played the lead role in bringing about the cease-fire. So many people have thanked others… President Barack Obama thanked President Mohammed Morsi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Morsi… and although this time Turkey received only pallid thanks, Ankara is also proud of having once again made a valuable contribution to regional politics. No one wants to be seen as an irrelevant actor who failed to play a key role in the big story. One may be surprised to observe such a high level of diplomatic courtesy, but it is true that the regional leaders, including President Obama, have created a veritable thanking chain.

Even so, knowing the history of the Middle East, those voluminous thanks are not enough to inspire confidence in the future. The cease-fire may, though, offer some clues about the future behavior of the regional powers.

First, the President Obama clue: We understand that we do not have the Obama of 2008. We now have a very experienced, more pragmatic Obama. Somehow, he has managed to inject a medieval element into foreign policy. He conducts his foreign policy through personal contact rather than through institutions. Learning from the failures in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the US under Obama's leadership knows that institutions matter less in the Middle East. US focus is therefore pragmatically on people, the leaders of the region. So far, we have seen the Obama-Erdoğan axis. Now, we have the Obama-Morsi axis. Obama will maintain his "through the leaders" diplomacy. It is a clever one. In the Middle East, people listen to their leaders.

Second, the President Morsi clue: Frankly, Morsi's performance during the last two weeks has exceeded even my earlier high expectations. Morsi has emerged as a reliable partner in the region. Having gained some level of recognition from the US, Morsi is now using it to consolidate his power at home. Morsi is now truly replacing former President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood is not naive, and it will not waste its historic opportunity for the sake of some abstract idealism.

Amending the public procurement law is as important for the Muslim Brotherhood as amending the Egyptian constitution. Thousands of people marginalized by the previous regime are now waiting at Morsi's gate. The West knows well that it will not be preachers of liberalism who transform the Islamists in the Middle East; it will be the market. To say this is not to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood. Political history is full of cases to prove that idealists are willing pragmatists when it comes to the pursuit of their best interests. Things will turn out much the same in Egypt.

The Hamas case is interesting. The whole of the Arab Spring has delivered one major message: Include the Islamists in the political game as internationally legitimate actors! Will Hamas join the Arab Spring? To join is to accept some level of transformation, as we saw in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. The third article of the cease-fire may in fact ease the Israeli blockade of Gaza. If coordinated successfully with Egypt, Hamas could use the opportunities of the cease-fire to consolidate its power in Gaza. This may well happen. But the deepest point of tension has to do with military relations between Hamas and Iran. During the Syrian crisis, Hamas left Damascus. But can it do this in Iran? The inclusion of Hamas in the Arab Spring will be determined by the Hamas decision on its relations with Iran. Thus, Iran is now in a proxy war of survival not only in Syria but also in Palestine.

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