Signaling just how much Egypt has changed since President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood took power, Egypt’s ambassador to Lebanon over the weekend suggested his country is warming to Hezbollah, a group the U.S. defines as a terrorist organization.
In a Saturday interview to Lebanon’s Daily Star, Ambassador Ashraf Hamdy said Egypt will pursue relations with Hezbollah, because the radical Shiite group is a “real political and military force” in Lebanon.
The Jerusalem Post is characterizing his words as a “dramatic policy shift.”
Russia Today is calling the announcement “a U-turn in policy” since in the past Egypt had accused Hezbollah of operating terror cells in its territory.
Hamdy’s comments are “the frankest yet on Egypt’s rapprochement with the party, and another sign of just how far ‘New Egypt’s’ regional foreign policy has shifted from that of the previous regime headed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak,” or so says The Daily Star.
The ambassador told the paper: “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.”
He said Egypt’s new foreign policy posture is to pursue “tight” contacts, even with its enemies: “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.”
The Muslim Brotherhood represents Sunni Islam while Hezbollah is Shiite. The two branches of Islam have been bitter enemies which makes this latest Egypt-Hezbollah rapprochement all the more striking.
The Daily Star provides more background on past Egyptian-Hezbollah relations which were strained due to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. In addition, during the 2008 war in Gaza, Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah was rebuffed when he asked Egypt to militarily intervene against Israel in support of Hamas.
Signaling his statements are not just empty words, the ambassador says he’s already met with Hezbollah’s political wing to try “to understand each other better.”
“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 said.
Hamdy endorsed Hezbollah’s past bombing attacks of Israel, which he characterized as “defending Lebanese territory.” He said:
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 to keep on defending Lebanese territory and trying to regain land occupied by Israel is legal and legitimate.
“Resistance” is a word used frequently by Arab leaders to legitimize the terrorist activities of militant groups that target Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.
Even as he was praising Hezbollah’s “legitimate” anti-Israel agenda, Hamdy warned the group to restrain itself on the Lebanese front.
“Mixing those legitimate goals with other goals to dominate the Lebanese [political] scene and as the only force deciding Lebanese policy would not be welcome by other parties in the region, or by Egypt,” he said.