The World Can’t Solve the Israel-Hamas War without Egypt
This commentary was originally published in Foreign Policy on October 24, 2023.
While Israel and Gaza remain locked in conflict, the diplomatic spotlight is shifting toward Egypt. Before the war, Egypt was increasingly marginalized in Arab politics, sidelined by the 2011 uprisings and their aftermath and suffering from an ailing economy. When it comes to Gaza, however, Egypt has critical interests as well as strong leverage. So although it will prove a challenging partner for the United States, Israel, and many of their Western allies, Egypt is and will continue to be an essential player in the international response to the war.
Egypt’s history with Hamas is fraught. The Egyptian military has had an enduring interest in the Gaza Strip since it initially occupied it for almost two decades after Israel’s independence in 1948, and it has remained finely attuned to the area’s security environment. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, like many of his predecessors, is deeply hostile to Hamas, which sprung out of Egypt’s often-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Yet Egyptian leaders also have a long history of engagement with Hamas, particularly after it became the de facto ruler of Gaza after seizing power in 2007. In past crises, Egypt has served as an interlocutor with the organization, facilitating prisoner swaps and helping negotiate cease-fires.