Exposing the illusory ‘moderates’

The recent publication of a 2010 interview of Egypt’s current President Morsi raises further questions regarding the emerging socio-political currents in the post-Arab Spring Middle East that Western commentators are so keen on defining as “moderate.” The Muslim Brotherhood-backed leader has in fact been on record as stating that “We (Muslims) should employ all forms of resistance against them. There should be military resistance within the land of Palestine” and defining Israelis as “warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” Such remarks were not made by a fundamentalist preacher or a terrorist militant; they were uttered, merely 2 years ago, by a world leader whose country is now receiving millions of dollars in military aid from the United States.

President Morsi’s role in the negotiations leading to a ceasefire during the Israeli defensive operations against Hamas terror attacks in November have been hailed as a breakthrough in regard to the Egyptian stance in the region. If in the light of this new diplomatic reality, it cannot be ignored that while Morsi’s military has been fighting Jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula, the political attitude of the Egyptian government as well as the actions of the groups related to the Muslim Brotherhood have emboldened Gaza-based terror organization. The ideological proximity between Hamas and the Muslim Brothers is effectively eroding the Jewish State’s ability to impose a much needed international embargo against the Palestinian terrorist groups. The ongoing transformation of the global discourse concerning the Brotherhood’s influence over Egyptian society and politics is a further element putting at risk peace and security in the region. In fact, as long as Western governments and extra-parliamentary associations are willing to define the ideological partners of Hamas as “moderate” and view them as possible democratic interlocutors, the same actors that are slowly making all non-Muslims living in Egypt second class citizens will feel empowered to perpetuate their current agenda.

The question that must be asked is to what extent are the Egyptian-majority ruling Muslim Brothers or the Palestinian Authority actors that may be deemed as “moderates”? The answer to this query is essential as the term “moderate”, devoid of a clear definition, it instantly provides an aura of legitimacy to any element seeking to benefit from it.

Since 2011, Egypt has become a pivotal point in the talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at a possible reconciliation. As for the 2008 intra-Palestinian conflict, the separation of a “bad” Hamas in Gaza and a “good” Fatah in Judea and Samaria has widely found its place in international media and the overall Western political discourse pertaining to the region. However, commentators, analysts, and policy makers need to give careful consideration to the weight of reconciliation, the tendency chosen by Mahmoud Abbas to repeatedly accept these talks and the strategy adopted by Egypt in this evolving situation. The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah would in itself mean a further obstacle to any option that may eventually lead to peace negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. In effect, in the medium term, no deal can be envisioned as long as Hamas is bound to its terrorist mentality. If this reality cannot be argued against, then the role of Egypt in the ongoing reconciliation efforts is confined to empowering the Islamist faction and dwindling any chances of a long-term peace deal in the region.

The same reasoning should be applied to the international efforts taken by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority with the goal of having a State recognized by major international organizations. If in itself the Two-State solution has been blessed in the international arena since the 1930s as the sole answer to the conflict between Arabs and Jews, the unilateral and non-negotiated approach advanced by Mahmoud Abbas casts a shadow over his willingness to couple the creation of a State for the Palestinians with the any long term peace plan. The organization that is now considered as a “moderate” Palestinian interlocutor by the international community is still struggling to fully control its Al Aqsa terrorist brigades and is preparing the ground for a third intifada through its foreign policy actions. Any reconciliation with Hamas supported by Egypt will only further inflame the already fragile status quo that has been emerging in the relations between Mahmoud Abbas and Israel.

As in any case, it must be kept in mind that semantics matter. The term “moderate” comes in direct opposition with “extremist.” Hence, when defining the PA, or Egypt as “moderate” and Hamas as “extremist” actors, commentators and analysts are implicitly granting their blessings to the policies implemented by Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Morsi which are presented as separating them from the violence bound terrorist organization. However, this distinction is rather weak as it does not take into consideration an essential factor: both the PA and Egypt are effectively working in cooperation with Hamas in pursuit of a rather similar strategic objective of depriving Israel of its international legitimacy. If only the tactics defer but the objective remains the same, then anyone addressing the current situation should be extremely careful before using terms such as “moderate.”

About the Author
Riccardo Dugulin is an independant international affairs analyst. He holds a Master in International Security from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and has worked in leading think tanks in Washington DC, Beirut and Dubai and has held the position of security coordinator for a security assistance firm.