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Egypt to strengthen ties with Hezbollah

Published time: December 29, 2012 10:50
Edited time: December 29, 2012 14:50
Thousands of people carry flags as they gather for burial of slain intelligence officer Hassan in downtown Beirut (Reuters / Stringer)

Thousands of people carry flags as they gather for burial of slain intelligence officer Hassan in downtown Beirut (Reuters / Stringer)

Egypt will develop its ties with Hezbollah, recognizing it as a “real political and military force,” said an Egyptian official to Lebanese press. The announcement signals a U-turn in policy where Egypt had accused the group of operating terror cells.

In an interview with Lebanese publication the Daily Star, Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Hamdy said that his country’s newly-elected Islamist government would build “tight” relations with Hezbollah.

He stated that the ruling Muslim Brotherhood was “stretching out its hand” to its neighbors with a view to developing its foreign policy and furthering interests.

“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,” Hamdy stressed to the Daily Star.

He went on to deny reports that a delegation from the political group had already visited Egypt for negotiations, but conceded that he had met with Hezbollah political bureau members for discussions “to understand each other better.”

Commenting on Hezbollah’s open support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hamdy emphasized the need to “keep all the parties in Lebanon away from what is happening in Syria. Not only Hezbollah.”

Lebanon has been increasingly drawn into neighboring Syria’s spiraling conflict with sectarian tensions running high in the country, rival factions supporting both Assad and the opposition clashing in violent altercations.

Egypt’s relations with Hezbollah were strained during ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s reign. The worsening in relations can mainly be attributed to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and Egypt’s refusal to intervene to support Gaza-based Palestinians during Israel’s 2008 incursion into Gaza.

Mubarak was ousted in last year’s uprising that was intended to usher in a new era of democracy in Egypt.

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Internal turmoil barrier to progress

Hamdy said that recently Egypt’s internal conflicts had impeded the progress of Muslim Brotherhood’s foreign policy ambitions and stressed that progress would perhaps take longer than initially thought.

“To expect 180-degree shifts in strong positions take some time. Due to what is happening domestically in Egypt, it might have meant that we have been a bit slower than expected,” noted Hamdy. However, he stated that Egypt’s “intrinsic soft power” in the region would be instrumental in mediation with antagonistic forces in the region.

“Egypt will reveal itself as a real regional power and a ‘doer’ on the regional scene and we are keen to show that,” concluded Hamdy.

The ambassador’s interview came just a day after Egypt’s bitterly contested new constitution was signed into law by President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday. The new charter which is based on the principals of Sharia law had effectively divided the Egyptian public, triggering mass riots in Cairo and Alexandria over the last two weeks of voting.

Opposition forces to the new legislation say that the document is uncompromising and rounds on the rights of minority groups in Egypt.

The two rounds of voting were dogged with opposition allegations of widespread voting fraud. The accusations have yet to be addressed and Morsi maintained in his speech to the public on Thursday that the referendum was conducted with "full transparency and full judicial supervision."