So tell me exactly how it’s possible for the nation of Mohamed Morsi, an Egyptian president who has pledged unparalleled affection for Hamas, to help broker a peace between Israel and Hamas? On Tuesday, the same day this is being written, Morsi promised “positive results,” while predicting “Israeli aggression” would soon end.
On that same day a Palestinian rocket landed on the outskirts of Jerusalem—then 140 more rockets hit Israel. From Gaza there’s a daily barrage of missiles fired at southern Israel—a fair indication of just how swiftly Hamas’s once primitive weaponry has evolved.
Morsi may want to grab the mediator role once flaunted by his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, but as an Islamic Brotherhood puppet who received just 51 percent of the Egyptian vote in the last election, he does not quite have the cachet to pull it off. He is—for all his posturing, his dreams of leadership—essentially a weakling.
Yes, he’s good at recalling his ambassador to Tel Aviv—as he did on November 14th, when an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas’s military chief Ahmed al-Jabari. He’s a good fist-shaker, threatening on Egypt’s state-owned media “anger that Israel would not be able to face.” And Morsi’s decision to open the Rafah Crossing into Gaza as well as all North Sinai hospitals to injured Palestinians was particularly astute.
But shortly after the television threats were aired, a rail worker 200 miles south of Cairo fell fast asleep. The result: a speeding train collided with a school bus, killing 51 children killed, and badly injuring 17. No one quite thought President Morsi should have been by the rail worker’s side to shake him awake and avert disaster. But the incident pointed out exactly what everyone who lives or has ever lived in Egypt already knows: The entire country is a catastrophe. And Morsi has done nothing to improve it.
The most recent train tragedy is not an anomaly. Thousands of Egyptians have been killed in recent years in train crashes. And those who somehow don’t die instantly from either accident or illness in Egypt are likely to do so on arrival in an Egyptian hospital—which are as lethal as any rocket fired from Gaza. When I lived in Cairo an ulcer victim of my acquaintance was unwisely dispatched to a Cairo hospital: there he received a blood transfusion. Wrong blood type. The ulcer remained, undisturbed by medical intervention. On the other hand, the patient’s leather jacket disappeared.
When 18 of the injured train crash children arrived at Assuit Educational Hospital, for example, friends of the victims flooded the Internet with pleas to “immediately supply the hospital with sodium bicarbonate which is unavailable and is urgently needed for the rescue treatment of injured cases.” The director of that same hospital protested on the air (with absolute accuracy, as it happens) “that shortage of emergency medicines and supplies is an ongoing issue in every major hospital in Egypt.”
Egypt’s poverty rate increased to more than 25 percent last year, up from 21.6 percent; in Upper Egypt, which is largely rural, it rose to encompass more than half the population. What we are examining, in other words, is a nation that is out of control. Its population rate is out of control—now 91 million, an 18 percent growth in eight years; its economy is out of control.
And its president is weak, confused, and flailing, but backed by an ideology that is out of control. He cannot lead. He cannot broker—anything. Least of all peace.