Egypt Virtually Withdraws 'Friendly' Letter to Peres from Morsi

This is the kind of thing that makes you wonder who is Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi answering to.

Haaretz:

The spokesman for Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi on Tuesday denied reports that Morsi has sent a letter to Israeli president Shimon Peres.

"Everything that was reported in the Israeli media regarding the letter does not correspond to reality," said Yasser Ali in a statement.

The denial by the Egyptian president's spokesman is especially odd in light of the fact that diplomats in the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv were the ones who passed on the missive, which was printed on the official letterhead of the ambassador along with the embassy's stamps.

Moreover, senior Egyptian officials in Cairo notified the Israeli embassy in Cairo about the missive.

The letter, which was written in English and dated July 15, came as a response to a message sent by Peres a month ago, in which the president congratulated Morsi for his victory in the elections, and offered his blessing ahead of the month of Ramadan.

In response, Morsi thanked Peres on his "congratulations on the advent of the Holy Month of Ramadan."

"I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including [the] Israeli people," Morsi said in the missive.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a missive to Morsi congratulating him on winning the Egyptian election. Netanyahu offered to cooperate with the new government in Cairo and expressed his hope that both parties would observe the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

I doubt very much that the military intervened to quash the letter. They support the treaty as it means several billion a year from the US in military aid. Besides, the spokesman works for the president, Mr. Morsi, who is a former high ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He resigned his position with the Brotherhood after the election, but this strange diplomatic dance about a letter to President Peres not "correspond[ing] to reality" suggests that Morsi is not an independent actor -- that, in fact, he is a tool of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose unflinching enmity of Israel probably played a significant role in the virtual recall of the missive.

Or did it? Stephen Cook of The Atlantic writes that there is a suggestion that the letter was sent by another faction seeking to embarrass Morsi:

Finally, as one member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party cryptically suggested, the Egyptian presidency did not send the letter, but perhaps some other faction or group did in an effort to embarrass the new president. Conspiratorial? Without a doubt, but one can actually understand the logic train in this one, unlike most conspiracy theories. President Morsi has recently taken over a state apparatus in which large numbers of people are not necessarily predisposed toward him. Some of those people--in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? General Intelligence Service? Supreme Council of the Armed Forces?--could conceivably use a sensitive issue like Israel to embarrass Morsi. The question is: Are they competent enough to forge a letter that would get passed to the Israelis?

The conspiracy would have to include not only members of the government in Cairo, but staff members at the Egyptian embassy in Israel who received the letter and then hand delivered it to Peres. I think the Brotherhood is playing a little misdirection with the conspiracy theory, trying to deflect attention away from the notion that Morsi sent the letter without their approval and, once it became public, sought to withdraw it -- or pretend it was never sent, which is the same thing.

The snafu over the letter does not bode well for the near future of Israeli-Egyptian relations.