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Egypt warns Israel not to take disproportionate action against Palestinians

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to take a look at Egypt, which shares a border with both Gaza and Israel, placing it in a unique security position. During periods of violence in the past, Cairo has sometimes acted as a mediator between Israel and Palestinian groups. This time, Egypt has been publicly warning Israel not to take disproportionate action against Palestinians. Nancy Okail is president and CEO of the Center for International Policy. That's a think tank that says it wants to put peace, justice and sustainability at the center of U.S. foreign policy. She has deep experience in Egypt. And she's with us now to talk about Egypt's role in this war. Good morning.

NANCY OKAIL: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So what do you see as Egypt's role at this stage as these tensions are so high?

OKAIL: Egypt has two main roles as the role that it classically played as a mediator in order to ensure that there is truce out there. And the other role is actually to help the people of Gaza opening the border and providing them with supplies and medicine and aid and a passage to escape the open-air prison that they are in right now.

MARTIN: You know, where - people here are seeing Egypt's current response as kind of a change in tone. Do you see it that way? And what do you think is behind it?

OKAIL: Well, for Sisi, he would do anything not to open the borders and not to allow the Palestinians into Sinai. This is something - and a position that he had had for a long time. The reason that he gives the people is that he is framing it as by doing that, we would be betraying the Palestinian cause. We would be allowing the occupation to expand further and to turn the Palestinians into refugees.

MARTIN: So...

OKAIL: But this is not the reality of the case.

MARTIN: I see. So you see that there's been a...

OKAIL: The reality is that...

MARTIN: OK, go ahead. Please continue. Please continue.

OKAIL: Well, the reality of the case is that he has three major problems. He has a competence for security and control problem. He has a political problem. And he has a governance problem. The competence problem is that over the past 10 years, he was not able to really quell effectively the insurgency in Sinai. And, of course, having - opening the borders would be another challenge for him. But this is his own failure and incapacity. Just to tell you, the attacks on the army units have been sustained, but three major events in 2015, 2017 and last July, just three months ago - there were attacks that took place that were coordinated and had led to the killing of police officers. It took their time, and it reflected that there was a failure in intelligence and also a failure in competence, despite getting $1.3 billion each year in military aid from the United States.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. We are out of time. I do hope we'll talk again. This is a very complex topic, and it does deserve more attention. That's Nancy Okail. She's president and CEO of the Center for International Policy. It's a think tank that says it wants to put peace at the center of U.S. foreign policy. She was in France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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