- - Monday, September 10, 2012

CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been a man on a mission — or several missions — since taking office June 30.

He is trying to forge an unlikely collaboration among Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to resolve the conflict in Syria.

He made China his first official state visit outside the region to cement and expand business and diplomatic ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

Late last month, he went to Tehran — a visit no Egyptian leader had made for more than three decades.

“There is a new Middle East player in town, and he is Mohammed Morsi,” said Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “Morsi has the credibility of a democratically elected leader who represents a system which has Islamic elements and meanwhile also works with the United States.”

Analysts say Mr. Morsi’s diplomatic initiatives show he is trying to assert himself and his nation as an independent force and revive Egypt’s role as a strong leader in the region.

Egyptians have long regarded their country as a cultural, political and strategic force. But Egypt’s role and standing over the past 35 years were sidelined and at times forgotten, said Tarek Osman, author of “Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak.”

“This aching for [a revival of] Egypt’s role in its region is what will drive the foreign policy of Egypt’s second republic, at least in the medium term — whether led by the Muslim Brotherhood or not,” said Mr. Osman. “Any political party or player seeking legitimacy from the Egyptian people today not only needs to cater to this aching, but cannot ignore it.”

Because Mr. Morsi came to power in his country’s first democratic presidential election, some speculate that he also will cater to the Egyptian public’s views on other issues, leaving many wondering what this means for Egypt’s cold peace with Israel.

Regional ‘contact group’

“Maybe most people in Egypt don’t want a kind of good relations with Israel,” said Dina Zakaria, a representative of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm formerly headed by Mr. Morsi. “But let me tell you also that they don’t want war. The official situation is that we are really respecting the international treaty, and people accept that.”

Analysts say Mr. Morsi is trying to build upon the momentum of the revolution in Egypt last year that ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Although the new president hasn’t made any official shifts in foreign policy, he is treading the world stage in ways that play well domestically.

Mr. Morsi’s first major foreign affairs initiative was to announce a plan for a “contact group” of Middle Eastern nations — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran — that would work to oust President Bashar Assad from Syria.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed that it was hosting the contact group’s first meeting after Iran said it was attending, Agence France-Presse reported.

Turkish, Saudi and Iranian delegations would “exchange points of view on the tragic developments in Syria and ways to end the bloodbath and achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people,” Foreign Ministry official Nazih al-Naggari said in a statement.

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