Egypt's parliament wants Israel's ambassador out

March 12, 2012 - 2:26 PM
Mideast Egypt

A general view of the Egyptian parliament during a working session in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, March 11, 2012. Egypt's parliament has called for a vote on stopping U.S. aid. Sunday's move by the People's Assembly was sparked by the March 1 departure of six Americans defendants in a case of 43 employees of nonprofit groups accused of using illegal foreign funds to foment unrest in Egypt. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament unanimously voted on Monday in support of expelling Israel's ambassador in Cairo and halting gas exports to the Jewish state.

The motion is largely symbolic, because only the ruling military council can make such decisions, and it is not likely to impact Egypt's relations with Israel. But it signals the seismic change in Egypt after the ouster of longtime leader and Israel ally Hosni Mubarak a year ago in a popular uprising that ended his 29 years in power.

The vote was taken by a show of hands on a report by the chamber's Arab affairs committee that declared Egypt will "never" be a friend, partner or ally of Israel. The report described Israel as the nation's "number one enemy" and endorsed what it called Palestinian resistance "in all its kinds and forms" against Israel's "aggressive policies."

There was no immediate comment from Israel on the vote by the People's Assembly, the Egyptian parliament's lower house.

Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The treaty came six years after the two Middle East neighbors fought the last of their four wars. However, the accord produced a "cold" peace, and most Egyptians still view Israel as their nation's enemy.

There have been bouts of tension in relations between the two neighbors, mostly over Israel's perceived reluctance to proceed in good faith with peace talks with the Palestinians, but leaders of the two nations have consistently kept open channels of communication.

The parliamentary report also called for the recall of Egypt's ambassador in Israel and a revision of Egypt's nuclear power policy in view of the widespread suspicion that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of its own.

"Revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity (Israel), which we consider to be the number one enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation," said the report. "It will deal with that entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government is hereby called upon to review all its relations and accords with that enemy."

Monday's vote by parliament could serve as an indication of what may lie ahead.

The Islamists who dominate the 508-seat chamber, as well as the largely powerless upper house, would like to see the president's wide executive powers curtailed in the country's next constitution, while boosting those of the legislature.

If they have their way, statements like Monday's could impact on relations with Israel.

The parliament's vote could also give the generals who succeeded Mubarak an added incentive to keep the office of the president as the nation's most powerful institution and ensure that Egypt's next leader is beholden to the military.

The ruling military council is led by Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Many of its members are veterans of Egypt's last war with Israel in 1973, but they also have worked to maintain the peace since 1979.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls just under half of the seats in the powerful People's Assembly, wants a president with an Islamist background.