Egyptian opposition press criticizes president's decision to host summit

Egyptian state-run and opposition press clashed over the president's decision to host a summit with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials as a show of support for Fatah.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the meeting in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik last week, not long after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a brutal rout of Abbas' Fatah movement.

"The cursed summit: Tomorrow Olmert leads an Arab alliance in Sharm el-Sheik against Hamas," read a headline Sunday in the leftist Egyptian weekly Al-Arabi.

The opposition voiced displeasure with Mubarak's decision to throw Egypt's weight behind Fatah, saying the movement didn't deserve it.

"The corrupt regime in Egypt has to defend the more corrupt regime (Fatah) in the occupied territories," wrote Magdi Mehna in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on Sunday.

Mubarak on Saturday described Hamas' takeover of Gaza as a "coup against legitimacy" and reassured Abbas of Egypt's support. Even before the recent turmoil, the Egyptian president had consistently refused to meet with Hamas officials, worried about encouraging his country's own Islamic opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mehna was also doubtful that Monday's summit would make any progress toward achieving Palestinian-Israeli peace.

"It's in the interest of the Egyptian regime to continue its role of mediator in the peace process even though actually there is nothing called peace, it's an American-Israeli game with Egyptian and Jordanian partnership," he wrote.

But Egyptian state media defended Mubarak's actions, saying he was trying to help the Palestinian people.

"Egypt can't remain idle while the Palestinians are ruining by their own hands the harvest of a half century of struggle," read an editorial in the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper Sunday.

The day after Monday's summit, Mubarak will meet in Sharm with Saudi King Abdullah in an effort to further solidify an Arab front supporting Abbas against Hamas.

But one analyst warned the meetings might signal the beginning of a more dangerous stage in the Middle East.

"The Sharm el-Sheik summit seems a launching and official declaration for the establishment of an 'alliance of moderates' that would inevitably lead, whether we like it or not, to intensify the polarization in the region," political scientist Hassan Nafaa said Sunday. "That might lead the 'alliance of extremists' to respond by taking extra measures to increase its cohesion and unity."