At an event Wednesday sponsored by the UC Berkeley Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Egyptian Ambassador Hossam Zaki said that the Obama administration must become more directly involved in the peace talks Egypt is brokering between Palestinian nationalist factions in order to further efforts for an eventual end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Zaki discussed the history of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Egypt and the progress of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in a presentation titled "The Obama Administration and the Middle East, a View from Egypt."
"The most important thing with the Obama administration is that they came to Egypt and said, 'We know the previous administration did not do you justice,'" Zaki said.
He added that he commended the current administration on its efforts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for respecting the autonomy of the Egyptian government.
According to Zaki, Egypt is unwilling to intervene in the Gaza conflict, despite pressure to do so from Iran, because of Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt is currently mediating peace talks between Hamas and Fatah factions in Palestine and is hopeful about an eventual end to the conflict, despite the Obama administration's failure to stop the spread of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, Zaki said.
"It disillusioned many people who put unrealistic expectations on the Obama administration," Zaki said. "They need to do more and do it in a more rapid way. If they succeed in restarting negotiations, we will support them."
But he added that events during the Bush administration strained the long-term relationship between the U.S. and Egypt, an alliance important to furthering a solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute that Obama must renew.
In 2007, the U.S. Congress voted to eliminate $200 million in foreign assistance to Egypt in response to the discovery of tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip through which Hamas was smuggling arms and other goods, Zaki said.
"This, obviously, has caused tremendous upset in Egyptian circles," Zaki said. "We now have the ability to do completely without the economic assistance program, but this money is a symbol of friendship and the relationship that the U.S. and Egypt should have."
He added that democratic movements must be legitimated by the will of a nation's people, not imposed from beyond its borders
UC Berkeley junior Max Steiner attended Zaki's talk in order to hear a "Middle Eastern perspective on the Middle East" and to gain insight on the mindset of the Egyptian government.
"They value their relationship with the U.S., but keep their own interests in mind." Steiner said. "The most important point I got was that democratic change has to come from within."