Disputed Letter Could Set Back Israel-Egypt Relations

A letter to Israel from Egypt's newly-elected President is fake, according to Egyptian officials. The dispute over the authenticity of the letter underscores the difficult relationship between Egypt's new Islamist leadership and neighboring Israel.

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Israel's president recently received a remarkable letter. It appeared to come from the new president of Egypt and expressed hope for peace between their two nations. Egypt-Israel relations have been strained since the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

As NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo, there's just one problem, the office of Egypt's president insists the letter is a fake.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The Israeli government released a letter yesterday said to be from Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi. In it, Morsi wrote he would work to put the peace process on the right track. But very quickly, the Egyptian president's spokesman issued a denial, calling the letter a fabrication and Muslim Brotherhood officials accused Israel of trying to undermine Morsi soon after he took office. Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The denial baffled Israeli officials who said they'd received it from the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and asked permission to release it. Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood has been hostile towards Israel for its harsh treatment of Palestinians.

Murad Hani(ph), a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing says while Morsi will respect the peace treaty with Israel, he doesn't want to an overly close relationship.

MURAD HANI: This could be a tool to irritate him and to try to put him in a corner. Because they know that Dr. Morsi is not happy with that Israeli policy.

FADEL: But analyst Hani Shukrallah says it's more likely that the Brotherhood sent the letter and then realized it could be politically explosive. Most Egyptians sympathize with the Palestinians.

(LAUGHTER)

HANI SHUKRALLAH: Should I believe the Israelis?

(LAUGHTER)

SHUKRALLAH: I mean, look. The Muslim Brotherhood are masters at speaking from both sides of their mouth.

FADEL: Morsi is the first leader in Egypt's history to be accountable to voters. Already he has dealt with protests against him and been criticized for being slow to put together a cabinet. Eighteen members of that cabinet were announced today, more than a month after he took office.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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