May 28, 2012 | 8:21 pm
Posted by Ariel Blumenthal
Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq are the winners of round 1. The fascinating Egyptian journey moves forward, the suspense - climactic, and the heat is on. At stake: the essence of post-revolution Egypt, its economy, its relations with the US, the West and Israel. One of the most anxiety-provoking issues for Western observers is: how will the new President of Egypt impact the prospects of peace in the Middle East?
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi buried the two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace, declaring the only possible scenario of compromise as “...Completely rejected by the Arab and Muslim peoples ...” and calling it a “Delusion”. Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi promised to stop the sale of natural gas to Israel calling it “A subsidy to an enemy”, and Islamist candidate Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh declared “I do not and will not recognize Israel”. In the Presidential debate he stated that “Israel is an enemy ... The majority of Egyptians are enemies of Israel.”
Indeed, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found 61% of Egyptians want to annul the 1979 bilateral peace treaty - the single most astounding triumph for the idea of peace in the Middle East - while only a third want to keep it. Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center summarized: “The one thing that all parties in Egypt agree on is how much they hate Israel, that’s the one thing that seems to unify Egyptians right now.”
Generally, one would intuitively expect peaceful tendencies to accompany the emergence of Democracy - not in this case. First and foremost there’s the overwhelming presence of religious ideology that sees the Jews this way, a dogma that had already won the first democratic contest in the Arab world with the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot.
It’s not all about religion though, at least not until Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate wins. Hamdeen Sabahi, in fact, was arguably the most hostile towards Israel of all front candidates, and he’s secular. In a New Republic article last September Eric Trager explained that Egyptian national pride is strongly tied to the country’s previous wars with Israel - despite 32 years of peace. “It’s therefore all too predictable that the groundswell in Egyptian nationalism that ousted Hosni Mubarak this spring has been accompanied by an equally powerful surge in anti-Israeli sentiment” he says. Trager’s thesis was precisely expressed by Sabahi’s who said in regards to the peace with Israel: “...I’ll always be against it, and this comes out of my national Arab conscience.”
To fully grasp the complexity of this linkage one should recall that the Egyptian wars against Israel were never fought for the liberation of the West Bank and Gaza, but to oppose the very idea of Jewish sovereignty. In 1948 King Farouq tried to annihilate the nascent Israel; Gamal Nasser tried again to undo it in 1967; (Only than were the West Bank and Gaza lost) - Both brought disaster and humiliation upon themselves and Egypt. The 1973 war that served to somewhat abate Egyptian feelings of humiliation lives on, as Trager observes, in the name for 2 townships, 2 universities, and many museums, bridges, highways and public structures in Egypt. “Egyptians commemorate October 6, the day of the 1973 Egyptian attack, as a national holiday” he notes, “The anniversary of the Camp David Accords routinely goes unrecognized.”
The national conscience Sabahi refers to, therefore, is framed by the Arab refusal to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. Any bilateral issues between Israel and Egypt can be solved easily in a civilized re-negotiation (mainly: the unpopular natural gas deal and the militarization of the Sinai), but that would not take care of the original Egyptian and Arab national failures that the very existence of Israel represents. With that background, it’s easy to see how daily reports about Palestinian victimhood - even when selective, amplified or altogether false - are like giving Arabs and Egyptian specifically the middle finger, every single day.
Egyptian discourse in regards to Israel has always been radical and harsh. From the threats of slaughter in the 1948 war, through Nasser’s massive anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda efforts no Western pair of ears / eyes could take - an undertaking that had poisoned generations and brought forth the most cold, hate-saturated relations a peace treaty could produce. Now, the first voting generation enters the era of political freedom immersed in a national environment that demonizes Israel, trivializes antisemitic hate and shows no respect, brotherhood or courtesy towards a neighboring country. Another historical juncture marked by unnecessary hatred.
The current anti-Israel sentiment makes one wonder whether Anwar Saadat’s genuine, astonishing choice to prefer peace over the fantasy of erasing Israel was an isolated, reversible event, or part of an excruciatingly slow trend. The recklessness with which most of the front candidates had entertained the idea of annulling the agreement - the result of a rare historical alignment of elements and a life-saving document, shows an understanding and appreciation of the idea and value of peace that is very different than what we’re used to. It’s indicative of a political discourse that is to a large extent still focused on war towards total triumph rather than compromise towards peace.
The question remains, therefore, whether anything but the dismantling of the State of Israel can make the Egyptian historic hate towards Israel go. Is there any Israeli policy that can finally make Egypt a friendly neighbor?
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