For Egyptians Israel Still ‘The Enemy’

By Amr Emam – Cairo

Thirty years to the signing of a landmark peace treaty between both countries, Egyptians still see Israel as "the enemy" and oppose any and all forms of popular normalization of ties.

"Which peace?" asked Sabah Mohamed, a 25-year waitress at a major trading company in central Cairo.

She does not know anything about the anniversary of the peace treaty with Israel, neither does she care.

"The Israelis deceive the whole world. They deceive us too."

Egypt and Israel signed on March 26, 1979, a landmark peace treaty, the first between an Arab country and Israel.

When late President Anwar Sadat shook hands with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin after the signing, both might have thought they were opening a new page for a normal course of relations.

But 30 years later, that dream remains far-fetched.

Egypt’s media, official and independent, continues to project Israel as a warmongering state.

Demonstrations, either on university campuses or on the streets, demanding the rapture of ties with Israel are a frequent occurrence.

Egyptians still view Israel as "the enemy" and the peace treaty no more than a truce or even a preparation phase for another war.

The recent three-week war on the besieged Gaza Strip, which killed nearly 1400 Palestinians, half of them women and children, further fanned hostility towards Israel.

"There can be no peace, while Israel keeps killing the Palestinians everyday," insists Mohamed.

"This shows that the Israelis do not have good intentions as far as this region is concerned. The Israelis have bad plans to us."

Ashraf Abul Soud, an Arab affairs expert from the state-run Al-Ahram daily, agrees.

"Israel is a hawkish member of the international community. It acts against all international laws and by so doing sabotages peace," he said.

"What happened in the Gaza Strip two months ago is just a clear example for that."

Ink on Paper
"This peace is the reason why Egypt is able to attract thousands of tourists to Sinai now," Hafez contends.

As the Israelis planned several events to mark the anniversary, Egypt, both the government and the people, saw no reason to do the same.
The Foreign Ministry had announced that it would not celebrate the occasion, without giving a reason.

Over the past few days, all the wrangling in the corridors of the Egyptian government was over whether Egypt’s envoy to Tel Aviv Yasser Reda should attend Israel’s celebrations of the treaty.

The nomination of ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister in the Likud-leg government of right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu has upset Egypt.

Lieberman told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak he could "go to hell" if he didn’t visit Israel.

Ordinary Egyptians could not be more disinterested.

As the new day dawned on the most populous Arab country, there was nothing extraordinary about the streets, the squares, or even the people.

They streamed onto bus stops and lined to take transport to their work places, while vehicles of every kind continued to exhale limitless amounts of smoke into the air, blocking the sight of the sky in this dense capital of 16 million inhabitants.

"True, there’s peace, but this peace isn’t more than ink on papers," insists Hagar Saed, a College of Languages graduate.

"Israel wants to seize more Arab lands everyday. This contradicts with continual pronouncements by the Israeli leaders that they are working for peace."

Egypt’s Interest

However, many Egyptians still believe that the treaty served the best interest of their country.

"Egypt has got back its occupied land, which is in itself a military and political success for Egypt’s leadership at that time," says Ahmed Kamel, a financial analyst.

"Egyptians should be proud they have Sinai back."

Some say the treaty allowed Egypt to focus on its development plans and initiate needed reforms.

"Peace is a tangible reality," says Sherif Hafez, a professor of political science.

"This peace is the reason why Egypt is able to attract thousands of tourists to Sinai now," he contends.

"But for this peace, half of our budget would have gone to the military spending and our economy would have suffered in return. Countries that have not signed peace with Israel are not in a better situation."


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