Recent attacks from the Sinai and Gaza on Southern Israel triggered strong military responses from Israel followed by angry reactions from within Egypt.
Egypt's response has been two-fold: attempts from the leadership to negotiate a cease-fire, plus calls and protests from the citizenry demanding an end to the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement of 1979. The latter protests are telling.
Thousands of Egyptian demonstrators have been demanding an end to the peace treaty with Israel. These outcries have unmasked the pathological levels of popular hatred toward Jews and Israel that had been nurtured in Egypt during the several decades of Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Hostility to the peace treaty with Israel
is not simply the outcome of removing Mubarak from power. Rather, it is the outcome of the Mubarak regimen's blind eye to, and maybe even encouragement of, anti-Israeli propaganda.
The result is that nearly 30 years after the treaty was signed, values of peaceful co-existence toward Israelis have not taken root among Egyptians.
Unfortunately, virulent hatred toward Israel and demands to end the peace treaty are also winning tactics for garnering political support in the coming Egyptian elections. Public surveys confirm the unfortunate reality that a majority of Egyptians want to end the peace treaty with Israel.
The current Egyptian government and the Military Council of Egypt therefore now face a Catch-22. On the one hand they want to respect the international commitments of the country. They also realize that war will bring the opposite of prosperity to their nation.
On the other hand they want to satisfy the desires of their local population, if only to gain and keep political legitimacy.
In crisis lies opportunity for creative new approaches.
The current Egyptian hysteria about ending the peace treaty with Israel stems from failure of many Egyptians to understand the negative consequences of ending this treaty.
Egyptians in general understand only one aspect of the agreement — normalization of the relations between the two countries. The part of the treaty which they ignore or forget is that in exchange, Israel returned the Sinai to Egyptian control.
Tourism in the Sinai brings Egypt much-needed foreign currency, as does American foreign aid that has been paid to the country after signing the treaty. In addition, Egypt’s control over Sinai brings billions of U.S. dollars every year to the country via the Suez Canal.
Egyptians need to be informed that ending the peace treaty with Israel does not simply mean ending the normalization of the relations between the two countries as they wish, but it also mean a return of Sinai back to the control of Israel.
The latter fact by itself can significantly diminish the emotionally based demands of the Egyptian street to end the peace treaty with Israel.
Furthermore, many Egyptians will also start to realize the major economic disasters to Egypt’s economy if they ended the treaty. For example, the Sinai’s tourist cities would become part of Israel, along with the Sinai’s oil potential.
Worse still, with abrogation of the peace treaty, Israel might end up controlling one side of the Suez Canal. Paralysis of the Suez Canal could levy a further significant blow to Egypt’s economy.
Statements by Israeli officials that show how the peace treaty with Egypt is very important to Israel are misinterpreted by many Egyptians as it confirms to them their unfounded belief that the treaty is only beneficial to the Israelis. This actually increases animosity toward the treaty and encourages many Egyptians to demand ending it.
Israel can offer the following gambit to change the Egyptians’ public opinion about the treaty.
The Israeli government can clarify in a clear message to the Egyptian people that if the Egyptians insisted on ending the peace treaty, Israel will accept this as it means a return of control of Sinai back to Israel.
This gambit from the Israeli government is a winning tactic as the Egyptians will never
accept ending the treaty if they realized that this also means a return back of Israeli control over Sinai.
Emotional reaction in the Egyptian street against the peace treaty with Israel must be faced with facts and realities. Informing the Egyptians about the negative consequences of ending the treaty can bring the whole topic from the emotional and irrational parts of their brains to the rational centers of their mind.
This can create major change in the attitude of the Egyptians toward the treaty.
In brief, the feelings of many Egyptians that the peace treaty with Israel has been beneficial only to the Israelis must be confronted with facts and reality. The more the Israeli government mentions and publicizes how important the peace treaty is for Israel the more the Egyptian street demand an end for the treaty.
On the contrary, Israel can reverse the anti-peace treaty attitude in the Egyptian street if it announced that it will not hesitate to accept ending the treaty if the Egyptians want to end it — as this means the return of Sinai back to the control of Israel.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid (www.tawfikhamid.com), is an Islamic thinker and reformer. He himself is a reformed member of a terrorist Islamic organization (JI) with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri who is currently the first in command of al-Qaida. He is also the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam."
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