Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don't give up on Egypt just yet.

A strong vocal minority has made it clear they would like to revisit the days when Egypt and Israel are military enemies; without any strong opposition to their voice, it would appear that the relationship between Israel and Egypt has suffered a massive blow; one that is likely irreparable.

    Many months ago, I watched with hope and trepidation, as the thirty-year regime of Hosni Mubarak came to a sudden, shocking end, after months of protests by Egyptian citizens. Many, in the Israeli community were dismissive of the movement, saying it could only be bad for Israel. Many predicted that a secular nation, who had an uneasy peace with the Jewish state would fall into the hands of islamists. Many, said it was  more complicated than that.

    Worst fears appeared to be realized, when Egyptian rioters (sometimes inappropriately termed protestors) staged a shocking attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. In the incident, thousands of Egyptians, many of them carrying Korans, pushed through the barriers of the embassy and set it on fire. Miraculously, all members of the Israeli envoy escaped harm, with help from Egyptian security forces. Over one thousand Egyptians were injured, and three were killed. This followed an incident when five Egyptian soldiers were killed in clashes with Israeli Defense Forces, following cross-border attacks with terrorist groups believed to originate out of Gaza; and since, the fall of the Mubarak regime, there have been at least five attacks on the pipeline that provides Israel with oil from Egypt;

 The events looked eerily like a conspiracy plot to pit Israel and Egypt against each other. It's like Tom Clancy novel. Involve a small number of Egyptians in a border clash with IDF forces. When they're killed this sparks outrage amongst the Egyptian public. Then, stage a violent protest at the Israeli embassy that causes diplomatic tensions. Using this model it would be very easy to set the two side against each other then watch as the world burned. Which is why both sides need to affirm their vital, if not uneasy relationship.  The easiest way for a demagogue to gain power in the Arab world is to invoke Israel as an enemy; and blame Zionists for all problems.

    The conclusions were easy to draw; 'The Egyptian people have showed their true colors and they were anti-Israel. But, is it really that simple? Do the actions of these violent rioters represent the Egyptian people? Best estimates put the number of "protestors" outside the embassy at about 3,000. Estimates for anti-mubarak protests earlier in the year were around two million. This would suggest the strong anti-Israel contingent is a mere fraction of those looking to take Egypt in a new direction.  A revolution that took flight on concerns of freedom and economic reforms, is in mortal danger of being hijacked by Islamists and militants.  In July a coalition of moderate, secular groups withdrew from a Friday evening rally of unity, when they felt the event had been taken over by religious groups. Even leadership from the Muslim Brotherhood, have come out against Islamists who "were trying to impose there vision on people in Tahrir."

 Justice Minister Abdul Aziz Al-Jundi said after the attacks that they were the result of "external forces." Al Jundi is likely delusional. To deny that there is significant anti-Israeli sentiment amongst Islamist groups within their borders is silly. There can be no doubt, that the provisional leadership council needs to take more responsibility for internal security. However, this could be an opportunity for moving forward. First, the Egyptians must formally absolve Israel for liability in the deaths of the Egyptian forces earlier in the summer; then, they must go to the Egyptian people and explain why maintaining the tentative agreements with Israel is in their best security and economic interests.

The hard question is what to do with proto-militant groups who may arise now that the Mubarak regime is not around to suppress them.

    This question is harder asked than answered. Outright banning of the groups would likely do little to curb their activities; and would possibly garner them sympathy amongst the public. Strong support must be given to the progressive groups in Egypt who want real reforms that will help their country progress; and not the same Nationalistic demagoguery that has never done anything to help the people.

For Israel the question of the next course of action is quite more difficult.

    These events come at a time when Israel has a full plate diplomatically. They upcoming UN vote on Palestinian Statehood promises to be headache that won't go away anytime soon; and Israel's continuing tensions with Turkey do not look to be getting easier anytime soon. Israel can hardly afford to lose another ally, even if it is an ally in name only.

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