Egypt is anti-Israel so must al Sisi be to stay in power

If the Trump administration wants to achieve peace in the Middle East Egypt will be an essential component, but deep anti-Israel propaganda in the country constitutes a serious stumbling block.


According to a recent report in the British Telegraph, Israel withdrew its ambassador from Cairo quietly some time ago due to security concerns. Over the many years of exchanging diplomatic missions, while Egyptian diplomatic missions have always enjoyed their stays in Tel Aviv, security concerns have regularly curtailed the Israeli diplomatic missions’ movement in Cairo.

Commenting on the Palestinian rhetoric against Israel, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated before his senate confirmation hearing, “Sometimes it takes another generation that’s not carrying all that baggage of the past.”

Three decades ago, president Anwar Sadat stated in his Knesset speech that there was a “psychological barrier [between Egyptians and Israelis] that constituted 70% of the problem.”

Since that speech, the Egyptian side had been hindering any possibility of breaking the psychological barrier president Sadat spoke of in 1977.

Taking a second look at Egyptian-Israeli relations with the upcoming 38th anniversary of the peace treaty between the two countries, one of the main questions that bewilders observers is why peace has yet to be realized between the two peoples despite four decades since the end of the 1973 war.

The question becomes more puzzling considering the high level of security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries with regard to the common security threats they face in Sinai.

While Cairo is making a sincere effort to improve the image of its relationship with Israel, the motivation is improving its standing in Washington, since it sees Israel as the gateway to American policy-makers.

Following the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, a rift developed in America-Egypt relations, and Egyptian policy-makers believe that leveraging relations with the Jewish state could help them in Congress, which they perceive as overtly sympathetic to Israel.

Hence it was not truly surprising to see Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry go to Jerusalem, meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and watch a soccer game (a model of how relations between their respective populations should be), and then travel to Washington, DC, to give a speech at the Saban forum.

Observing Egyptian culture closely, including the way the young generation is taught to think about Israel, it becomes clear that the high-level relationship between the two countries would deteriorate should the shared security threats return to the pre-Islamic State level. Simply put, the Egyptian government would not have the incentive to continue building a covert relationship with a country viewed by the majority of Egyptians as the eternal enemy, expansionists desperate to take Sinai back and therefore a main reason to rally around the military.

The shaping of the young Egyptian mind on the subject of Israel starts in school, with the Islamic religious narrative that frames the Jews as traitors.

This goes in hand with the media’s constant depiction of the Jews as evil people who want to destroy Egypt.

When young people go on to university, where political activism prevails, they become drawn very easily into anti-Israeli propaganda, which overlaps with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The process concludes with conscription to the army, which views Israel as the main enemy.

The main purpose behind all of this is to make sure Egyptians do not desire normalized relations with the Jewish state. Anti-normalization discourse in Egypt derives its power from three fronts: the elite, bureaucracies and military. The first has the strongest influence since it is at the forefront, dominating the media, press and universities. Their rhetoric against the Jewish state is mainly centered on conspiracy theories that aim to spread fear and hate among the masses.

Egypt’s elite are divided into two main categories: Islamists and non-Islamists.

Islamist elites constantly spread hate massages against the Jews and Israel in their religious sermons, employing religious slogans and stories.

What may come as a surprise to many is that the non-Islamists, who dominate Egypt’s media circles, are the most vocal in their hatred and animosity toward Israel. Among them are the Nasserists, pan-Arabists, leftists and liberals. Their opposition to and defamation of Israel and Jews is constantly presented in newspapers and TV shows. Among this group there is a small margin of Hebrew and Israel studies experts who are also divided when it comes to relations with Israel.

Some are totally drawn in by the mainstream propaganda, refusing any dealings with Israel, while others perceive Israel as a strategic enemy that should nevertheless be dealt with.

One of the major ways in which the young Egyptians who are the future leaders of the country are immunized against the idea of accepting Israel is pop culture. For instance, while Israelis have an academic center in Cairo and every year their academics translate various books from Arabic to Hebrew, Egyptian elite circles are still debating whether translating a Hebrew novel to Arabic and selling it at an Egyptian book fair is considered normalization or not. Such fastidiousness is cause for bragging in front of their Arab brothers who accuse Egypt of betraying the Palestinian cause by signing peace agreement with Israel.

There is a common fear among the Egyptian elites that Israel wants to dominate the region and replace its leadership. This is why they have a negative reaction when they hear a term such as the “New Middle East.”

They see nothing wrong with the current Middle East, where they carrying a lot of influence and lead the game.

While dealing with Israel as a reality, accepting it as a senior or junior regional partner is out of the question.

This goes back mainly to their obsession with “world Jewry,” which they think controls the world and with the help of Israel, will be able to dominate their country financially, which will open the door to control of the entire country.

The second group are the bureaucrats, who are not only opposed to Israel but also to Western principals in general, which tends to make them hostile toward anything foreign or new. They are influenced by both social conservatism and xenophobia, which has resulted in a total hostility toward anything that comes from outside, such foreign investment. For instance, one of the common veiled references used by top government officials and their media proxies against Israel and the US are phrases like “fourth generation warfare” and “Hebrew Spring,” which imply that both the US and Israel are conspiring against Egypt.

The government capitalizes on this sentiment by expanding its role in various fields, all in the name of combating foreign intervention and struggling against conspirators. Ultimately this mobilizes the masses around the military, which is perceived as the savior from the enemy. Military propaganda magnifies the army’s role in modern Egyptian history, using anti-Israel sentiment to legitimize its role politically and economically.

Generally speaking, Egyptian foreign policy makers want to keep the peace, but are not interested in comprehensive normalization. Understanding the Israeli desire for normalization, they use it as a card. They foresee no conflict with the Israelis unless they attack first or harm Israel’s national interests, and despite much talk they would never fight on behalf of the Palestinians, Lebanese or Syrians. Since 1973 war, the Egyptians have learned the lesson that pursuing Arab interests with Israelis should not be done on the battlefield, but instead at negotiation tables.

The major dilemma however is that for almost four decades, Egyptian media, dominated by intellectuals and with the approval of the government, have implanted the fear of both Israelis and Jews in the minds of millions of Egyptians. For instance, in the middle of all the praise in the West for the superb relations between the two militaries, a new Egyptian TV series was approved by the Egyptian government and is being prepared for airing this upcoming Ramadan which will depict the story of a Jewish girl who recruits an Egyptian military officer as a double agent.

Things get worse when it comes to Egyptians living in Israel who are married to Muslim and Christian Arab Israelis. They are not allowed to go back and forth freely and in some cases the government stripped them of the citizenship. According to the Egyptian Immigration, Passports and Naturalization Authority, Israel is one of 16 countries Egyptians cannot travel to without a permit from national security authorities. As a consequence, Egyptians do not travel to Israel except in three cases: diplomats at the embassy in Tel Aviv, Christian pilgrims and a few journalists trusted by the security apparatus.

If one hopeful thing can be mentioned, it is the change of perception among many Egyptians toward Hamas. For many years it was seen by a wide cross-section of the Egyptian society as a resistance movement, its actions against the Israelis justified.

Nowadays, after the government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated groups, the public has begun to view it for the first time as a terrorist organization.

If the Trump administration wants to achieve peace in the Middle East Egypt will be an essential component, but deep anti-Israel propaganda in the country constitutes a serious stumbling block.

The author is a Glazer Fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy.

February 19, 2017 | 17 Comments »

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17 Comments / 17 Comments

  1. The situation in Egypt is NO different from what is going on with the Pal! The Muslim leaders have fanaticised their masses and can’t come back!!! The leaders do not want to end-up like Sadat! Only the Saudis can perhaps but they must eliminate their fanatical religious sects.

  2. @ yamit82:
    I was not talking about making deals with anyone. I was talking about applying Israeli law to all of Judea/Samaria in lieu of just Area C if there was a significant reduction with some of the population and certainly the terrorists and their supporters which there are many.

    Yamit your point about making concessions for paper deals with Arabs I agree with as a general matter. I agree we can not trust. If for example there is regime change in Iran and some of the friendly non Islamic Iranians were to take over they would stop threatening the Gulf Arabs and also. End of alliance.

    We have been doing business with some of these Arab countries for a long time. Even Zim used to have its ships fly different colors and deliver things.

  3. Bear Klein Said:

    You know what is a much higher possibility. The Fatah, PLO and Hamas will start terror attacks against Israel again.

    What I wish for then is Israel to unleash the power of the IDF to rid Judea/Samaria of the PA, and all the terrorists it can find and their supporters.
    This would pave the way for applying Israeli law to all of Judea/Samaria.

    Even then there will not be peace, but when it comes to war we will be in a much better position to withstand an assault and to respond….. No matter what deal is made will will not reduce the IDF or our military spending. Don’t trust any of the so called moderate Arab nations none are stable none will honor for long any agreement and they might have softened positions due to Iran and Obama’s back stabbing but Iran is now their main concern but will it be 2 years from now or 5? They don’t need us economically and we don’t need them.

  4. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    Abbas is danger of being pushed out. Trump has made him void of meaningful influence. There are Fatah voices calling for his ouster and to end Oslo altogether and fight Israel together with Hamas.

  5. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    Probably if it just sporadic attacks by Hamas.

    However if it is also the PA Security Forces attacking plus the Fatah terrorists under the orders of Abbas or a successor if he is killed or flees the rules of the game may change dramatically. The PA then will be disolved and to regain order the IDF will need to stay in the PA cities at least for a while.

  6. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    I do predict they will start terror attacks in the near future.

    The IDF will do as instructed by the Political Leadership. That is the question. What will be the instructions.

  7. @Bear Klein. You said:

    “What I wish for then is Israel to unleash the power of the IDF to rid Judea/Samaria of the PA, and all the terrorists it can find and their supporters.
    This would pave the way for applying Israeli law to all of Judea/Samaria.”

    “An overwhelming majority of 86 percent of respondents said they support the renewal of rocket attacks on Israel if Hamas’s demands are not met. Of those polled, roughly 40 percent were residents of the Gaza Strip and 60 percent were from Judea and Samaria, PCPSR told Tazpit News Agency.”

    Does the IDF have the stomach to get rid of 60% of the Arabs of Yesha?

  8. @ Ted Belman:
    Polls indidcate ant-semitism in Jordan sky high, as I cited, before. Does he have any popular or military support? Is it just him trying to build support from scratch there from here?

  9. This article shows clearly and without any reasonable doubt that the two state solution will never bring peace to the Jews in Israel. If Egypt and Jordan, along with all other Arab states in the ME hate us so much, then for our leadership to establish another Arab entity on our ancestral land and bordering our State is absolutely crazy and treasonous. It will undermines our continued existence not only as a Jewish state in the region but, more importantly, our lives.

  10. @ Ted Belman:
    When Mudar is in charge of Jordan I welcome him to be friendly and welcome is arms open to Palestinian/Jordanians who want to relocate to Jordan.

    Since he lives in Britain currently this stuff is very virtual and theoretical.

    You know what is a much higher possibility. The Fatah, PLO and Hamas will start terror attacks against Israel again.

    What I wish for then is Israel to unleash the power of the IDF to rid Judea/Samaria of the PA, and all the terrorists it can find and their supporters.
    This would pave the way for applying Israeli law to all of Judea/Samaria.

  11. Yes the Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians….. all hate us. It is not just from the propaganda but comes from religion (Islam).

    We have peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt because it was safer for them to have peace treaties and stop the wars. It was not for love but because of strength and deterrence.

  12. This amounts to the biggest inferiority complex I have ever heard of !
    It reminds of an anecdote in my History student days of Cardinal Wolsey carpeting the poet laureate Skelton for skitting him. Skelton on bended knee and Wolsey – the butcher’s boy from Ipswich made good as Church careerist carrying on; then Skelton says, “Your Grace I beg leave to grovel for I can kneel no lower.” At this those present visibly shook with suppress laughter – end of interview.

  13. @Ted Belman

    You said Mudhar changed his view. What was it before? What’s to stop him from changing it back once in power to stay in power. Jordanian Arabs are among the most anti-semitic in the world, certainly as anti-semitic as Egyptians.

    “O God, strengthen Islam and Muslims, humiliate infidelity and infidels. O God, destroy your enemies, the Jewish and crusader enemies of Islam.”

    — Shaykh Jamal Shakir
    Sermon from King Abdallah mosque in Amman
    Amman Jordan Television Channel 1 in Arabic
    March 5, 2004”

    ““Oh young men, what will you say to the Jordanian government? Expel the Jewish ambassador from Amman. Amman is pure, and the Jewish ambassador must not defile its soil. Recall the Jordanian ambassador from Palestine. Only mujahideen should be in Palestine – not ambassadors, not ministers, or any representative of this nation. Do not recognize the ambassador of this nation in Palestine. Palestine is the land of Jihad, of sacrifice, and of preparation. We say to this government: Stop normalization with the Jews. Stop all imports and exports with the Jews. Our markets are full of Jewish vegetables and Jewish fruits. Traders who bring these fruits and vegetables are traitors, collaborators. Tell them this. Make them hear our voice. The position of the religious scholars is that anyone who trades with the Jews is a traitor and collaborator.”

    — Sheik Himam Sa’id, Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
    Al Manar and Al Aqsa TV, December 3 and 5, 2008”

    “In the predominantly Muslim nations surveyed, views of Jews were overwhelmingly unfavorable. Nearly all in Jordan (97 percent), the Palestinian territories (97%) and Egypt (95%) held an unfavorable view. Similarly, 98% of Lebanese expressed an unfavorable opinion of Jews, including 98% among both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, as well as 97% of Lebanese Christians.”