THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 30, 2009
The Camp David Accords were signed 31 years ago this mid-month. The actual Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty was sealed 30 years ago this coming March. This was negotiated between Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat. (The immediate reward for Cairo was annual emoluments of $3 billion, just about what Israel has received for military aid.) No soldiers have taken up arms against each other ever since. No airplanes have flown hostilely over each other's air space, no tanks, no missiles, no nothing. Nonetheless, the normalization of relations that many people anticipated would emerge between the two nations (Egypt being the only historic nation in the entire Arab orbit) has never materialized. A poll taken of 1000 Egyptians in 2006 (true, in the shadow of the second Lebanon war) found that 92% considered Israeli an enemy nation.
Ali Salem, for a time one of Egypt's most popular playwrights and its fiercest satirist, visited Israel in 1994. His life has been one of near-penury ever since. He published a piece in TNR a while back and this did not make his life any better or easier. Salem's travail is not at all idiosyncratic. A few years ago, a distinguished Egyptian film director, a feminist whose name I simply cannot retrieve from my addled brain, was honored by the Jerusalem Film Festival. She was immediately thrown out of her union. And so it goes.
The only sector in Egyptian life which seems relatively content with the detente (it is never more than that) is the military. They do not want to lose their airplanes and tanks for the third time in just about four decades. There is no Soviet Union to replace them. The sectors most hostile to Israel are the political elites (whether in power or permanently out) and the intellectual and cultural elites. These latter are just the folk who in normal societies--like Israel--would be fervently on the side of peace with their neighbors.
This little meditation of mine was occasioned by the news that the Egyptian semi-official (and not so "semi" at that) Al-Ahram publishing syndicate has just banned all (yes, I say "all") contact with any Israelis. This is a most extraordinary boycott for an enormous news operation with great pretense to be to the Arab world what The New York Times is to America. It will not deal with Israelis anywhere. Not interview Israeli diplomats. Not allow Israelis into any of its offices. It all started when the board of directors of the journalistic combined decided to punish one of its editors for meeting the Israeli ambassador someplace in Cairo. This, if you'll pardon me, is completely meshugah. Journalists, indeed.
Barack Obama did not quite expect that such aggressive regressions would be virtually the first concrete responses to his Egyptian overtures. You give them a finger and they'll take an arm. Very much like the reaction of the Saudis to the president's genuflection to their king. I wrote about this a while back.