Nearly 30 years ago, a leader of a country that had been at war for the previous 30 years took the courageous stand of extending his hand in peace. That he was Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the person he extended his hand to was Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel, made it all the more courageous.
For the first time since the formation of the state of Israel, a peace treaty between them and an Arab nation existed. One of the five countries that had sworn to drive them into the sea had reversed its stand and opened the door to the possibility of peace for the region. While there can be doubt that for both parties this involved an immense leap of faith, Anwar Sadat was stepping the furthest into uncharted territory.
Just five years after the Yom Kippur war in which Israel had once again fought off a determined attempt to conquer their land by their neighbours, neither side could be blamed for mistrusting the other. But Egypt was truly on its own in this foray. Perhaps they had tacit understanding from Jordan, but publicly every other Arab League nation condemned them as traitors.
We may never know what truly prompted Sadat’s change of heart. Probably it was a combination of realizing how crippling continuous warfare was becoming, the need to establish better relationships with the U.S., and perhaps a little of “if you can’t beat them join.” Whatever the motivations, the fact remains that from that moment on, they have been the one Arab country within the region guaranteed to be not openly hostile towards Western and Israeli interests.
Certainly there have been falling outs at times, disagreements that have threatened the fragile peace, but it has never collapsed in spite of pressures on the Egyptians from countless sources. Even the assassination of Anwar Sadat by Islamic fundamentalists did nothing to shake their resolution.
Egypt has a long history of being a secular nation, and therein perhaps lies some of the answer to the desire for peace. Even prior to the signing of the Camp David Accord in March of 1979, it had experienced outbreaks of violence similar to those that ended up toppling the Shah of Iran in 1980.
By expanding the economic opportunities available to his country through peace with the U.S. and Israel, Sadat may have hoped to improve the lot of his people. The fewer people who were discontented, the less chance the fundamentalists would have had of whipping up discord. There is also no doubt that he clamped down very hard on those sects advocating violence against Israel, and in doing so probably sealed his own doom.
President Mubahrek has continued this hard line against fundamentalists while working to build on the peace process started by his predecessor. He walks the tightrope between keeping his Arab allies happy and maintaining ties with both Israel and the U.S. He was a key player in prodding the Palestinian leadership away from terrorism and into recognising the right of Israel to exist as a nation.
His ability to do nothing and keep his Arab allies in check has prevented escalations of retaliatory actions. His refusal to allow the fundamentalists any sort of toehold within his country, mainly due to self interest, has served as a bulwark for the region against the more radical elements.
Mubarek and his government have been fighting the war on terrorism long before George Bush thought of it. Next to Israel, they have been the favourite targets of suicide bombers and other acts of terror. For more then a quarter of a century, they have been under these attacks and have not once wavered in their commitment to the peace process.
Thousands of civilians have been killed. The armed forces and the police devout themselves to the prevention of attacks and rounding up potential threats. But what recognition do they ever receive from the west?
During the last two weeks, bombs have exploded in both London and Egypt. When the bombs went off in London, we were inundated with pictures and stories. The brave Londoners carry on with business as usual: personal stories of some of the victims, statements of outrage, and avowals of revenge.
When the bomb went off in Egypt, killing 88 people and injuring hundreds more, we got the story. Nothing else. To their credit, George Bush and Tony Blair’s government both issued statements of support and condolence. No other world leaders said a word. No condolences, no personal stories, no guarantees of support. Nothing but silence.
It was the same people doing the bombing, or at least people with the same motivations and interests. Yet it was treated as having nothing to do with us. Egypt has been on the front lines of the war against terror for 25 years, and nobody acts as if it matters.
If you were an Egyptian and compared the reactions of the Western press and leadership to the bombings of London and the most recent killings in Egypt, how would you be feeling right about now? I think I would be pretty pissed off. It smacks of indifference of the worse kind.
I don’t believe in coincidences. The people behind both bombings knew what the reactions would be like and they’ll use it against us. “Look, why are you doing anything for them, they don’t care about you,” they’ll say. There is already enough distrust for us in the Middle East that it wouldn’t take much to turn more people against the West.
Anger and emotions are dangerous and easy to manipulate. There will be enough people willing to listen to that kind of talk that it is dangerous for us to take it for granted. The Egyptian government has a hard enough time as it is without us compounding their difficulties by giving short shrift to attacks on their people.
While Tony Blair may be George Bush’s buddy in the occupation of Iraq and he feels obligated to make a big display over the terrorist actions in London (as well he should), Egypt has been working for peace in the Middle East for close to thirty years. They have been on the receiving end of countless acts of terrorism including the assassination of their leader. Hasn’t that earned them some sort of standing in our eyes?
Without Egypt, the Middle East would be in a lot worse shape than it is now. Our reaction, governments, press, and individuals, to the events of the past week there have been shameful. We cannot continue to display indifference to our allies in the Muslim world. That just plays into the hands of the terrorists.