Thursday, May 28, 2009

How's This For Perspective?

Special Dispatch - No. 2364
May 20, 2009 No. 2364
Egyptian Liberal Magdi Khalil: 'The Peace Treaty with Israel Was the Most Significant Milestone in the Last Three Decades of Egyptian History'

The executive director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, Coptic Egyptian-American journalist Magdi Khalil, [1] recently penned an article on the advantages of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He wrote that contrary to its critics' claims, the treaty is not the reason for Egypt's internal problems - these are the fault of the country's oppressive, corrupt, and inefficient regime. As for claims that the peace treaty eliminated Egypt as a side in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Khalil says that this was an advantage rather than a drawback, for Egypt is no longer embroiled in endless wars, and is no longer harnessed to the agendas of others. He stresses that the treaty has brought Egypt stability, prosperity, and good relations with the international community, and laments the fact that the Egyptian regime never took full advantage of this to propel the country forward.[2]

Following are excerpts from the article:

"On March 26, 2009, exactly 30 years had passed since the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty on March 26, 1979. I consider this treaty to be the most significant milestone in the last three decades of contemporary Egyptian history.

"There is a sore lack of scientific studies and broad surveys designed to probe and measure Egyptian public opinion with regards to the treaty. What can be gauged is the view of the Egyptian media, as reflected in the massive amount of writings that have been penned since the treaty was first signed. On the whole, the Egyptian media has taken a negative stance towards the treaty - but this does not reflect the real attitude of the Egyptian mainstream. The Egyptian media, like other Arab media, is controlled by Islamists, nationalists, pan-Arab and socialist factions, as well as by the regime's reporters and staffers, who are adept mainly at defending their personal interests. The critics of the treaty are guided by rigid ideological convictions that are totally irrelevant to the average Egyptian citizen, and which leave no room for a factual assessment of the treaty based on its benefits and costs.

"Most opponents of the treaty blame it for neutralizing the Egyptian role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, the real question is whether we should consider this an advantage or a disadvantage! In my view, the removal of Egypt from the conflict should definitely be seen as an invaluable advantage. For what reason, and by what means, should Egypt continue to fight for the Arabs in the absence of any benefits furthering its development and prosperity? Is it reasonable to expect Egypt to pay an exorbitant price and make continuous sacrifices that are neither acknowledged nor rewarded, just because others have thus defined its role in the region? A simple cost-benefit analysis clearly shows that prior to the signing of the treaty, Egypt sustained great and continuous losses. Was it supposed to continue on that debilitating path, just in order to be praised as the 'dutiful older sister' of the Arab world?...

"The Egyptian role - the subject of much talk and lament - has two facets. The first, a militant role which played out under the leadership of Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser, ended with the defeat of 1967, and can be best described as catastrophic both for Egypt and for the region as a whole. The other facet is gentler - namely, influence and power exercised through cultural, creative, educational and artistic means. The decline of [this] role has nothing to do with the Peace Treaty; it has been hampered and stifled by lack of freedom, and by the failure to implement a valid development and revival plan."

"Others blame the treaty for the setbacks that have befallen Egypt in the last few decades. This claim is unfounded and erroneous. Can we possibly hold the treaty responsible for the corruption that has spread through Egyptian society, from top to bottom? Is it responsible for the lack of democracy, freedoms and proper governance?

"Should the treaty be blamed for class inequality and the unfair distribution of income and wealth, or for the terrifying population explosion? Is it responsible for Egypt turning into a forbidding police state, and for the oppression that has taken root within the regime and the religious institutions? Can it really be blamed for the absence of an authentic vision of progress and development, for the absence of party-politics, or for the deterioration of schools and universities?

"Is it responsible for the unholy alliance of power, wealth and corruption, for election fraud, or for the absence of justice standards and guarantees of judicial independence? Is it responsible for the increasingly poor performance of the media apparatus and of the legislative authority? Is it responsible for the growth and expansion of the fundamentalist Wahhabi and Bedouin ideology, or for taming, corrupting and smothering civil society?

"No, the fault clearly lies with a failing regime, and not with the Peace Treaty, which was, and continues to be, one of the best and most valid actions taken by Egypt since 1952.

"As for Arab solidarity, the question ought to be whether the treaty can be blamed for the Iran-Iraq war, for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, or for Syria's free rein in Lebanon, which lasted for three decades marked by assassinations and the elimination of national figures. Is the treaty responsible for the civil war in Algeria, or for the Polisario Front problem in Morocco? Should it be blamed for the death of over two million souls in South Sudan, and 300,000 in Darfur? Did it precipitate the fragmentation of Somalia or start the on-going war between Fatah and Hamas. Did it cause the personal disputes between the Arab rulers?"

"The treaty's opponents also criticize it for leaving most of Sinai devoid of heavy weaponry, which they claim has somehow compromised the security of Egypt's eastern borders. However, we actually ought to question whether it is better for Sinai to remain occupied or to be liberated under conditions that pose no restrictions on development but only on war.

"This also raises another question about the continuous perception of Israel as the enemy despite the fact that all the formerly occupied Egyptian territories have been handed back to Egypt, and the mutual skirmishes have ceased. Shouldn't this attitude be considered an assault on peace itself, and a return to the old ways of subordinating Egyptian causes to the Arab agenda?

"President Mubarak raised an even more significant question in a February 16, 1981 interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyassa. He asked: 'What is the Arab alternative to the treaty?... Nothing can be achieved by going to war with Israel, it is impossible …Before Camp David, did any force succeed in getting a commitment out of Israel to retreat [from the occupied lands]? The Palestinians have sold themselves over to many countries; they have sold themselves to Libya, Iraq and Syria.'

"The question raised by President Mubarak almost 30 years ago is still valid and awaiting an answer from the Arabs and the fans of empty slogans. What is the alternative to the Treaty? What actions have the Arabs taken in the past three decades to free their lands? Has Syria managed to shake itself out of inertia and move away from futile slogans? Has the situation of the Palestinians improved, or has it in fact gotten worse as they have become even more divided? Hasn't Jordan followed Egypt's example by getting back its territories before the opportunity could be lost? And didn't the Arabs finally go to Madrid, and the Palestinians to Oslo, in a much weaker position than the one they could have held at Camp David?

"On the other hand, there is no doubt about the many advantages of the treaty. Thanks to the treaty, every inch of the previously occupied Sinai has been restored to Egypt, along with its oil and wealth. Egyptian tourism has undergone an unprecedented revival, and the city of Sharm Al-Sheikh has become the most important tourist resort in Egypt as well as a center for major international conferences. Continuous wars are the worst ordeal for any nation, and when the war finally came to an end, the drain on human and financial resources ended as well.

"After signing the treaty, Egypt was granted an annual sum of $2.1 billion by the United States. Since 1979, it has thus received a total of $63 billion. Egypt also received aid from other sources in the form of debt waivers and extensive credit. Thus, thanks to the treaty, Egypt has obtained approximately $200 billion from the United States, other Western countries, and various international financial institutions.

"Thanks to the treaty, Egypt has also regained its status in the international community as a peacemaker and important partner in the ongoing peace negotiations... In light of this, is it reasonable to claim that the former tension in Egypt's relations with Syria, Iraq and with Yasser Arafat should have outweighed the significance of building and maintaining strong relations with the United States, Europe and the international community? The regimes of Saddam and Arafat were based mostly on slogans, assumptions and policies that cost their people dearly, and the same goes for Assad's regime.

"On October 5, 1981, just 24 hours before his death, the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat told the Egyptian magazine October: 'I would like to confirm to our Arab brethrens that I used to feel exactly as they do, and maybe even more so… I used to believe that the American attitude was hopeless [for us], and that the U.S. would [always] support Israel, unjustly or justly. But it [eventually] became evident that this is a total misconception. If you get to understand the American people, and get them to understand you, you are able to resolve all your problems, because they are fair - providing that you remain fair and honest [with them], and refrain from doublespeak, [that is,] from saying one thing then doing another'...

"I believe that Egypt's real setback was its failure to take proper advantage of the stability and of the outpouring of funds in order to devise a valid development plan...

"In sum, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was a remarkable step for both Egypt and Israel, and is in no way responsible for the failed development plans or for the lack of progress in Egypt. That failure lies squarely on the shoulders of the regime. It is ludicrous to claim that putting an end to wars and making peace resulted in setbacks and failure. The culprit in our case is bad governance. To prove this point, we only need look at the sustainable progress that Israel has made since the signing of the treaty. Egypt's failure is of local manufacture - so blame no one but yourselves."

[1] Magdi Khalil is executive director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, and executive editor of the Egyptian Coptic weekly Watani International. A syndicated columnist for several Arabic Language newspapers, he has also authored and co-authored 20 books and numerous articles on the topics of the Middle East, Arab-Western relations, Islamic extremism, and the situation of non-Muslim minorities in Islamic states. He is also a prominent political commentator on a number of Arab satellite channels.

[2], April 5, 2009.

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