‘Let them eat anti-Zionism’

Addressing recent speculations about the stability of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy provided a very interesting review of “Egypt’s Gains from Its Peace Treaty with Israel.” Indeed, Makovsky’s review would make informative reading for Egyptians, particularly since a new Pew Research Center survey shows that a majority of 54 percent would like to see the peace treaty with Israel annulled – but at the same time, 82 percent of Egyptians regard improved economic conditions as their most important priority.
While the Pew survey documents that most Egyptians are currently quite optimistic about their country’s future, there can be little doubt that optimism about Egypt’s economy is hardly warranted. A recent article in Businessweek featured the grim headline: “Egypt’s Economy Needs to Change. It Won’t.”
Among the challenges Egypt’s new government faces is the need for 9.4 million new jobs by 2020 in order to “absorb the jobless as well as new entrants into the workforce. To do so, GDP would have to grow almost 10 percent a year, about twice the rate since 2000.”
Several points made by Makovsky are especially noteworthy in this context. The first concerns Egypt’s “peace dividend” in the form of “extensive aid from Washington.” According to Makovsky, “Cairo annually receives $1.3 billion in US military assistance and $250 million in economic assistance.” That means that “Egypt has accrued $69 billion from the United States since 1979, while Israel has gained $98 billion. In fact, the two countries have been the largest recipients of US foreign aid since 1979.”
The second relevant point concerns reduced defense spending. As Makovsky explains: “Cairo has been able to sharply reduce its military budget since the 1973 war. According to the World Bank, Egypt’s military expenditures consumed approximately 2 percent of its gross national product in 2009 (about $3.8 billion), compared to more than 20 percent in 1976. This drastic reduction has allowed Cairo to reallocate military funds to economic development projects.”
Yet another important point concerns Egyptian exports to the United States. About one third of these exports come from Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ). According to Maykovsky, the QIZs were mandated by Congress in 1996 and initially enabled Jordan to have free-trade access to US markets provided that a certain percentage of the exported goods consisted of both Jordanian and Israeli inputs. Egypt joined this system in December 2004, and by now, “its QIZs employ more than 120,000 Egyptians and export approximately $763 million worth of goods to US shores per year.”
It should hardly need mentioning that Egypt, as well as all the other countries in the region, could also benefit enormously from cooperating with Israel given its flourishing economy and its proven track record as a “Start-Up Nation.” But any “normalization” of relations with Israel has long been anathema to Arab publics, and it is therefore debatable if not too much has been made of the fact that anti-Israel (and anti-American) sentiments were not a prominent feature of the wave of popular protests that have swept the region.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami mockingly summarized Bashar Assad’s recipe for popularity as “Let them eat anti-Zionism,” but while Assad’s staunch “anti-Zionism” obviously was no longer enough to reconcile Syrians with a brutal and oppressive regime, there are precious few indications that the “Arab street” is fed up with the rhetoric that their now widely reviled dictators have supplied so generously for so long.
The regimes, their corruption, abuse and mismanagement may now generate widespread outrage, but when a majority of Egyptians would like to see the peace treaty with Israel annulled, it is clear that many don’t feel the need for liberation from the “Prison of Hate” that Bret Stephens so brilliantly described early this year.
This is also evident from some of the other results of the recent Pew survey:  almost 90 percent of Egyptians see the army as a positive influence – and, as noted above, the army has received billions of dollars from the US over the past three decades. However, only 20 percent of Egyptians have a positive view of the US. So whatever the US has done to support the one institution that almost all Egyptians cherish, it wasn’t quite enough to counter the rampant anti-Americanism that, along with “anti-Zionism,” makes up the “resistance ethos” that remains a popular source of fake Arab dignity.