Egyptian-Israeli cooperation: Make it overt

Overt cooperation between Egypt and Israel as a win-win for both countries

Egypt  (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Being a Copt (Egyptian Christian) born in Egypt, and having obtained doctorates from Scotland and England before I lectured at a premier Egyptian university – as well as having lived in the US for the past 50 years, during which I obtained additional American doctorates and served in various capacities – has made me view overt cooperation between Egypt and Israel as a win-win for both countries.
Before Nasser came into power in 1952, Egypt was a magnet for several people, including Jews. A tumultuous time ensued since then, marred by the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel dominated the Arab countries, and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 – which demonstrated the capacity of Egypt to strike back at Israel and culminated in the peace treaty signed by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin in 1979. To date, peace between Egypt and Israel has been honored for 40 years. The recent cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian intelligent forces in Sinai attests to the fact that cooperation between the two countries is beneficial for both.
However, such cooperation has been covert and is spreading slowly to other aspects of life in spite of the need for openness in both countries. This cautiousness is understandable, since Israeli-American conspiracy theories are even more rampant in Egyptian media and among the Egyptian people. At the same time, worldwide expressions of antisemitism have been steadily rising in recent years in many Western countries, which witnessed a significant decline in antisemitism before then. These challenges cannot be overcome overnight, but allowing them to fester and infect many minds has to be reversed.
In Egypt, such hostilities towards Israel will require careful and thoughtful planning, as well as the involvement of many components of Egyptian society, its media outlets and religious leaders. Israel has grown spectacularly in spite of its hostile neighborhood of unfriendly countries, the most prominent of which are Iran, Turkey and Egypt. Iran has and will continue to be Israel’s main enemy, while Turkey is Sunni and supports the Muslim extremists in the Middle East. By contrast, Egypt can become Israel’s main partner – not only in sharing intelligence and fighting extremism, but also in enhancing its position in the world and, in due time, negotiating with various Palestinian factions.
Marrying Israel’s know-how, experience and innovation with Egypt’s abundance of cheap manpower (Egypt’s GDP is only a tenth of Israel’s) – as well as its hunger to excel after generations of deterioration in many aspects of living and a looming water crisis – promises to bear fruit for both countries.
Of course, cooperation to enhance security and stability will remain paramount. However, imagine the dividends in the not-distant future in tourism and trade if you combine the antiquities, beautiful beaches and food in Egypt with the distinctions of Israel, combined with its unique place as the premier site of the evolution of various dominant monotheistic world religions.
Egypt needs Israel’s dominant universities and hospitals to enhance its own. It also needs its masses of potentially productive youth to learn new skills. More importantly, Ethiopia and Sudan have rapidly increasing populations that will need more food and drink, agriculture and development. They have access to the Nile River before Egypt. Therefore, Egypt must learn to use the water wisely, clean the Nile, learn the irrigation techniques for more effective usage of water, and build desalination plants on the Mediterranean that will ensure its citizens having access to an abundance of clean drinking water. Israel is the most experienced country on Earth which can advise in these aspects.
As far as an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace, it can be said that ultimately, the time will come when a new Palestinian leadership realizes that Israel is now a mature and respected country that is ready to help; Egypt will play a pivotal role to have different factions accept and work towards productive co-existence.
In a world that used to think and behave as if, in order for a nation to win, somebody else must lose, it will be nice to have a win-win proposition whose time has come. To be implemented successfully, these cooperative ventures require both Egypt and Israel to work diligently towards building the necessary trust to enact them. Their effects in lessening extremism and antisemitism in the world may prove to be an unexpected secondary dividend from such cooperation.
The author is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC San Francisco and previous chairman of Cardiology at the University of South Florida.