While Israel celebrates, Egypt stays quiet

No mention in Cairo on 30th anniversary of peace accords.

begin sadat carter 248 (photo credit: AP)
begin sadat carter 248
(photo credit: AP)
The Foreign Ministry, as well as local academic and cultural institutions, have planned a number of events this week to commemorate three decades of peace between Egypt and Israel. In Egypt, on the other hand, not much fireworks or fanfare is planned. There is "nothing official that I know of" going on in Cairo to commemorate the March 26 anniversary, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. He said he did not know why. The Israeli embassy in Egypt, along with Egyptian experts, said they too were not aware of any ceremonies, receptions or events - other than television and other media coverage - to mark the signing of the historic Camp David Accords. "We didn't receive any invitations that I am aware of" said Shani Cooper Zubida, the spokeswoman of the Israeli embassy in Cairo. "We think that it is an Egyptian decision whether to have an event or not, but we are very happy to commemorate it, and we are very proud to have relations for the last 30 years with Egypt." Egyptian experts were split as to what the lack of both official and unofficial commemoration meant. "I think it's because of the result of the last Israeli parliamentary elections," said Emad Gad, head of the Israel unit at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, while Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who is likely to become the next foreign minister, has said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could "go to hell" if he didn't want to visit Israel, he said. Egyptian institutions or organizations seeking to host commemorative events now, at a time when Israel's Gaza war was still fresh on their minds, would face heavy criticism both from Egyptian political parties and ordinary citizens, Gad said. "Celebration for what?" he said people would wonder. "Killing Palestinians? For Lieberman and Netanyahu?" But Abdel Monem Said Aly, the director of the Al-Ahram Center, said it was customary in Egypt to hold celebrations to commemorate the evacuation of foreign troops from Egyptian territory rather than the signing of agreements or treaties. For example, April 25 is a national holiday that commemorates the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula as per the Camp David accords, while March 19 is celebrated as the day that Taba was liberated from Israeli control. Similarly, June 18 is celebrated as the day British colonial troops evacuated from Egypt's Suez military base. And despite the lack of celebrations this week in Egypt, there had been a significant number of talk-shows and programming in Egypt on the signing of the Camp David Accords, with more slated for the actual anniversary on Thursday, Said Aly said. In fact, the anniversary was receiving quite a bit of public attention, and in general the treaty was being portrayed as a positive thing for Egypt, he said. On one talk-show debate about the peace treaty on a Cairo-based satellite channel on Tuesday night, Said Aly counted 18 out of 20 phone calls made by viewers that were "supportive" of the historic document. It didn't mean that they loved Israel or supported its policies regarding the Palestinians, but it showed that the "treaty served Egypt and gave Egypt an opportunity for development," he said. "It saved the sons of Egypt from getting into a cycle of violence and war that can extend for years." At a seminar in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda praised the "courageous decision" of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and former President Anwar Sadat to make peace on the White House lawn. Despite the Israeli-Egyptian relationship being subject "to numerous challenges," he said, "our gathering today is just another testament to the strength of vision of peace and stability vis-a-vis the choice of war and bloodshed." But Reda also said that expanding relations with Israel was part of a vision for comprehensive peace that "entails reaching a just settlement of the different dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular the Palestinian quandary." Mubarak has said that the year 2009 should be "the year of peace" in the region, Reda said at the Hebrew University seminar, organized by the university and the Foreign Ministry. "For that, he calls upon the coming Israeli government to seize this opportunity and to respond positively to the Arab peace initiative." The Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, praised the many areas of cooperation between the two countries, saying that relations at the governmental level were as intimate and as close as ever. But he also warned that relations between the two nations' ordinary citizens were far from close, and appeared to be growing farther apart. The young Egyptian generation knew very little about Israel or the peace that Egypt has made with it, he said at the Hebrew University seminar. "They know all about the 'victory of October,'" he said, referring to the perceived Egyptian victory in the Yom Kippur war, "but they don't know anything about [Sadat's] visit in November" 1977. In addition to the Hebrew University seminar, the Foreign Ministry also hosted a reception for dignitaries and guests on Wednesday evening during which Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former officials who had been involved in Camp David spoke. On Sunday, the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem opened the "Echoes of Egypt" exhibit, which presents the works of leading artists, cartographers and photographers and their impressions from the mid-16th to the 19th centuries. The Menachem Begin Heritage Center is also opening a historic display at the Shalom Railway Station in Tel Aviv Thursday at 12 p.m. The multi-lingual display, entitled "No More War" tells the story of the making of peace between Egypt and Israel from 1977 onward.