As crazy as it sounds, Egypt appears to be closer to Israel than New Zealand

While Bill English prevaricates and sits on his hands over the deterioration in our relationship with Israel, it appears Egypt is improving their relationship.

The vast six-lane boulevard from Cairo International Airport into the city center is lined with buildings and offices connected to Egypt’s powerful military. Hotels cater to air force officers, and buildings commemorate, with glorious murals, the country’s fighting history. One shows Egyptian soldiers crossing the Suez Canal in 1973 to strike at Israeli forces in Sinai.

Many Egyptians see the 1973 war as a victory. From that war came the peace treaty signed in Washington in 1979 between president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin. Insiders say that Israel and Egypt are experiencing the closest cooperation in decades, based on shared interests.

On the surface there is nothing about the Egyptian-Israeli cold peace that appears warm. Israel was not represented at the Cairo International Book Fair that wrapped up on Friday. Official meetings with Israelis are controversial – a parliamentarian named Tawfik Okasha was heavily reprimanded for sitting down with the Israeli ambassador last year.

Israel reopened its embassy, albeit in smaller quarters, in September 2015, four years after an angry mob stormed it during the chaos of the Arab Spring. “We’re working together for the sake of stability and prosperity in the Middle East. Egypt will always be the largest and most important state in our region,” then-Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said. However, reports noted that the embassy building itself would not be re-opened and the ambassador’s residence would be used until a suitable location could be found.

While they are re-opening their embassy in Cairo, they are shuttering their embassy in Wellington.

This shows the relationship with Israel is multi-layered. Large portions of the population are hostile to Israel, fed by populist media. That may have changed slightly for the better in recent years. “There is still a lot of hearsay and conspiracy theories going on,” said Ayman el-Khatib, a former teacher.

There is a bifurcation between the political and diplomatic level – which officially demands that Israel make peace with the Palestinians and sees the Palestinian issue as a core of the region’s problems – and the strategic and military sector, which sees potential in cooperation with Israel.

Egypt and Israel quietly share strategic interests in the region. Egypt’s leadership sees the result of the Arab Spring as incredible instability and rising Islamist extremism. In discussions with people knowledgeable of the current situation, it was stressed that Cairo views the conflict today in the region as one between political Islam, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, and more traditionally “secular” regimes.

It also fears the rising influence of Iran as Iranian proxies in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq creep closer to Cairo’s eastern flank. In this set-up Israel is a key ally. Egypt treads a fine line in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Syria. It needs financial support from the Gulf, but wants to retain its traditional position as a military and cultural powerhouse in the region and see Islamist extremism defeated.

So, the country that scares Egypt the most is Iran, ironically the very country that Murray McCully is cuddling up to. The same country that funds a good proportion of Islamic terrorism and supplies them with arms…like McCully’s other mates in the region, the Saudis. I’m deadly serious when I say that Bill English and Murray McCully has aligned us with terrorists.

On December 22, Egypt withdrew a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, after what reports described as “frantic” lobbying by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s spokesman told reporters that they would allow the incoming US administration of Donald Trump to address the issue.

In an embarrassment for Cairo, the Security Council then passed a resolution a day later that was submitted by New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia. Egypt ended up supporting a resolution it had withdrawn.

It is an embarrassment for Bill English and Murray McCully that we sponsored that dreadful resolution.

 


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