Egypt-Israel border attack is symptom of Camp David betrayal

Egypt-Israel border attack is a symptom of enduring Camp David betrayal
6 min read

Sam Hamad

08 June, 2023
As the Sisi regime rushes to console Israel after the recent border shooting, Sam Hamad argues that the 1979 Camp David normalisation deal wasn't just a betrayal of Palestine but also of the Egyptian people, who remain steadfast in their solidarity.
A recent incident at Egypt's border with Israel has exposed the divide that exists between the government and the people on the question of Palestine.

The regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has done everything in its power to make the world believe that the fatal shooting of three Israeli soldiers by a member of the Egyptian security services occurred in a vacuum.

So far, the regime has banned Mohamed Salah, the 22-year-old conscript who allegedly killed the Israelis and ten died in the exchange of fire, from having a public funeral. They have detained members of his family and cordoned off roads leading to his home in Cairo, with security forces deployed around the house.

They have attempted, with some success, to impose a complete media blackout on the life and death of Mohamed Salah. Instead, the regime has pushed its own narrative of Salah as being “mentally ill” or generally disgruntled with life in the military, while increasingly far-right Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Salah a terrorist.

It is, of course, possibly true that Salah was suffering from mental health issues. After all, life for conscripts in the Egyptian security forces is hard and unforgiving. 

However, if that is what inspired Salah’s actions on Saturday – to cross into the State of Israel and fatally shoot at the Israeli army – it was conditioned by a political reality that the Egyptian regime is terrified to acknowledge.

Egypt has formally been at ‘peace’ with Israel since 1979 when it became the first Arabic-speaking state to do so as part of the US-brokered Camp David accords after decades of war. It might have officially ‘normalised’ relations with Israel in terms of diplomacy, military and trade. But this doesn’t reflect the will of the Egyptian people. 

And that’s what the regime is terrified of, with even some of its loyalists breaking rank and referring to Salah as a “hero” and “martyr” for killing what they - like the overwhelming majority of Egyptians - consider to be illegal occupation forces in Palestine. After the regime sent condolences to Israel, they were widely mocked by Egyptians, many of whom celebrated the act.

Though most Egyptians wouldn’t welcome another war with the nuclear-armed Israel, the popular notion across all of Egypt is that Israel is an illegitimate rogue state that is illegally colonising land that rightfully belongs to Palestinians.

After the incident on the Israeli border, one of the first things Sisi did was pick up the phone to his good friend Netanyahu, with both pledging to boost coordination. This is the ‘spirit of Camp David’ - a spirit which belongs not to the Egyptian people, but to the succession of tyrannical regimes that have ruled the country since Anwar Sadat’s normalisation with Israel.

Sadat’s decision to normalise with Israel did not occur after some huge popular change in attitudes of Egyptians towards Palestine. Rather, it happened due to the Egyptian elite’s desire to get rich by opening up the economy to the West, as well as the lucrative military aid provided by the US. 

The military-led kleptocracy that still exists in Egypt today, one which sucks the life out of the country and is leading to economic disaster, was ceremoniously marked by Camp David. 

Egypt, Israel, the US and the rest of the world like to keep up the façade that Camp David was a brave, pioneering endeavour, one that paved the way for the Abraham Accords. But among many Egyptians, Camp David is synonymous with the selling of Egypt to foreign powers and the weakening of its position as the de facto leader of the Arabic-speaking world. 

Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat, US president Jimmy Carter, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin preparing to sign the Egypt-Israel peace treaty on 26 March 1979 in Washington DC. [Getty]

It is true that Gamal Abdel Nasser was a dictator who made a huge mistake in not instituting democracy in Egypt, but he fought hard to maintain Egyptian independence in the face of regional and global forces that wanted to break its stature among the Arab world.

The average Egyptian citizen has gotten nothing out of Camp David, while Palestinians effectively lost one of their greatest allies.

The false dichotomy beloved of Camp David advocates is that the choice was between war and peace. Not only does this idea completely overlook the fact that the Israeli war of conquest against Palestine has never ceased, but it misrepresents the role that Egypt could have played without attempting to wage war on Israel. 

For those who wonder what this would’ve looked like, all they have to do is look at post-Camp David Egypt’s role in imposing, alongside Israel, the crushing 18-year-long siege on Gaza

Or they could look at how Egypt hugely aids Israel in containing and countering Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas, which is linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which provided Egypt’s first, only and swiftly overthrown democratically elected president. 

None of this can be said to be done in the name of the Egyptian people. And despite the Sisi regime’s aptitude for cruelty when it comes to controlling Egyptians, the disconnect between the regime and the people when it comes to Israel is something that even Sisi treats delicately. Despite it being reported in the global media, the regime often denies its closeness to Israel to a domestic audience. 

Though polling in Egypt is notoriously difficult, the most recent reliable polling shows only 11% of Egyptians support normalisation with Israel, let alone aiding Israel in besieging Gaza and in its colonial endeavours against Palestinians.

This is why the Sisi regime is terrified of anyone shedding more light on Mohamed Salah, as to do so would be to shed light on the potentially incendiary schism that exists between the people and the elite on the question of Palestine. 

Today, the word “counterrevolution” is used in the region in connection to the death of the Arab Spring. But we could say that the postcolonial period was defined by a series of counterrevolutions within one long counterrevolution.

Camp David was certainly one of these: when the Arab world’s largest state not only betrayed the Palestinian cause, but also betrayed itself. 

The Egypt that produced Salah is an Egypt marked by the scars of this betrayal. 

Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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