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Egyptian crisis aggravates

By Missing Peace
Members of the parliament stand and pray during the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution

With international attention now focused on Syria, certain underreported developments in Egypt should be cause for grave concern.

These developments have increased Israeli fears about the future of the Camp David peace accord and the stability in the region as a whole.

recently published Missing Peace report dealt with the situation on the Egyptian border, where Israel is feverishly working on the construction of a border fence.

Last week the internal situation in Egypt was discussed during a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). Former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Yitzhak Levanon, analyzed the situation for the international media and foreign diplomats.

Levanon painted a very bleak picture. The revolution which began a year ago has been hijacked by the Islamists and the liberals who initiated it have been completely cast aside. At the moment the situation in Egypt is very explosive.

Uncertainty about several key issues, such as who is going to write the new constitution and who will appoint the committee which will make the draft of this constitution, has only contributed to the instability.

Israel 

Relations with Israel are deteriorating steadily. Currently the only official contacts between Egypt and Israel are those between the IDF and the Egyptian army. Levanon added that the Israeli embassy in Cairo has been closed since it was attacked last summer. Furthermore the gas-pipe line between the two countries has been bombed every month since the revolution began.

To make things worse, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Egyptian parliament last week decided to boycott all events and meetings at which Israeli officials will be present. The chairman of the committee called Israel “The Zionist entity”: a term only used by Israel’s enemies.

Economy

Levanon said that Egypt will no longer be able to maintain its leading role in the Arab world. That role has now been taken by the non-Arab countries Turkey and Iran.

The Egyptian economy is on the verge of collapse. Foreign currency reserves declined during the past year from $45 billion to no more than $15 billion. The wheat stock in Egypt is sufficient for only another 4 months and living costs have risen sharply. Revenues from gas exports have been reduced by the attacks on the gas-pipelines to Israel and Jordan and there is no economic growth at all.

Tourism

Recent news reports confirm that the situation in Egypt is only deteriorating.

Tourism, which had already plummeted over the past year, received a new blow after a series of attacks and kidnappings which took place in the Sinai desert during the past few weeks.

After three Americans were kidnapped in the Sinai two weeks ago, a bus carrying Korean tourists was attacked in the area of the St Catherina monastery last week.  Another 3 tourists were kidnapped in that incident.

Earlier Bedouins kidnapped 17 Egyptian policemen near the Israeli border after a Bedouin was shot dead by Egyptian border guards.

Shortly before that incident a police station in central Sinai was attacked by Ansar al-Jihad – an Islamist terror group.  This week an Australian journalist and an American student were kidnapped as well.

NGO crisis

Another crisis has caused deterioration in Egypt’s relations with the West.

In January the Egyptians detained 43 members of NGOs which promote (Western-style) democracy in Egypt. Among the detainees are 19 American civilians.

The actions against these NGOs show that the army is now siding with the Islamists who attained a three-quarter majority in the Egyptian parliament. The Islamists are campaigning against Western influence in Egypt and see the NGOs, which are funded by the West, as a relic of the corrupt Mubarak regime.

The theory that the dependency on foreign aid (US aid to Egypt is $1.3 billion annually) would cause the Islamists to become more moderate has proved to be wrong. Until now the Egyptians have not given in to the international pressure to release the members of foreign NGOs.          

The head of the International Relations Committee of the Egyptian Parliament, Azzam Al-Arian, even warned that if the US should cut aid to Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will work to cancel the peace treaty with Israel.

He furthermore stated that the situation that existed before the revolution has been annulled.

Islamic State

Some developments in Egypt are reminiscent of those in Iran after the Islamic Revolution.

Now that the Islamists have gained power, they have become more open about the goals of the Egyptian revolution.

Mohammed Badi for example, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, has said that the revolution in Egypt was meant to give power to the people and to “purify” the land.

He also said that the ultimate goal was to ‘transform Egypt into an Islamic state as a first step towards the establishment of a global Caliphate ‘(sic).

This and other evidence that Egypt is rapidly becoming the next Islamist-dominated state in the Middle East has largely been ignored by Western leaders.

The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, for example, insists on unconditional support for Egypt. He recently wrote in the German paper Bild Zeitung that Egypt “has opened the door to freedom” by choosing a parliament in free and fair elections.

Few Israeli experts will agree with Westerwelle’s position.  They understand that for Islamists like the Nour party and the Muslim Brotherhood, elections are merely a means to obtain power and then turn a country into the next Islamic state.

After all, this is exactly what Hamas did in Gaza after the Palestinian elections and they see the same thing now happening in Egypt.