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EGYPT: Popular Opposition Mounts to Camp David Deal

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

CAIRO, Jun 1 2011 (IPS) - Throughout ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the 1979 Camp David agreement served to keep the peace between historical foes Egypt and Israel. But since Mubarak’s February departure, popular calls for the treaty’s abrogation have grown louder.

“Egypt’s march towards liberation that began with the Jan. 25 Revolution will not be complete until this dishonourable agreement is scrapped,” Mohamed Mahmoud, founding member of the Cairo-based Arab/Islamic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (A/IFLP) told IPS.

Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in one of its first official announcements on Feb. 12, declared that Egypt remained committed “to all regional and international obligations and treaties.” Most observers saw the statement as a specific reference to the Camp David peace agreement.

The SCAF, which has vowed to hold free parliamentary and presidential elections within one year, has governed the country since Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11.

But despite the ruling council’s assurances, Egyptian opponents of the peace treaty with Israel have become increasingly active in recent months.

Since Mubarak’s removal, Egypt has seen a number of demonstrations in front of Israel’s embassy in Cairo and consulate in Alexandria. Protesters have demanded that the country’s new rulers cut diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, reopen Egypt’s border with the besieged Gaza Strip, and – most contentiously – withdraw from Camp David.

On May 15, thousands of demonstrators amassed outside the Israeli embassy, eventually clashing with police in scenes reminiscent of the 18-day Tahrir Uprising. Hundreds suffered excessive teargas inhalation (two of them reportedly died as a consequence), while more than 350 were arrested and hauled before military courts (most have since been conditionally released).

Only two days earlier, as part of a planned “Third Intifadah”, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had gathered in Cairo’s Tahir Square in a show of solidarity with their Palestinian brethren. Members of the A/IFLP – formed by a handful of activists after Egypt’s revolution – used the occasion to collect signatures for a petition calling for the abrogation of Camp David.

“We’ve collected more than 5,000 signatures today alone,” Mahmoud said at the time. “We’re aiming to gather one million signatures, which we will then present to the transitional government.”

He added: “I don’t think this is unrealistic since most Egyptians oppose the agreement.”

Notably, a recent poll by the Pew polling agency found that 54 percent of the Egyptian public are in favour of the treaty’s annulment.

Signed in 1979, the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty called for the return of the Sinai Peninsula, occupied by Israel in 1967, to Egypt. In exchange, Egypt established full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, making it the first Arab country to do so.

Jordan, which signed its own peace deal in 1994, remains the only other Arab country to officially recognise the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

But the return of Sinai to Egypt under Camp David came with strings attached. Most importantly, the treaty tightly restricts Egyptian military deployments on the peninsula, turning Sinai’s entire eastern frontier – including Egypt’s roughly 220-kilometre border with Israel – into a de facto demilitarised zone.

In the three decades since it was signed, the official “peace” that Camp David instituted has never been more than a cold one.

“For 30 years the agreement prevented tensions that might have otherwise led to war, but it never led to a genuine normalisation of relations,” Abdel Menaam al-Mashaat, political science professor at Cairo University, told IPS. “Given Israel’s continued mistreatment of the Palestinians, the Egyptian public has consistently opposed normalisation.”

Yet despite frequent domestic criticism of Camp David’s terms, Mubarak’s Egypt assiduously upheld its end of the bargain.

“Even before Mubarak’s departure, the idea of modifying the treaty in Egypt’s favour was often discussed,” Tarek Fahmi, director of the Israeli desk at the Cairo-based National Centre for Middle East Studies told IPS. “But these discussions never reached the implementation phase.”

According to Mahmoud, Camp David represented “a central pillar of the former regime,” which, despite Mubarak’s overthrow, “nevertheless still remains intact.”

“We’re calling for the treaty’s annulment because it restricts Egyptian military deployment on its own sovereign territory, thus limiting its ability to defend itself,” he said. “What’s more, Camp David forces Egypt to recognise Israel, thereby legitimising the latter’s flagrant rape of Palestinian land.”

Not everyone, however, believes the treaty should be scrapped willy-nilly.

“A hasty withdrawal from the agreement could lead to unpredictable escalations, including permanent military mobilisation or – in the most dangerous scenario – war,” said al-Mashaat.

Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood movement, which many believe could play a major role in Egypt’s post-election government, has formally stated its commitment to respect “all international treaties” to which Egypt is signatory – including Camp David.

Some Brotherhood officials, however, have also said the issue should ultimately be decided by the public.

“After elections, a national referendum should be held on whether or not to withdraw from the treaty,” leading Brotherhood member Saad al-Husseini told IPS. “In either case, we’ll support the will of the people.”

In light of recent, post-revolutionary Egyptian policy changes, Fahmi believes an official request for the treaty’s modification is on the cards.

“Egypt’s transitional government is gradually dealing with outstanding issues relating to Palestine: gas exports to Israel have been halted, the Gaza border reopened, and a deal between Hamas and Fatah brokered,” he said. “Now the government will likely turn its attention to the Camp David file.”

According to Fahmi, Israeli officials have anticipated such a request and are “currently in the process of drawing up an alternative arrangement.”

Israeli officialdom, for its part, has been largely silent on the issue.

In a related development on Friday last week, thousands of Jordanians staged demonstrations in Amman to protest government corruption and demand the termination of Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

 
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