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memri
June 5, 2018 No.
7507

Editor Of Egyptian Daily: The Escalation In The Gaza Strip And The U.S. Embassy's Move To Jerusalem Have Changed Nothing In Egypt's Position On Israel

On May 16, 2018, during an "Ask the President" session at Egypt's fifth national youth conference, held in Cairo,[1] Egyptian President Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi replied to questions from citizens that had been sent in in advance. One of the questions concerned Egypt's position vis-à-vis Israel in light of the escalation in the Gaza Strip and the Return March at the Gaza-Israel border. President Al-Sisi answered that Egypt was in contact with both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and was sending them messages in an attempt to help calm the situation and prevent it from escalating further. However, he said, Egypt could do nothing beyond this.

Al-Sisi said: "Egypt is employing a clear and stable policy regarding the issues connected to the Palestinians. We have a vision, and we proceed in light of it; at every one of our meetings with international and regional forces, our statements remain in this framework. We have not changed [our positions], and also in the next four years our policy will not change...

"With regard to what has been happening in the recent period, [i.e. the Return March and the escalation at the Gaza-Israel border], our efforts [to calm the situation] are unceasing, and they did not begin with the outbreak of these events... We are keeping the Rafah crossing open in order to ease conditions for the people living in the Gaza Strip. [We are sending] ambulances and medicines and doing everything to ease the situation there. Additionally, we are in contact with the Israeli side and with the Palestinian side so that this bloodshed will stop. We want to send, from here, a message to our Palestinian brothers: [We hope that] their protest against the decision [to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem] will not lead them to do anything to cause additional victims. From the Israelis, we expect an understanding that the Palestinian reaction to this matter is legitimate, and that for this reason their handling of it must be in such a way as to safeguard even more the lives of the Palestinians. Can we do more than this? No. We cannot...

"Influence comes not from talk but from ability. Ability is measured in deeds, patience, and struggle. Making empty statements helps no one... "[2]

Following these statements, 'Imad Al-Din Hussein, editor of the independent Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq, wrote in an article that unlike in other Arab countries, Al-Sisi's statements reveal Egypt's true positions, with no attempt to prettify or distort matters, and that what they meant was that Egypt will not take any aggressive position against Israel. Hussein stressed that this was not a new Egyptian position vis-à-vis Israel, and that despite his hope that the Arab armies would liberate Palestine, it was clear to him that this was not going to happen before the Arab countries made progress and overcame Israel in other areas, not just militarily.


President Al-Sisi answers citizens' questions in "Ask the President" (Source: Al-Ahram, Egypt, May 17, 2018)

The following are translated excerpts of Hussein's article:

"At an 'Ask the President' meeting, part of the fifth national youth conference, held last Wednesday [May 16, 2018] at the Al-Masa Hotel [in Cairo], President Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi revealed many of the clear positions of Egypt's domestic and foreign policy. In my view, the most important of these was the clear declaration regarding [Egypt's] position vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue and Israel.

"One of the questions concerned our position vis-à-vis Israel's aggression against the Palestinians during the Return March at the Gaza border, that took place as the U.S. embassy was moved to occupied Arab Jerusalem. The president said that the embassy move would lead to destabilization in the region, and that Egypt would provide the Palestinian brothers with medicines and ambulances, would open the Rafah crossing for this purpose, and would hold contacts with both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

"[He said]: 'We will tell the Palestinians that we do not want [them to take] steps that will lead to victims, and we will tell the Israelis, You must take into account that the Palestinians' moves are legitimate.' The president mused, 'Can we do any more than that?' and answered [himself by saying] 'No.' He added: 'Our activity with regard to the Palestinian issue will be limited by what we can do. In order for us to have an impact, we must act and make an effort, and the impact will be [within the limits of what we] can do. But we will not make blaring announcements, and we will not chant slogans; we want to contribute to a solution, not make things more complicated.'[3]

"These were very important declarations, because they reveal the limits of Egypt's role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their importance [lies in] their exposure of the essence of the [Egyptian] position, with no attempt to dress it up or distort it, and without using general or bombastic expressions, such as many in the Arab region use in the media but do not actually implement.

"Once again, why are they [Al-Sisi's statements] important? Because they form an answer to many of the questions that recur every time there are developments in the Palestinian arena – whether it be direct Israeli aggression, indirect siege, martyrdom operations carried out by Palestinian organizations, or the blatant American pro-Israel bias.

"When Israel murdered over 60 people and wounded some 2,000 in the middle of last week, during the Return March towards the [Gaza] border, several Egyptians demanded that [Egypt] sever relations with Israel, expel its ambassador, and close down its embassy. These demands are reiterated each time Israel throws its weight around, since it invaded Lebanon in 1982, and some of those longing for war [even] reach [the conclusion] that war should be declared on Israel.

"What President Al-Sisi's declarations mean is that Egypt will take no steps against Israel, but will only try to influence it using its relations [with it] and not by means of severing [them].

"With regard to the question of whether this position is new or unique, the answer is a decisive no. It is more or less the same policy that has been implemented since the Egypt-Israel peace agreement was signed in 1979, and [every so often] there is some tension in these relations. The worst [thing that happened was that] Egypt recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv on several occasions, to protest Israel's aggression against the Palestinians. [But even] in the worst case, the Egyptian government never threatened to sever relations, to declare war, or even to expel the [Israeli] ambassador.

"At this time, many of us forget that Israel carried out a blatant strongarm attack on Hamas, [which is a branch of] the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] in [November] 2012. At that time, [even] the Egyptian MB government and MB president [Mohamed Morsi], and the People's Council and Shura Council, which were controlled by the MB and their Salafi allies, neither severed relations with Israel nor declared war on it. Despite [their] boastful anti-Israel declarations, in actuality they mediated between the enemy and [the MB] organization in Gaza [i.e. Hamas], and received a great deal in exchange – the November 21, 2012 ratification of a constitutional declaration annexing political life to it [i.e. to the MB],[4] as well as unprecedented praise [for the MB] in the major Western and Israeli media, all of which were surprised by the MB's response [to the war in Gaza].

"With regard to the question of whether Egypt's position is correct or not: As a patriotic Arab who thinks that the conflict with Israel is existential, not about borders, I hope that the Arab armies will liberate Palestine from the river to the sea, and that Jerusalem will again be Arab. But hope alone will achieve nothing, and you cannot overcome your enemy with empty words, poems, and speeches, or with mere declarations or wishes. You must build up your land and your nation in all areas – not only on the military level, but also in the areas of education and health, and, first and foremost, you must build the individual himself.

"Victory over the enemy requires defeating him in all the areas and triumphing first of all over ourselves. If that happens, perhaps we will no longer need military force to liberate Palestine!!!"[5]

 

[1] These conferences have been held periodically in Egypt since October 2016, with the aim of reinforcing the relationship among young people, society, and the administration.  

[2] Extra News TV (Egypt), May 16, 2018.

[3] It should be noted that Al-Sisi was not accurately quoted in the article; his statements here are as presented in the article.

[4] A reference to president Morsi's August 2012 constitutional declaration that granted him the power to make military and security decisions, as well as legislative decisions, until such time as a new constitution would be drawn up. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4908, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi Rescinds The SCAF's Authority, August 24, 2012.

[5] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), May 19, 2018.