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The Future of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty

5:12 PM, Feb 17, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
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Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority claims that Iran has scrapped plans to send two warships through the Suez, but Tehran denies it and says those vessels are still on their way. Whether those ships make it to the Suez or not isn’t important right now, because it’s only a test, and not just for Egypt’s military regime. The Iranians are also probing the Egyptian population to see where it stands on resistance—the ships were headed to Syria, another pillar of the resistance bloc lined up against Israel—for in the end the Iranians are testing Cairo’s peace treaty with Jerusalem.

The Future of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty

Regardless of how Egypt turns out after the scheduled September elections, or five, ten years down the road, for the present the Iranians have some reason to gloat. They’ve been targeting Egypt since 1979, hoping in part to export the Islamic revolution to the largest Sunni state in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, but are generally content to destabilize it. Anwar Sadat’s assassin, Khaled Islambouli, has a street named after him in Tehran. For better or worse, Mubarak was an American asset and with him off the board the Iranians believe they are one step closer to undermining Washington’s position in the region—and since that position is anchored to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, you can be certain that the Iranians will keep pushing on it. The Egyptian army has no obvious interest in abrogating the treaty, but in the end that is only one factor among others.

While it is true that the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s ouster tended to focus more on domestic concerns than his relationship with the U.S. and Israel, the fact is that the corruption denounced by the protesters  is in large part a product of the peace treaty. Egyptians know very well that corruption is an integral part of their society—wasta, or connections, is an enduring political institution that will survive even the Pyramids. However, wasta is a fungible commodity—sometimes you have it and sometimes others have more, and there is no necessary reason why it should flow from one source rather than another. The peace treaty created a business and political elite by empowering one group of Egyptians at the expense of others, which is why if you were an Egyptian marching against Mubarak you’d have problems with the treaty, regardless of how you felt about Israel or the U.S.

Maybe it wasn’t entirely our responsibility to make sure that the $2 billion aid package to Cairo ($1.3 billion in military assistance) was spent more wisely, but there’s no escaping the fact that we enabled much of the corruption that sent millions of Egyptians to the streets over the last several
weeks. U.S. aid was the cornerstone of Mubarakism. And there were many more entitlements in play than just the direct aid that filled the pockets of Mubarak cronies and colleagues.

Consider Hussein Salem, who owns the palace in Sharm el-Sheikh where Mubarak is reportedly staying. Salem’s company, according to the Jerusalem Post, “helped Mubarak carry out arms deals, utilize US aid to Egypt and export gas to Israel.”

That is to say, Mubarakism also consisted of the secondary effects, business deals that the treaty made possible, like Sinai gas and the manufacturing industries that were a part of the Qualifying Industrial Zone agreement that gave Egyptian ventures duty-free access to the U.S. market if a certain amount of the product came from Israel.

Even more numerous are the tertiary effects, or the concessions and monopolies—in hospitality, real estate, textiles, car factories, etc.—that went to the military and Mubarak associates. Finally, there was Gamal and his friends, technocrats who got rich thanks to their very powerful wasta—and at this point even the army, the richest and therefore most corrupt institution in all of Egypt, finally had to intervene.

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