Four decades after Camp David, Egyptians still chilly toward Israel
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Four decades after Camp David, Egyptians still chilly toward Israel

While ties are normalized on paper, on the streets of Cairo many shun the neighboring country over its policies toward Palestinians

An Egyptian man chants slogans as he hold a shoe with an Israeli flag drawn on it during an anti-Israel protest held after the Friday noon prayer at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, May 10, 2013. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian man chants slogans as he hold a shoe with an Israeli flag drawn on it during an anti-Israel protest held after the Friday noon prayer at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, May 10, 2013. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

CAIRO, Egypt (AFP) — Forty years after signing the Camp David Accords, Egypt and Israel live in uneasy peace, as cool diplomatic ties have failed to unfreeze other relations.

“There is still a psychological barrier between us and the Israeli people,” said Egyptian ex-lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of former president Anwar Sadat.

Mohammed Sadat proudly keeps a photo of his late uncle in his Cairo office.

Egypt’s then head of state risked everything in making peace with Israel at the US presidential retreat Camp David on September 17, 1978.

Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, former member of parliament and nephew of the late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, speaks to AFP in his office in the capital Cairo on September 13, 2018. (AFP/ Mohamed el-Shahed)

The accords, cemented by a peace treaty in 1979, saw regional powerhouse Egypt temporarily shunned by the rest of the Arab World.

Sadat himself was assassinated on October 6, 1981.

The late president “had great courage and a vision for the future”, his nephew said.

But the peace, he said, “has always been cold.”

Palestinian cause stirs passions

While many Egyptians welcome the absence of war, they remain hostile to Israel.

“Egypt’s acceptance of full diplomatic and political normalization” has not translated into “a cultural or popular normalization,” said Mustafa Kamal Sayed, professor of political sciences at Cairo University.

This uneasy but stable status quo is reflected on Cairo’s streets, where many put their antipathy towards Israel down to their neighbor’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin welcomes Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at Ben Gurion Airport on November 19, 1997 (Moshe Milner/GPO archive

“The normalization failed to gain popular support because of events linked to Palestinians,” said bank worker Mohammed Oussam.

He said he could not forget Israel’s bombing of “schools and refugee camps” during Lebanon’s 1975 to 1990 civil war.

“The Israelis have not adhered to the principles of peace with the Palestinians or the Arabs,” said another Mohammed.

Egyptian men chant anti-Israeli slogans during a Muslim Brotherhood-staged anti-Israel rally in Cairo on May 11, 2013. (photo credit: Khalil Hamra/AP)

It’s a sentiment also shared by Islam Emam.

“We speak of peace, of normalization — then they kill our brothers and take their land,” he said, referring to the Palestinians.

He blames Israel’s government, rather than its citizens.

“In the end, nobody truly chooses his government,” he said.

Controversy affects sports, tourism

Enmity towards Israel often crystallizes over sporting events.

Egyptian and Liverpool football maestro Mohamed Salah has been criticized at home for appearing in a Champions League match in Israel in 2013, when he played for Switzerland’s FC Basel.

Salah said he did not make political decisions.

Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby, blue, declines to shake hands with Israel’s Or Sasson, white, after losing during the men’s over 100-kg judo competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Three years later, Egyptian judo Olympian Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with Israeli rival Or Sasson at the Rio Games — a gesture that embarrassed Egyptian authorities.

Writer and Hebrew translator Nael el-Toukhy said any Egyptian who reaches out to Israelis faces intense pressure.

Israel is a hot topic for Egyptian talk shows, guaranteed to stoke the kind of high feelings seen in debates on gay rights.

More than 65 percent of Egyptians alive today were not yet born when the Camp David Summit took place, according to official figures.

But Egyptian public rejection of Israel is a constant.

National politics is also affected, despite decades of formal diplomatic ties.

The triple handshake: prime minister Menachem Begin, president Jimmy Carter, and president Anwar Sadat after signing the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in March 1979. (photo credit: GPO/Tal Shabtai)

In March 2016, Egyptian lawmaker Tawfiq Okasha paid a high price for inviting Israel’s ambassador to dinner at his home.

Accused of discussing issues linked to national security, he was ousted from parliament in a two-thirds majority vote.

Even the country’s all-important tourism industry is a victim of “cold peace” — of the 3.9 million tourists who visited Israel in 2017, only 7,200 were from neighboring Egypt.

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