by: Janet Aslin, Assistant Editor
Prime Minister Netanyahu recently remarked that “the peace between Israel and Egypt is robust; it is a strategic peace benefitting both countries.” Yet, a mere 50 years ago, Egypt was so hostile toward Israel that they were party to the Khartoum Resolution which contained the infamous Three No’s: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” What caused Egypt’s complete turnaround? Anwar Sadat was the first leader to break ranks with the Arab world and make peace with Israel in 1979 and current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has steadily been building on Sadat’s legacy.
Egypt’s sixth president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was born in Cairo in 1954. He grew up in a mixed neighborhood where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in relative harmony during his early years. His father owned a wooden antiques shop for tourists and was a conservative, but not radical, Muslim.
Early on, el-Sisi chose a military career, serving as a mechanized infantry commander and later on in the field of military intelligence. During his active service, he had training opportunities in both the United Kingdom and the United States. This background has shaped the man who now leads the nation of Egypt.
Egypt has the largest population of all countries in the Arab world and also one of the youngest with an estimated 75% of its 92 million people under the age of 25. Transition from a monarchy, which ended with a military coup in 1952, to the current government has not been easy. Egyptians lived under a state of emergency from 1967 until 2012, leading to conditions that fed the riots and violent unrest of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. As a result, President Mubarak resigned and the military governed until Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected in June 2012.
A relatively unknown el-Sisi appeared on the scene when the newly-elected President Morsi appointed him as head of the Egyptian Armed Forces on August 12, 2012. Renewed public protests began when Morsi overruled the constitution, giving himself power to impose legislation without oversight. A little less than one year after Morsi’s presidential term began, as head of the military, el-Sisi took part in the coup to remove him from office. An interim president was appointed until elections could be held. In March 2014, el-Sisi resigned his military position and ran for the presidency. He was elected and took office on June 8, 2014.
When el-Sisi assumed the role of president, Egypt was a nation battered and bleeding. Relations with the United States were at an all-time low, unemployment was at a record high and the country was facing runaway inflation. The Sinai Peninsula was being overrun by radical Muslim terror groups and was becoming increasingly lawless. Egypt was a nation in crisis.
In order to bring stability, drastic measures—including fighting force with force— were called for. Many in the world have condemned el-Sisi’s actions, citing diminishing human rights and increasing totalitarian control. However, Egypt’s internal struggles aside, el-Sisi’s presidency has brought positive results to Israel.
More than thirty years have passed since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, an advocate of making peace with Israel. Today the Egyptian “man on the street” is still taught that Israel is Egypt’s enemy. Therefore, el-Sisi has had to move slowly. However, here are a few of the changes that have taken place during his tenure as president.
Improved diplomatic relations: Prior to el-Sisi’s presidency, diplomatic relations were tumultuous: in 2011, Egyptian protestors violently stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo; in 2012, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense. When Hazem Khairat arrived in Israel on January 1, 2016, he was the first Egyptian ambassador to the nation in over three years.
Hamas—a common enemy: The Gaza Strip, whose borders touch both Egypt and Israel, has been a hotbed of terror activity since Israel withdrew in 2005. This has affected each country in a slightly different manner—rockets raining down in southern Israel and Hamas’ affiliation with Egypt’s radical Muslim Brotherhood which has continued to stoke fires of unrest within Egypt. Hamas’ tunnel-building activities have had an impact on both countries. Egypt has worked consistently to destroy tunnels coming from the Strip into their territory, which has helped Israel by closing an avenue through which Hamas could receive weapons and other military hardware.
Security cooperation in the Sinai: When Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, one of the conditions was a limited Egyptian military presence in the area. In recent years, activity of ISIS-affiliated terror groups has posed a threat to both countries. As a result, Israel has overlooked Egypt’s deployment of increased forces and weapons needed to battle these groups. Lately reports have surfaced that Israel may have begun to carry out drone attacks in Sinai with Egypt’s knowledge and consent.
Favorable UN Vote: In 2015, Egypt supported Israel’s bid for membership on the UN committee for the “peaceful uses of outer space.” It was the first time since 1948 that Egypt had ever voted for Israel. The action shook the Arab world and drew heated criticism of el-Sisi.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is an Egyptian patriot who loves his country and has been attempting to steer the nation away from the control and influence of radical Islam. In the process, he has recognized that Israel is a natural ally and true peace between the two nations is beneficial to both. And, although the people of Egypt are not yet fully behind him in reaching out in friendship to Israel, the prophet Isaiah foretells of a day when the Egyptians will know Israel’s God (Isa. 19:21). Who knows what role el-Sisi may play in the working out of this prophecy?
Photo Credit: Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia/wikipedia.org
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