Readings in the Peace Treaty 1979 – 2009

Coinciding with the 27th anniversary of Sinai Liberation, many writers celebrated the  30th anniversary of the Peace Treaty by  either defending it or discrediting it.

On March 26, 1979 President Sadat signed the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty putting an end to the bilateral hostility and marking the start of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries.  The treaty mandated the withdrawal of Israel from Sinai, guaranteed the  right of passage, as well as considering straight of Tiran and Gulf of Aqaba as international waters. The treaty also stated the importance of starting negotiation for autonomy with Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza and the full implementation of the UN Security Council decree number 242. It also set restrictions on army movement in Sinai and the restricted use of Arish and Sharm El Sheikh airports for civil aviation only.

On this occasion several writers on the newspapers have dealt with this treaty condemning it or defending it. It is important to go back in history and remember when Egypt lost Sinai twice in the second half of the 20th century; the first time was in 1956 after the nationalization of Suez canal by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the second time followed  the closure of the straight of Tiran and the withdrawal of international forces from Sharm El Sheikh in 1967. In the first incident the USA interfered and forced the coalition army of Britain France and Israel to withdraw which was completed in 23 December a date considered wrongly to be the victory day.

The situation was different in the second time as no one interfered and Sinai was fully liberated in 1982 through commandos attacks in 1969 the so called Istinzaf war to the great Obour war in 1973 which brought Egyptian army to liberate almost 5000 km2 of Sinai on the east bank which lead to the treaties of separation of troops, to the peace treaty in 1979.

Because it has been intentionally obscured, the current generations do not know the status of the country from 1967 till 1975 or in other terms the year of the defeat till the year of the re-inauguration of the Suez Canal. The country has survived with a crippled economy, military expenses taking the lead over development, the cities on the Suez Canal demolished and abandoned where the army was the only present entity there, Israeli attacks that reached the inside of Egypt nearby Cairo like the attack on Abu Zabal Factory and the school of Bahr El Bakar in 1970. What the new generations did not witness was the tinting of glass in blue, sticking tapes on windows, the cry of close the light in the middle of the night, the emergency whistle for an outstanding air raid, and the walls at the entrance of buildings to protect the inside of buildings from possible fragments of exploding bombs in case of attacks – these walls were either made of red bricks or sand bags.

What the new generations did not witness was the hardship of getting the minimum living essentials, the dominance of the “black market” on almost all commodities, and the Red Sea shores that were closed for tourism and no one dared to approach them –  now they turned into a touristic attraction after 1973. Finally Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977 and signed a peace treaty in 1979 under an American umbrella.

This introduction was necessary before discussing what was published on the 30th anniversary of the Peace Treaty, it started with an article by Dr. Abdel Moneim Said who attempted to defend it by offering his defensive statements in response to a series of accusations aimed at the treaty – that is still after 30 years a source of divergence in Egypt and in the Arab world. Personally I think that the treaty was politically abused to suit one purpose: the ride with the tide of nationalism and Arab coalition from one end and to oppose the political system or even to attempt to destroy the image of Sadat who despite his political sins, was proven right when he managed to recover Sinai through negotiation – Sinai that was lost in 1967 as a result of an uncalculated adventure and total recklessness of the military leadership

In his article Dr. Said said that in the history of Egypt no such divergence and disagreement was observed in any case as it was witnessed in the case of the Peace Treaty and that he does not think that such disparity will vanish with time as long as the Arab Israeli conflict is prevailing specially at each dramatic downturn that this conflict undertakes.

He noted that this disparity has also been associated with a deliberate mixing of papers and an unprecedented forgery of facts.

Dr. El Shobeky  in another article in Al Masry Al Yom wrote that the Peace Treaty has initiated the discontent of the Arab and the Islamic world; opposing countries formed what was called the coalition of resistance and confrontation (Gabhet al Somoud wa al Tassadi) that focused its efforts in conspiring against each other both Ba’as systems in Syria and Iraq launched a microphone war on Egypt and the treaty without firing a single bullet towards Israel, no alternative was suggested, we even swathe Iraqi system launch a war against Iran that lasted for eight years and abruptly single sided brought to an end, then to turn and invade Kuwait.

Dr. Shobeky added that despite what the opponents and adversaries of Sadat have promoted that he signed single handed this treaty that his path and orientation was representative of the official Egypt not the popular the fact remains that a large part of the Egyptians and Arabs  have accepted and backed this step and has refused any new military conflict with Israel despite its total refusal of the aggression of Israel. This was also confirmed by Yasser Abdel Aziz again in Al Masry Al Yom when he said that contrary to what is being said any objective survey of the attitude of Egyptians towards the Treaty will never reveal an orientation towards cancelling it immediately and engaging in a war against Israel, it might reveal the contrary an tendency towards holding to it especially when it comes to ending of military conflicts and the attempts to resolve problems through negotiation.

Dr. Shobeky posed a question: if the alternatives  that were presented to confront this step were a total failure, the question will always revolve around whether the Peace Treaty can be considered as a success model and a major achievement through which Sinai was recovered despite the restrictions or is it, despite the failure of other alternatives, a treaty that harmed Egypt limiting its regional role and transformed it into a dependant country and that land that was recovered was disarmed?

The notion of dependence was rebutted by Dr. El Said when he pointed out that Egypt has voted against the USA in the UN in 83 % of the cases while Israel was pro USA by 87%.

Returning to the treaty and the surrounding circumstances, what is clear in the 6th October war is that no major victory associated with a major defeat and total surrender, like those witnessed during WWII, were achieved rather a limited size victory that managed to liberate 5000 km2 and place Egyptian troops on the east bank of the Suez Canal which was in my opinion was well invested politically, the change in positions resulted that in 1975 the Suez Canal was reopened for  commercial navigation.

The situation was explained by Dr. Kadry Hefny in Al Ahram newspaper :he said that both parties Egypt and Israel found after lengthy negotiation that there is a benefit in signing such treaty and this is the difference between reaching results in a peaceful way and reaching results through decisive military action where the winner takes it all, but in the case of Egypt the objective is to reach a mid point or a win-win situation.

All those who defend the Peace Treaty base their defense argument on the results, both Salah Montasser and Abdel Moneim Said are among this group; the facts they present are based on the geography of Sinai which boasts an area of 61 thousand Km2 – three folds the size of Israel or 90% of the total occupied territories in 1967. Sinai is not only an occupied land that was freed from foreign occupation but it has an economic value due to tourism and oil, Egypt liberated through military action 5000 Km2 and recovered the remaining 56 thousand  Km2 through negotiation that led to the Peace Treaty. Salah Montasser further dismisses the accusation that Sadat wasted the victory achieved in 1973 through politics by saying that what Sadat did was to amplify what men at arm achieved without their efforts the visit to Jerusalem was not possible and because of his political achievement that Liberation of Sinai has acquired a meaningful value, he questions the value of the war if only a partial liberation was achieved specially that after 36 years still Golan is occupied and its geography has changed with settlements and cities created, what could have prevented Israel from doing the same?

When Sadat issued the war directives he did not fool his troops; he knew what they had in hands and what the enemy had. The mission given to the army was to break the truce starting 6 October inflicting major casualties to the enemy forces in personnel, equipments and weapons and to work towards the liberation of the land on several stages based on the available capacity of the army.

The men according to Montasser went through one of the fiercest battles as they broke the arm of the enemy and liberated 5000 km2 of Sinai, the unforgiveable crime of Sadat is that he liberated the rest.

Egypt has recovered totally Sinai and the talks and discussions about its reclamation and development , tourism development, expectation about an increase in oil output were continuous. Added to that for the first time in years as civilian citizens, we can visit its various cities. According to Kadry Hefni the names of such cities as Sharma El Sheikh, Dahab, Nowieba, and Al Arish started to become part of the Egyptians’ discourse and perception as Egyptian cities. Sharm El Sheikh when it was restored to Egypt had only two hotels on Nema bay and a youth hostel, today it has grown to an international resort and major touristic destination.

But accusations never come to an end and among those: the Peace Treaty limits the Egyptian Sovereignty on its own land, such limitations have an equivalent on the Israeli side, and were included because Egypt in 1967 through Nasser accepted the UN Security Council  Decree 242 that have specified the installation of disarmed areas and areas with limited armament on both sides this was applied on the Jordanian front and even on the Syrian front following the segregation of forces agreement in 1973.

From my point of view two problems are tied to the treaty:

1-    The promise of prosperity and democracy that was never fulfilled

2-    The Israeli unmatched violent actions against all pockets of resistance

In the first case the defect is not in the treaty but in the management of the post treaty and the absence of a vision of what should be done, it seems to me that the successive government has totally surrendered to the idea that any action or motion can lead to a new war, and that freezing the situation is the best alternative, accordingly the loss of ability to move is internal and not external it is self imposed and not due to the Peace treaty with Israel, an issue confirmed by Amr El Shobeky when he stated that the real disturbance is not in the presence of Sadat’s political school and vision but the major failure of his heir to transfer such a vision to a success on the ground. The Peace Treaty has presented an opportunity and a challenge to Egypt on one hand it reduced its regional role and transferred it to an individual country with individual orientation that isolated it from the Arab street – and here I have a comment that isolation did not start with the treaty but earlier in the route towards it in Mena house conference where all parties were invited- it also presented a real challenge that has presented Egypt with a unique opportunity to present a respectable model in development and political reform creating for the first time a complete match between the peace challenges on the internal arena and those chosen when signing on the treaty for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, despite that  it failed to face the challenge  and stumbled on the peace war when it was supposed only to pass the exam that it chose to set its own questions and failed to answer any of those questions.

As for the second comment regarding the Israeli abuses; the abuses are not the result of the treaty or we would have been the object of such abuses as well as Jordan, but the question is why the other countries who are still in a declared state of conflict with Israel did not participate with the pockets of resistance? Why it is always required from Egypt to carry the role of the regional policeman?

Hassan Nafea represents those who are against the treaty and he confirmed that the treaty is soon to fall apart enumerating some of the reasons and indicators to that, the spying cases which is very simply rebutted as similar cases were discovered in the USA spies caught spying for Israel, the fact that these two countries are organically linked together did not prevent Israel from implanting spies in the USA. He added the Zionist Lobby pressuring the USA administration to lower aid to Egypt under pretexts of lack of democracy or breach of human rights, mixing up the Zionist lobby and Israel is not appropriate these are two entities serving one another; the Lobby is formed of Pro Israel Americans.

Then he also defines the attempts to encircle Egypt east and south boundaries and again this is not the defect of the treaty but rather a defect of Egypt in dealing with its strategic depth.

The last point I picked from Nafea ‘s argument is that the threat of bombarding the High Dam to drown Egypt which was a call by the fascist Lieberman long before acceding to power, for me it is a grotesque claim that is equal to the claims sent from the Arab world to throw Israel to the sea, both are grotesques out of context and wrong, why do we praise one and refuse the other?

The treaty will remain a rich material for debate between those defending and those attacking, but at the end the cost of liberating Sinai back in 1973 – 1979 is less costly that it would have been today, and still a large part of the population supports this step and refuses to go into war or military confrontation while refusing all abuses committed by Israel.

The mistake is ours whether it is in the foreign policy of the internal policy post treaty, but it will remain a treaty that spared a lot of Egyptian blood.

Special thanks to Marwa Rakha for reviewing and editing my text

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