Friday, August 26, 2011

Some Million

While understanding why Israelis might justifiably be nervous about the new government in Cairo, I've always been dubious that Egypt actually was going to repudiate its peace treaty with Israel. First, the minds of most Egyptians are primarily on other things right now. Second, one generally doesn't repudiate a peace treaty unless one is willing to go to war (otherwise, what's the point?), and I don't think the Egyptian people are in any mood for an actual full-blown armed conflict, nor do I imagine the Egyptian military is currently prepared to engage in such hostilities even if the populace were. Finally, and not insignificantly, there is massive international pressure against Egypt repudiating its peace agreement with Israel -- meaning that the Egyptian government won't take that step without some very strong reason (be it irresistible domestic pressure or provocation or what have you).

But one always can worry (and I do think it is notable that, reputation for rabid warmongering aside, there is no political constituency of note in Israel that has called for a repudiation of peace with Egypt. It seems that once Israel makes a final agreement with one of its neighbors, it is capable of keeping it with little fuss from its citizens' end). So I was gratified to find out that the planned "million man march" in Cairo calling for an end to peace with Israel apparently only attracted a few bare hundreds. This doesn't surprise me -- while I imagine the Egyptian street is probably rather cool towards Israel, I also, to reiterate, think they're mostly concerned about other issues right now, and are not keen on reverting back to old patterns where mad gesticulations towards Israel are used to distract them from necessary reforms at home. There, now, that playbook isn't going to fly.

1 comment:

PG said...

While I mock the Tom Friedman method of understanding a country by talking to English-speaking taxi drivers, I will say that everyone I encountered in Egypt was very concerned about having tourists return, including Israeli tourists. There was only one Israeli on our Red Sea dive boat; pre-revolution there would have been at least a half-dozen. There was a daily protest in Sharm-el-Sheikh in front of the Marriott, made up of men who'd lost their jobs because the hotels and other establishments catering to tourists have cut back their workforce severely due to the lack of guests. It was a sort of Egyptian "The Rent Is Too Damn High" protest; the men wanted to get free or subsidized housing while they were unemployed. The underlying assumption is that the tourists *will* come back.

So I think there's a strong economic motive, just in that 11% of GDP that tourism normally contributes, for most Egyptians to prefer peace to war. Unfortunately, attacks like those already launched from the Sinai are done by those who are not tied to the tourist sector, who probably are fairly economically marginalized overall and thus don't see a connection between peace and their own self-interest.

By the way, let me plug Egypt as a great place to visit right now! It's very cheap (we stayed at a 4-star hotel in Luxor for $45/night) and the various tourists sites are nearly empty. You can go inside the Great Pyramids and be the only one there. We have better photos than we could find on any postcards because places like Luxor Temple normally couldn't be photographed during the day without a herd of tourists somewhere in the frame.