For Egypt, Promise of 1979 Peace Still Unfulfilled

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In the past week, Egypt marked the historic 30-year anniversary of its peace treaty with Israel without any public celebration and only the barest public mention.

It is not surprising, really, that there was no cheering here. The timing could hardly have been worse, with memories still fresh of the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

But mention of the anniversary also served as a reminder of promises unfulfilled. Egyptians were told that the treaty would lead to a comprehensive peace, and it did not. They were told that it would allow the government to focus on political, social and economic development, instead of war. But they still live in an authoritarian state, defined for many by poverty.

Egyptians were told that the treaty would give them a voice to advocate for the Palestinians. But few see it as having turned out that way.

“Today Egypt is not influential in anything,” said Osama Anwar Okasha, a leading Egyptian television writer. “It is a third-class country in this region. Egypt was the leading country and it gave up this leading role. Now it is like a postman, delivering messages.”

The public mood is dark all around right now, and the sentiment points to the treaty as the start of Egypt’s decline and diplomatic impotence.

“Of course the treaty is not the cause of all of this, but it was the initial seed,” said Fahmy Howeidy, a writer and political analyst in Cairo.

The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is a bedrock of the Middle East peace process, positioning Egypt as a key player in every international diplomatic effort to resolve the Palestinian conflict. It is a pillar of Egypt’s foreign policy, as well, and an institutional given among Egypt’s governing class. President Hosni Mubarak has demonstrated that he is committed to the treaty, and to the diplomatic process and political system that built and supports the treaty.

“This peace treaty is not good for Egypt,” said Ashraf Maged, 22, a business student at Cairo University. “What did we ever get from it, in 30 years? I don’t think the peace treaty is useful because in reality there is no peace; war is what we see.”

Mr. Maged’s sentiments are widespread but also reflect a generational divide. Many among the older generation, men and women who lived through or fought in three wars with Israel, often say they see the peace treaty as a necessary evil, an end to fighting that sapped the country of its resources and left many dead and bloodied. They say it was not so much about normalizing relations, which has never happened. It was just about ending the wars.

“Young people who say the peace was a bad thing don’t understand how it was in those days,” said Amir Muhammad Ragab, 58, who fought in the 1973 war and now owns a furniture shop. “They think war is like in movies. They think with their hearts, not their head. They don’t understand the price we paid for peace, the blood and effort it took. We don’t want to go back to this.”

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