With preliminary election results coming out of Egypt pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood taking 40% of the vote and the hard line Salafi Islamist party another 20% leaving secular liberals far behind, the future of Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel is again thrown into doubt. Both parties support its annulment, with the more extreme voices openly calling for a renewed state of war between the countries.
It is very difficult to see what these two parties and their millions of followers are hoping to gain from this act, putting aside the satisfaction of deeply rooted religious and nationalistic urges. It may however be useful to look at what Egypt has gained from its peace with Israel, gains it may now be standing to lose.
The peace agreement put, first and foremost, an end to nearly 30 years of bloodshed and war between the two countries. During these years Egyptian forces suffered heavy losses and humiliating defeats in four separate military campaigns. Tens of thousands of Egyptians lost their lives. The peace agreement allowed Egypt to lower its guard and turn its back on the Israeli border and to concentrate on rebuilding its economy and infrastructure.
Wars are a costly business. Even when the then U.S.S.R. provided Egypt with the weapons, they were still not free. Once the peace agreement was signed the United States started funding the Egyptian army to the tune of around 2 billion US dollars per year. The annulment of the peace agreement will in all likelihood put a sudden halt to this flow of money, causing the army and the economy as a whole to collapse.
The agreement to separate military forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, which was the prelude to the peace agreement, enabled Egypt to finally re-open the Suez Canal which remained closed for the eight years that followed the 1967 Six Days War. The Suez Canal practically formed the separation line between the Israeli and Egyptian armies during the war of attrition and its closure caused great financial losses to world wide shipping and to the economy of Egypt itself.
Wars and tourism do not go well together. With the massive damage done to Egypt’s thriving tourist industry as a result of the revolution, the last thing the Egyptians now need is a new war that will kill it off completely.
The Middle East of winter 2011 is a far less predictable place than it has been for many years. Although signs are not good, let us hope that even an Islamist led Egypt will come to its senses and will not cut the branch, or shall we say the olive branch, on which it is sitting.