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Egypt: A crime called peace

22/10/2009

Last month, Hala Mustafa, editor-in-chief of the quarterly Al-Demoqratiya (Democracy) magazine, made the headlines in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world.

The reason: Hala had conducted a meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt in her office at the headquarters of the Al-Ahram Centre in Cairo.

This prompted the Egyptian Journalists Union to investigate her for breaching the organisation’s bylaws, which prohibit any contact with Israelis.The incident may not be significant in the bigger scheme of things, but it sums up the attitude towards peace in the region.

For the Egyptian Journalists Union and other professional associations, full ‘normalization’ can only happen after a comprehensive peace settlement – including Israel’s withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied since 1967 – has been achieved.

The argument is that any engagement with Israelis before a full settlement would only provide Israel with an opportunity to legitimise the status quo.

In its own twisted way, there is a logic to the argument.

What really doesn’t make sense, however, is the response of the Egyptian government. The regime has had a peace treaty with Israel for nearly three decades, and the meeting between Hala and Cohen took place on the premises of a government-sponsored centre.
Yet high-ranking officials have supported the Union’s boycott: they publicly reprimanded Hala for the meeting and expressed their support for the Union’s (and other organisations’) anti-normalisation policies.

To me, this is evidence – if any more was needed – of how some of the undemocratic governments in the region try to have it both ways:

On the one hand, they are using the idea of peace with Israel as a way of ‘buying’ support and legitimacy by the West.

On the other hand, they are undermining the very essence of peace by embracing the ‘anti-normalization’ agenda, which – though popular with parts of the Arab street – prevents dialogue and reconciliation from happening in the first place.

In many parts of the Arab world, therefore, peace remains a crime – not, as one would hope, a way of achieving development and prosperity.