Last Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty concluded by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. To commemorate that event, Israel hosted a series of public events at universities and think tanks, to which it invited Egyptian private citizens and officials, including Hebrew-speaking diplomats stationed in Tel Aviv—not one of whom attended. Nor was there an Egyptian parallel to the attention or the celebratory tone that Israeli media lavished on the anniversary. Haisam Hassanein finds this divergence emblematic of the two countries’ attitudes:
Egyptian authorities have used the difference [between their goals and Israel’s] to further their own interests, often wielding it as a tool of punishment or reward. Cairo is well aware that many Israelis are so eager for recognition, warmth, and normal relations that they will often seize on whatever diplomatic door is opened—and willingly pay a price to keep it open if the other side threatens to close it.
This is why Egypt will occasionally exchange delegations with Israel, send a group of tourists there, cooperate in certain technical fields, moderate attacks in the Egyptian media, ameliorate the security situation around the Israeli embassy, grant permission to hold bilateral cultural activities, marginally improve trade relations, allow meetings between Israeli and Egyptian notables, accept Israeli invitations to high-profile dinners, and participate in trade shows or cultural fairs with Israelis.
At the same time, the government allows local media to maintain a very hostile tone toward Israel. During last year’s Ramadan observances, for example, Egyptian television aired a show in which an al-Qaeda member operating in the country turns out to be an Israeli Mossad agent bent on compromising Egypt’s national security. The government publicly praised the program, and its tacit endorsement of such warped views seems clear given the degree to which President Sisi has controlled the media since he rose to power. Most media depictions of Israel-related issues [should] be thought of as approved by government officials, reflecting a widespread desire to ostracize Israelis and Jews, foment fear and hatred toward them, and glorify the Arab struggle against them.
[Moreover], Cairo seems to believe other Arab states are not strong enough to handle full normalization, theorizing that such an outcome would allow Israel to take control of their economic and financial systems. Hence, Egyptian officials seem to market their own approach to Israel as the best model—namely, sign a bilateral peace agreement, yet greatly limit normalization in order to forestall the supposed damage that Israel would do to the region’s social, political, and cultural texture.