4 against 4… interests and obstacles that intersect on the field of Egyptian-Israeli normalization

Cairo- In conjunction with the passage of more than a year since the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab capitals – with an Egyptian welcome – Cairo and Tel Aviv announced the strengthening of the Egyptian army forces in the Sinai, with a rare amendment to the military annex to the peace agreement signed in 1979, known in the media and popularly as (Camp David).

The amendment coincided with warnings issued by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, about what is known as the “Abrahamic peace”, which, according to observers, carries in its core – according to observers – regional acceptance (religious and popular) in Israel, in addition to an Israeli study that warned of the repercussions of the role of Egyptian unions in impeding the normalization of popular relations.

The security and diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries, in addition to Israeli efforts towards similar popular normalization, indicate a qualitative leap in developing relations, at a time when Cairo sees that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is more flexible than the government of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

During a joint press conference by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, last week in Washington, Blinken praised the development of Egyptian-Israeli relations, saying that his country “did not see the relations between Egypt and Israel as stronger than they are today.”

In light of the coincidence of the rare amendment of the military annex to the peace agreement, Al-Azhar’s warnings of “Ibrahimism,” and Israel’s shedding light on the Egyptian trade union role, Al Jazeera Net monitors the most prominent 4 interests that intersect with 4 obstacles to the normalization area between the two countries.

First: The four interests of increasing normalization

There have been many common interests that intersected between Egypt and Israel recently and contributed to the increasing pace of normalization between the two parties, but the most prominent of these interests can be monitored in the following four points:

1- Security and military coordination
A week ago, the Egyptian and Israeli armies announced – in two separate statements – the amendment of the security agreement concluded between the two sides, in order to strengthen the Egyptian border guard forces and their capabilities in the border area in the city of Rafah in North Sinai, which was prohibited for the army except in coordination with Israel. The extent of the benefit that will accrue to Cairo and Tel Aviv, from behind the amendment, can be monitored in the following indicators:

  • What President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced before he took office in 2014, about the possibility of amending the agreement.
  • At the time, Sisi attributed the amendment to the fact that Egyptian lands would not be a launching pad for attacks against Israel.
  • This is consistent with Israel’s desire to calm its southern depths from any possible attacks.
  • Israel’s desire to pursue the ways of supporting and supplying the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.
  • The amendment also contributes to the Egyptian military repositioning in Sinai, which enhances the chances of success of development and tourism plans.
  • Strengthening the exceptional precautionary measures in Sinai, which were taken by the Egyptian authorities in conjunction with the abolition of the emergency law.
  • Reducing the smuggling of drugs, ammunition and materials that can be used in the manufacture of weapons.

2- Taking care of the Palestinian file

During the recent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, last May, the Palestinian issue witnessed an unprecedented transformation in recent years in Egypt, which played a prominent role in helping to establish a ceasefire between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, so increasing the pace of normalization from this angle is achieved. The two parties have several interests, most notably:

  • Egypt’s seizure of the regional role that it left to other Arab powers, and the consolidation of its position with the US administration.
  • An Egyptian pressure card to confront potential Israeli projects that might target national security, such as projects for transporting Gulf gas to Europe.
  • Absorbing the state of popular resentment inside Egypt, as happened during the mobilization of official and religious bodies and parties, to support Gaza during the recent Israeli aggression.
  • From the Israeli side, Cairo’s care of the file will enable it to put pressure on the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas”, by drying up smuggling operations through the crossings.
  • In addition, the Egyptian experience in sponsoring the prisoner exchange file between Israel and Hamas.

3 – Energy and gas export

  • The energy sector has become a fertile field for consolidating relations, after the announcement of huge discoveries of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Cairo and Tel Aviv are seeking to become a regional energy hub.
  • In early 2019, Egypt, Israel and other countries inaugurated the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), based in Cairo.
  • At the beginning of 2020, natural gas began to be pumped from Israel to Egypt, with an estimated value of $19.5 billion over 15 years.
  • The Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum described the event as an important development that serves the economic interests of both countries.
  • This development enables Israel to transfer quantities of its natural gas to Europe through the liquefied natural gas plants in Egypt.
  • In February 2021, Egyptian Energy Minister Tarek El Molla made a rare visit to Israel.
  • During the visit, the two countries agreed to inaugurate an offshore pipeline from the Leviathan gas field to the liquefaction plant in Egypt.
  • Last October, press reports said the two countries were considering laying an overland pipeline in North Sinai.

4 – Trade and tourism

  • Trade between Egypt and Israel has gradually increased since the signing of the QIZ agreement in 2004.
  • Under the agreement, Cairo exports to the United States duty-free products manufactured in Egypt with Israeli inputs.
  • The agreement makes the United States a central trading partner for Egypt and Israel.
  • Despite the restrictions imposed by the global coronavirus pandemic, the Sinai coast continued to attract record numbers of Israeli tourists.
  • The number of Israeli tourists in Sinai exceeded 70,000 during the months of June and July, according to the Tel Aviv embassy in Cairo.
  • Last August, Israel’s National Security Agency announced that it had reduced the terrorist threat level in the Sinai and Sharm El-Sheikh resorts, for the first time in 17 years.
  • Last October, coinciding with Egypt’s celebrations of the anniversary of the 1973 war against Israel, a plane belonging to the state-owned EgyptAir Airlines landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, coming from Cairo, for the first time that the company’s planes arrived carrying its official logo.

Second: The four obstacles facing normalization

Despite the warmth of Egyptian-Israeli relations over the past years, and the intersection of several interests between the two parties, the most prominent feature of it is that it is an official governmental relationship, which did not extend to popular circles and Egyptian civil institutions, as well as security and strategic risks that Cairo has reservations about. The most prominent of these obstacles can be monitored in the four points next:

1 – trade unions

  • Despite the decline in the syndicate’s role in general in Egypt after restricting its activity in the past seven years, it enjoys constant monitoring by the Israeli Studies Centers.
  • Professional unions in Egypt include millions of workers, and over the past decades, they have been calling out every member of them who visits Israel or announces support for normalization.
  • According to a study by the National Security Research Institute of Tel Aviv University, the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab nationalist and leftist forces represent central parties opposed to normalization within the unions.
  • According to the same source, the unions remain at the forefront of opposing normalization, despite the improvement in relations between the two countries.

2 – Al-Azhar and Ibrahimiya

  • The political dimensions of “Ibrahimiya” emerged in September 2020, with the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, under US auspices.
  • Idiomatically means a grouping of the followers of the three monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and it is attributed to the Prophet of God Abraham.
  • Many Islamic and Christian scholars opposed this call, the most prominent of which was the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
  • Al-Tayyib said a few days ago that the call to “Abrahamiya” appears “on the surface as a call for human meeting and the elimination of the causes of conflicts and conflicts, and in fact it is a call to confiscate freedom of belief and freedom of belief and choice.”
  • The Sheikh of Al-Azhar did not mention any political dimension to “Ibrahimiya”, but opponents of this approach considered his speech politically wrapped in a religious cover.
  • Opponents consider “Abrahamiya” as a purely political goal to support and expand the circle of normalization.

3 – Popular rejection

  • Despite Egypt being the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, popular rejection remains strong.
  • reveal An opinion poll conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (US), a year ago that the Egyptians still largely opposed the softening of relations with Israel.
  • There is widespread popular dissatisfaction in Egypt with the Abraham agreement (signed by the UAE and Bahrain with Israel in September last year), and the possibility of increasing Egyptian dealings with the Israelis.
  • According to the poll, the Egyptian people do not agree with some of the policies of their government, which has been extensively involved in energy trade and security relations with Israel.
  • Were it not for the popular environment opposed to Israel, the trade union entities would not have been able to take decisive positions in this regard.

4 – Security and geostrategic dimensions

  • There is a threat to the Egyptian geostrategic and security interests due to the acceleration of the normalization process.
  • Emirati-Israeli normalization has negative repercussions on the Suez Canal and Egyptian ports, in contrast to the threat of Cairo’s role in caring for the Palestinian file.
  • Last summer, the UAE and Israel worked to inaugurate a line linking the Red and Mediterranean Bahrain, to transport oil and petroleum products from the Emirates to Israel and from there to Europe, and if implemented, according to observers, it would reduce the use of traffic through the Suez Canal.
  • There are several negative repercussions for Israel’s penetration into the southern and African depths of Egypt. Therefore, the normalization of Khartoum and Tel Aviv represents a threat to Egypt in light of the historical Israeli aspirations in the waters of the Nile.
  • Normalization may create fears that cooperation between Tel Aviv and Khartoum will flow at the expense of Cairo, in areas where Egypt was the main potential player in Sudan, such as agriculture and mining.

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