"I have come to you so that together we might build a durable peace based on justice, to avoid the shedding of one single drop of blood from an Arab or an Israeli."
To commemorate the occasion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address, saying:
"The greatest obstacle to the expansion of peace today is not found in the leaders of the countries around us. The obstacle is public opinion on the Arab street, public opinion that has been brainwashed for years by a distorted and misleading presentation of the State of Israel."
Netanyahu had a point. Today, four decades later -- in spite of the lasting peace treaty between Cairo and Jerusalem -- much of the media in Egypt continues to demonize Israel. Even under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with whom Netanyahu has been developing mutually beneficial security relations, prominent figures in the state-run press disseminate anti-Israel conspiracy theories.
MP Mustafa Bakri, for instance, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Osboa and the host of the "Facts and Secrets" talk show on Sada El Balad TV. told the Egyptian daily Al Youm 7, as recently as November 20th, that Egypt must force the "Israeli enemy," the "Zionist entity," to return antiquities that it had supposedly smuggled out of Egypt into Israel.
Earlier in the month, when it was announced that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had resigned (he has since suspended his resignation), Bakri said on his talk show that Israel -- which he referred to as the "State of Israeli Occupation" -- was the only party that would benefit from a new war breaking out in the Middle East. He also alleged that Israel was conspiring against Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Lebanon.
During a different segment of his show in the beginning of November, Bakri denounced the 1917 Balfour Declaration as a sinister act -- a crime committed by Britain that enabled Israel to extort Palestine (which did not exist in 1917) -- and backed the Palestinian Authority's threat to sue Britain in the International Criminal Court.
In a 2016 study -- "Peace with Israel in Egyptian Textbooks: What Changed between the Mubarak and el-Sisi Eras?" -- Ofir Winter, an Egypt specialist at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, found that although the Egyptian government had revised the way in which the Egypt-Israel treaty was presented and taught to ninth-graders in the 2015-2016 academic year, the change had little effect on the Egyptian public. Winter writes:
"the book... presents peace with Israel in the current era as a strategic asset whose preservation is a basic condition for Egypt's economic revival; it illustrates the lesser centrality of the Palestinian problem in Egyptian public discourse; and it shines a more positive light than in the past upon Israel's role as a legitimate peace partner, even to the point of mentioning friendly relations."
However, according to Winter:
"Major Egyptian newspapers ignored the report, and administration officials avoided mentioning it. ... The reason ... is probably twofold. First, ... the sensitivity of the topic. Second, the changes in how peace with Israel is portrayed in the new textbook, as compared with textbooks from the Mubarak era, were limited mainly to fine nuances."
These "nuances," as can be seen in reviewing an edition of same textbook used during the 2016-2017 academic year, actually appear to be not so "fine." British Mandatory Palestine, for example, is referred to in the book as "originally Arab" (p.57); the Zionist movement is called a "colonialist" enterprise (p.57); Israel is depicted as an aggressive entity with expansionist aspirations that threaten the Arab states (pp. 58-60); the Arab wars against Israel are described as an act of Arab self-defense and an effort to defend the Palestinians (pp. 58-66); and the peace deal with Israel is portrayed as the result of pragmatic-utilitarian considerations, not Egypt's earlier recognition of the Jews' historical right to the land (p.70).
Clearly, then, it would seem that Egypt still has a way to go before its populace can embrace more than a paper-peace with Israel. Bakri and his associates not only represent that populace, but have a direct influence on it. El-Sisi now has a genuine opportunity to spread to his populace his own increasingly positive relations with a neighbor that could significantly benefit his country and his people.
Pictured: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (right) acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords, September 18, 1978. (Image source: Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress)
A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in Middle East.