Egyptian protesters set their sights on changing the country’s foreign policy, calling for the reexamination of the Egyptian-Zionist peace accord, following the recent developments on the two countries’ border.
Who and how many will take part in today’s million-man demonstration in Tahrir Square? It is not expected to be one of the routine demonstrations that have shaken Egypt since January. This time, Tahrir Square will confront Egypt’s foreign policy. The headline of the demonstration is “Million-man demonstration to expel the Israeli ambassador,” and most of the protest groups have announced that they will participate. Egyptian anger is not only directed at Israel which killed five soldiers during the terrorist attack near Eilat last week, but also against the Egyptian government’s policy toward Israel.
Since the terrorist attack there have been raucous demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy in the neighborhood of Giza that have resulted in a national event and a national hero, who climbed the flagpole in front of the embassy and removed the Israeli flag. Even though there are reports of smaller crowds and consequently smaller amounts of security guards protecting the embassy, the public discourse on the issue remains intense.
Those who organized the demonstration today also relied on a report in the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, which said that Israel has still not responded to an Egyptian request for a joint investigation, and that National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror said that Israel will hold no such joint probe.
Even though Amidror took back his statement Thursday, it does not appear that the commitment to hold a joint investigation has calmed the atmosphere. Egyptian reporters told Haaretz yesterday that they had learned from Egyptian political sources that the prime minister and representatives of the Supreme Military Council were in touch with the leadership of the protest, but they intend to hold the demonstration “in order to make it clear to the government of Israel that Mubarak’s Egypt no longer exists and that the Egyptian public will have its say also on matters pertaining to state security.”
Another report, quoting a security source, said yesterday that recalling the Egyptian ambassador to Israel remains an option and that the Egyptian government is waiting to see how Israel will conduct the investigation with the Egyptian officials.
There were many reports Thursday in Egypt that Israel would like to relocate the embassy to another area, which is less populated, and presumably more secure. Also, the April 6 Movement announced that it planned to change the site of its demonstrations from Tahrir Square to a large area in the Giza neighborhood, near the zoo, bringing the demonstrators closer to the embassy.
The demonstrations against Israel and the investigation of the terrorist attack have caused a disagreement among the opposition groups, and even the Islamic Brotherhood is divided between those who support today’s demonstration and those who are opposed. For example, the Freedom and Justice Party, the official party of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced that it would not participate in the demonstration, but Al-Nahda, a party which broke off from the Muslim Brotherhood said it would participate in the demonstration.
No explanation was given for the decision of the Muslim Brotherhood not to participate in the demonstration, especially in view of its position that the Egyptian government should “reevaluate” the Camp David agreement and “take substantive measures” against “the Israeli assault on Egyptian sovereignty and the killing of Egyptian soldiers.” Nonetheless, it would appear that the main reason for staying out is that the group’s leadership is seeking to differentiate itself from the breakaway faction.
Regardless of the reason, Israel has become part of the arm-wrestling dialogue between the protest groups and opposition parties on the one hand, and the Supreme Military Council on the other. If the protest groups avoided confronting the regime on issues of foreign policy, “thanks to” Israel this will now be the subject at hand in the square.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian public, in the ongoing dialogue in the media, seems to accept the regime’s version of events when it comes to the attack near Eilat: that the terrorists were members of extremist groups operating in collaboration with Bedouin. The Egyptian government and army is enjoying the full backing of the Muslim Brotherhood in taking action against these groups, perceived to pose a threat to the state.
In addition to the situation in the Sinai, it appears that the civil war in Libya is posing a new threat to Egypt. On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces announced that they prevented yet another transfer, the third in a week, of large amounts of weapons from Libya into Egypt. These are suspected to be shipments of arms for extremist groups operating in Sinai.