Posts tagged ‘egypt’

April 14, 2012

Israel toward Egypt’s Christians

by Gedalyah Reback

For Easter 2012, Egypt’s Coptic Christians had an opportunity they formally hadn’t had in decades – visit Jerusalem. Pope Shenouda III (who?), the leader of the Coptic Church (20 million+ members worldwide), passed away last month. In addition to his being a significant religious figure, the late Pope also banned Copts from making any pilgrimage to Jerusalem as so long as it was considered occupied. But his recent death has marked an unexpected shift for Egypt’s Christians and maybe Israel’s diplomatic opportunities around the Nile.
Copts have unprecedented pressures in Egypt: a revolution’s new wave of violence against Christians; Islamists’ election victory; and now, their spiritual and de facto political leader’s demise. At the helm since 1971, it is a tremendous power vacuum. Simultaneously, Israel’s link to Egypt is fraying and the country has no social traction with the Egyptian on the street. So, the Copts of Egypt should be a vital concern for Israeli diplomacy, and electing a newer Pope should certainly have some bearing on where either side goes in respect to each other.
The idea of leveraging minorities in neighboring countries is often a fantasy of Israeli commentators or enthusiastic politicos who can’t resist thinking of ways to make Israel’s security more solid. But it’s hardly unprecedented. Innumerable resources were poured into Iraqi Kurdistan pre-Yom Kippur War to pressure the Baath Party, and Israel was quick to align with the Catholics of Lebanon in 1982. Extending these policies to Egypt would be seeing an Egyptian Christian minority have controlling votes in a new parliament and blunting the political blades of Islamists in government. But it’s tough to tell if Egyptian Christians really would hold any measurable or favorable sway on their country’s foreign policy if they were to become more politically organized. But this latter event is a prerequisite to any significant amelioration of the relationship between Egypt and Israel.

Christians’ Politics

A new Pope already has more pressing concerns, like keeping open the opportunities the revolution has given and defending the community against ethnic and religious attacks. Israel has plenty to talk about with a new Church leader: priority among them would be the dispute over Coptic Church property in and around Jerusalem. Even if Israel does recognize, negotiate with and reach a deal over disputed spots in the holy city, that doesn’t translate into good will between Israelis and Copts on a general level. And even with a maximum outburst of positive emotions, Copts’ physical security (that is, their own preservation) is the overwhelming priority.

But taking the diplomatic path with a reinvigorated Church could bear unexpected fruit. At the onset of Hosni Mubarak’s power, the Coptic Church has been relatively independent. All it and the late Pope Shenouda III had to do was support Mubarak or stay out of his way. The side-effect was an uninvolved Coptic community, grossly unprepared for the better organized and experienced Muslim Brotherhood to win post-revolution seats in the parliament in December. Standard along with that, Shenouda III always toed the line on the social climate regarding Israel – before Mubarak, he vocally opposed Sadat’s normalization with the Jewish State. It doesn’t stop there.

Isolation is a tempting strategy in the Middle East, but what comes with it is letting enemies encroach on what minimal boundaries you have. An aggressive minority would have a better chance of defending its interests, and Copts should be initiating their own political parties, matching Islamist political enthusiasm and distinguishing their views from the Muslim Brotherhood. The community gains a sense of direction beyond politics with a well-defined platform. Fearing a similar result in the next elections, some vibrant counterbalance to Islamist politics isn’t against the interests of the Egyptian army.

Israel

Relations with Israel are a political issue, not unlike how Americans debated ties to Napoleonic France. Coptic authorities also dispute property in the Old City that Israeli police handed to a different Church in the early 1970s. These issues are probably interrelated. Resolving one would unbind the other. While Israelis consider gestures for the next Pope, he’ll in turn have a chance to solidify a political stance and philosophy being engaged with Israel.

Shenouda III was not John Paul II. But therein might lay a solution to the Church’s problems. In a broader scope, it works in defining the Coptic Papacy as a socio-political pillar in Egypt and the Arab World. tandem with promoting ethnic and religious harmony across the Middle East. Being an outspoken advocate for the fortune of Arab Christians will work well in tandem with promoting other causes for coexistence in the Middle East.

But ultimately, Copts will weigh the benefit versus the cost of being more open to Israel.  In today’s climate, they might be inviting more pressure from Muslim Egyptians.

Israel’s options for facilitating the reputation of such a man are limited, but probably more from a lack of imagination than ability. It would be in their interest to open a new chapter with the Church beyond traditional political issues and foment an alliance. Israel should facilitate a leader that can stabilize a shaky fault, and tremors in the Coptic community imply an opportunity to do just that. Anything Israel can do overtly and covertly to facilitate those mechanisms and developments ought to be a priority. It can change the calculus in Egypt and balance the equation across the Sinai.

April 2, 2012

Quick Thought: Israel Should Join the European Union

by Gedalyah Reback

It’s a topic that isn’t broached so often. The reasons aren’t clear. It might have to do with Israeli hesitation toward Europe because of historical baggage. But considering the idea Israel might join NATO comes up every so often, it isn’t so much of a leap. So what keeps this off the radar? Shouldn’t Israel want to join the group?

There are negatives that I can think of, but as a personal exercise I’d like to cover the positives. There are immediate benefits and potential in all of them.

1. Movement

The benefit to Israelis would be the ability to move about Europe more freely and for longer periods of time. It would give Israelis more opportunities to study abroad and build relationships with future business and political partners in important countries from the UK to Germany to Poland. The reverse would also be a benefit. European Jews would more often visit Israel, probably with a heavy level of extended stays by students and retirees. This is something Israel has coveted for decades, a way of channeling more European Jews to the Holy Land to become permanent residents and citizens. It would probably launch at the least a small rekindle of European Zionism in the Jewish community there.

2. Money and Energy

Really these two topics are linked. Since 1992, Europe has added 2.5 million jobs. The opening of borders has let new import/export relationships develop, plus there is a higher-level, professional exchange of knowledge and business that would be incredibly valuable to Israel’s high-tech sector. Israel’s joining the Union would serve as free publicity for Israel’s start-up industry, plus even work in the reverse. With so many foreign interests investing in Israeli companies, the time is coming for Israeli entrepreneurs to buy up foreign assets for themselves.

The opening to tourists is the obvious and most easy-to-understand benefit of the whole project. With easier access to Israel for travelers, that means more cash for the tourist industry, taxes for the government and eventually government investment in various sectors that would in turn sell to continental Europe. Even if Israeli prices were to be equal to Western European prices, there would be extra cash flow.

A major sector that would benefit would be Israel’s growing energy market. Israel has always needed oil, but soon it will be producing natural gas. Depending on how large the exports can be, an internal EU market for fuel would be a major boon for Europe to welcome Israel into the Union and for Israel’s economy. Plus, a massive amount of research & development for alternative energy is happening in Israel. There are infinite possibilities for exporting an untapped and extremely interested market like the one that exists in Europe. It goes hand and hand with Israel’s other R&D, in high-tech.

Other benefits would be in certain import/export markets like cars. The potential for more cars on the road here could mean lower taxes for Israelis and more infrastructure development also. It could even make negotiating building highways in Palestinian territory easier if European automakers and the EU’s political power are behind the push. It would open up access across the country.

3. Customs and Security

The major benefit would probably be in customs, not even the probably infinitely better relationship with NATO. On the customs front, Israel would have more ready access to European travelers and cooperation with other countries’ enforcement agencies and border patrols. It would make monitoring any threats from militant Muslims in Europe easier, particularly from France or Germany.

As mentioned before, entering the European Union would be more reason to join NATO. NATO’s major benefit is its collective defense protocols. First implemented after September 11th, the attack on the United States was defined as an attack on the entire alliance, making the invasion of Afghanistan, overthrow of the Taliban and crushing of Al-Qaeda all NATO priorities and missions, not merely those of the US. Thus, an attack by a foreign power, whether directly or via an affiliated terrorist organization, could be designated an attack on all of NATO, and automatically trigger a cooperative counterattack against an aggressive country like Pakistan, Iran or potentially a future hostile Egypt.

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This is a very blanket list of positives to the idea. Ideologically, economically and defensively, the move makes a lot of sense. It’s worth exploring for Israel’s future in terms of infrastructure, external security and even the potential to attract more Jews to become citizens of Israel.

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