A prominent Egyptian historian took to national television last week to make an unusually open and robust case for Egypt to "drop the Palestinian cause and normalize relations with Israel."
In a lengthy interview with Egypt's Mehwar TV on May 28 - segments of which were translated by MEMRI [see below for a link to the video] - historian Maged Farag insisted it was time for Egyptians to leave "the old ideology and cultural heritage on which we were raised" - namely, rabid anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism - in favor of a more rational focus on Egypt's own national interests.
"What I'm saying is that we should pay attention to the interests of our country," he told his interviewer.
"There are no such things as eternal enmity or eternal love.There are only eternal interests. We should identify our country's interest. Churchill once said that he was ready to cooperate with the Devil in the interest of his country. As a man who knows a little bit about history and about international relations, I believe that it is in our interest to maintain normal relations with Israel."
Noting that in practice there already is close cooperation on security, political and other issues between the two countries' respective governments, Farag asserted:
"The state is not the problem. The problem lies with the people, who still live the old ideology and the cultural heritage on which we were raised. Our generation was raised upon hatred and upon these people being barbaric..."Indeed, despite Israel and Egypt successfully maintaining an official peace treaty since 1979, popular sentiment inside Egypt is still largely - though not exclusively - anti-Israel.
Anti-Semitism is also rife in the country, which is the most populous Arab state in the world.
Egypt was home to around 80,000 Jews in 1948, but expelled most of them and seized their property as part of a wider campaign of ethnic-cleansing carried out by Arab states in "revenge" for the defeat of Arab armies by the nascent State of Israel in 1948.
Key to that outdated mentality was Egypt's continued support for the "Palestinian cause," Farag posited. Since Egypt had achieved a just peace with the State of Israel, there was no rational or logical reason for it to maintain any hostility towards the Jewish state, he said - particularly when the Palestinians themselves "have no interest" in actually ending the conflict, short of annihilating Israel altogether.
"For over 70 years, the Palestinian cause has brought upon Egypt and the Egyptians nothing but harm, destruction, and expense. We have been preoccupied all our lives with the Palestinian cause.
"The Palestinian cause is Palestinian... Egypt's problem has been resolved."
Referring to the Sinai Peninsula - which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War, and handed over to Egypt as part of their 1979 peace treaty - he added: "The occupied land has been liberated. End of story, as far as I'm concerned. Let us now live and care about the interests of my country."
"Am I supposed to shackle myself to the Palestinian cause? Let the (Palestinians) resolve it... We have tried to help them many times."Farag also brushed off criticism of a recent visit he paid to Israel, during which he posted pictures of himself at famous Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites, as well as other Israeli attractions. He retorted that he was "not afraid" of openly visiting a neighboring country, and noted that many other Egyptians work and have relations with Israel and Israelis, but simply don't admit to it.
"They don't think it is in their interest," he said of the Palestinians themselves. "They don't want to resolve their own problem."
"I still don't understand what the big deal is. I met many Egyptians there, and many Egyptians have visited Israel. I don't understand why my visit there made people so angry," he said.
Farag also busted a common Egyptian myth that a large sign exists outside of Israel's Knesset declaring the country's attempt to expand "from the Nile to the Euphrates."
"This is not true. There is no such thing," he informed viewers. "We all know that this is not true, but people keep saying this to heat up the hostility."
His vision for Israeli-Egyptian relations is one of total cooperation - citing by way of example the relationship between Germany and France, who until the latter half of the twentieth century had been at war on and off for hundreds of years.
"Normal relations require, first of all, cultural exchange," he explained. "I must not fear the other. So long as I fear the other, nothing good can develop. We should not fear (Israel). We should visit there."
"There should be tourist exchange, and economic exchange.
"There are Israeli companies that specialize in modern drip irrigation. They have very advanced irrigation technology. We have a water problem. We have a shortage of water. Why can't we take advantage of their technology, of their thought, and of the results of their research?
"They used this technology to cultivate the desert, so why can't we use it here? Why can't I benefit from someone who used to be my enemy? I'm not looking to force him to become my friend. I want him as a partner in developing agriculture and industry in Egypt."
Challenged by his interviewer as to how Egyptian schools should teach about the numerous wars between Israel and Egypt, he stated simply: "We should teach that there were wars in '48, '56, '67, and '73, and that these wars came to an end, that we signed a peace treaty, and we should set our eyes on the future. That's it.
"Israel exists, whether we like it or not, and it will continue to exist, whether we like it or not. So let's just accept this."View the video interview:
MEMRI: Egyptian Historian Maged Farag in Support of Normalized Relations with Israel: We Must Focus on Our Own Interests, Not on the Palestinian Cause