For the vast majority of Arab citizens, including Egyptians, arriving at a peace agreement with our enemy has been quite a difficult mission; for decades, we were brought up and educated to believe that Israel is our permanent enemy. Shifting our perception of Israel from permanent enemy to peaceful neighboring nation is therefore quite a challenging task! The Camp David Accord offered Egypt the complete liberation of its occupied land, which an extended series of wars with Israel had not achieved. For the Palestinians, the Accord proposed a largely solid basis for land negotiation, one that has been eroded significantly over the past four decades.
The twelve-day long secret Camp David negotiations were the exclusive product of late President Sadat and some of his political advisors, a few of whom he later replaced because they disagreed with his implicit vision. The Arab nations believed that by entering into negotiations with Israel and eventually signing the Camp David agreement, Egypt had betrayed the Arab cause; as punishment, Egypt was suspended from the League of Arab States for almost a decade.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has always been unfair to all Arab nations. Even Egypt’s two most notable achievements, the Six of October War in 1973 and the Camp David Accord signed on 17 September 1978, were only partly successful, not complete triumphs. Western nations’ continued bias towards Israel plays an essential role in this sad status, along with numerous internal Arab challenges. Nevertheless, in both cases Egypt did manage to maximize its benefits in light of the political circumstances existing at the time.
While almost all Arab citizens admired the Six of October War that was led by Egypt and in which the entire Arab and Islamic Worlds were genuinely engaged, the Camp David Accord initiated by Egypt was condemned by almost all of the same nations and their citizens – as well as by a large segment of the Egyptian population. This may indicate that we are a society that favors war over peace or one that believes that more wars with Israel will lead to the complete liberation of Arab land – despite the countless chronic socioeconomic challenges we are living with!
Late President Sadat, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for signing the Camp David Accord, was a clearly controversial leader who was later assassinated by his own countrymen. Sadat, whom westerners continue to admire, has been disliked by consecutive Arab generations – barring a few Arab leaders who have lately acknowledged that his achievement was the most remarkable political proposition in modern Arab history and that we could have been in a better position today had all Arab nations supported it at the time.
Although Sadat genuinely intended to develop our national economy after signing the Accord, we failed to capitalize on being the focal point of the world to attract true foreign direct investment to help develop our country. Bureaucracy and corruption were definite impediments that prevented Egypt from maximizing the Accord’s benefits – a process that either Sadat was not well equipped to pursue or that destiny denied him when he was assassinated a few years later. Additionally, our government appears to have relied more on aid received from the U.S. (an amount that was significant at the time) than on scientifically and systematically developing our country.
A few decades later, wanting to further activate and normalize the relationship between Egypt, Jordan and Israel, the United States launched the Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) granting Egyptian exporters direct access the U.S. market, without tariff or quota restrictions, on condition that products contain a small portion of Israeli input. QIZ has benefited a few Egyptian exporters, but has been of little or no value to the remaining citizens. Meanwhile, the opening of our borders to hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists vacationing in the Sinai has led to a natural normalization of relations that was not incentivized by a third party.
Palestinian citizens probably dislike late President Sadat more than they do their enemy, Israel. They wanted Egypt to engage in numerous wars with Israel until their lands were fully liberated, completely discounting internal disputes among various Palestinian factions and the numerous political opportunities that Palestinians declined to accept (unfair opportunities certainly, but due to many compounded reasons, definitely realistic) – and condemning Egypt for opting for the peaceful path over that of extended wars.
Ironically, the Egyptian State celebrates many political, religious and social events, with the exception of Camp David! We celebrate three official revolutions that clearly conflict with one other; we celebrate all Muslim and Christian holidays and traditionally the entire population celebrates Sham El Nessim, marking the beginning of Spring. Yet we decline to recognize the signing of the Camp David Accord as a public holiday – giving the impression that our State and society appreciate revolution, war and Police Day more than peaceful processes.
The Camp David Accord is the most significant political achievement in Egypt’s modern history. We Egyptians should be proud of it and our government should recognize this achievement and celebrate it. Palestinian disengagement from the Accord, along with many other political factors, have transformed the Arab-Israel conflict from a chronic universal conflict into a minor one that only the United States has the right to address, leaving Egypt to play a very minimal role of meditation between the two main disputing Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas.