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Egypt's lack of sovereignty

Dr Abdel Sattar Qassem
Professor of Political studies, Al Najah National University

Egyptian officials start talking about Egypt's sovereignty every time Gaza is in need of food even though the people of Gaza have no desires on Egyptian territory and have no army intending to invade. All they need – desperately need ‑ is to be able to buy food and other necessities. Maybe the resistance groups have other goals, smuggling money and weapons in order to defend themselves against Israeli aggression. But whatever weapons are in Gaza, they are not there to fight against Egypt.

It is clear that the Egyptian authorities are not revealing the truth about their country's lack of sovereignty over Sinai, and that all this talk about sovereignty and national security is misleading. The fact is, Egypt has no authority over Sinai and cannot take any strategic action without consulting Israel and America.


The Camp David accords of 1979 gave Egypt autonomy over Sinai, an allowance similar to that of the Palestinian Authority, and it is limited to running civil affairs. According to the agreement Egypt can only have one army brigade stationed on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula, west of the Metla and Jeddi routes. This is a purely symbolic presence, in deference to Egypt's self-respect, but this brigade is in no position to go to war or defend Egypt, or even impose any specific policy on behalf of Egypt. The same accords say that the Israeli army has to be two kilometres away from the hypothetical Egyptian Palestinian borders and Egypt cannot build any air force bases in Sinai; the US, however, can and did build two huge airfields for Israel in the Negev Desert as part of the deal.

Egypt retains a limited police force in Sinai for civil security and its officers have guns and pistols, but it is not trained for combat. The police are trained in riot control techniques, for dealing with their own people. Moreover, Egypt cannot build new towns or cities in Sinai.

Camp David made Egypt committed to Israel's security and it has to prosecute any persons or groups who try to threaten Israel's security. It is clear that the whole agreement was based on Israel's security and if Egypt had refused any aspect of this Israel would not have pulled its forces out of Sinai. For this reason, opening the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza is not allowed, because the border is part of "Israel's security" and opening it threatens that security. In short, Israel controls the Rafah crossing, not Egypt. Israel decides when Rafah is to be opened and for how long; Egypt is the doorkeeper, no more than that.

When we hear in the media that Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing, even for a relief convoy, we must know that it is Israel that has decided to let people and goods through, not Egypt. The excuses of "national sovereignty and security" are just that; excuses, and everyone who has any idea about the Camp David accords is well aware of this. The same applies to the steel wall being built on the border of Gaza and Egypt; Egypt has nothing to do with it, except to provide the labour and having to face the media flak and be humiliated when it cites "sovereignty and security" as the justification for the wall. It is the US and Israel dictating that this wall must be built.

Multinational forces led by the US control Sinai and they make the decisions on military and security matters. These forces are on the strategic Metla and Jeddi routes with sophisticated early warning devices; they dispatch land patrols and air operations according to their assessment of security –Israeli security – needs, and not the Egyptians'. US agencies operate freely in Sinai directing the Egyptian police forces against groups suspected of smuggling weapons into Gaza or collaborating with the Palestinian resistance in any way.

When Egypt wanted to get extra forces to the border with Gaza, Israel said that the Camp David accord had to be amended to allow this to happen. The Egyptian government was not talking about extra soldiers – it wanted additional riot police and border control forces ‑ but that was still subject to Israeli approval.

Despite these obvious limitations, Egyptian officials feel no shame in talking about Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai, a territory whose sovereignty is violated daily by Americans, is monitored by Israel and wherein Egyptians' movements are restricted. This doesn't seem to be a problem for the Egyptian government except when it comes to Gaza and its needs.

In the past few days alone, American officials have entered El-Arish Hospital and scoured the wards without permission from the Egyptian authorities. Not so long ago Israeli air force bombers overflew Egyptian airspace and bombed a Sudanese convoy carrying aid and, according to the Israelis, weapons, to Gaza. The issue of Egyptian sovereignty was not even mentioned at that time, despite the murder of hundreds of Arabs in Sudan, but smuggling a can of dried milk to malnourished children in Gaza disturbs the Egyptian president's sleep.

The lack of Egyptian empathy with the Palestinians would be understandable if the government broke its silence and mentioned its lack of sovereignty over Sinai; such an acknowledgement would prompt a lot of sympathy for the position Egypt finds itself in. But when the Foreign Minister – like a fool – continues to refer to "Egyptian sovereignty" as if that actually means something, it is an insult to the intelligence of everyone but other fools and Zionist stooges

Those who appeal to President Hosni Mubarak should save their time and energy, because he is not the decision maker as far as Sinai is concerned. All that can be done is to embarrass his regime through the media and incite the Egyptian people to see that their government is full of puppets. Then – and only then – if the American and Israel puppet-masters see that their regime in Cairo might be overthrown, they might agree to some Egyptian assistance for Gaza. It is important for Israel to share borders with docile Arab regimes corrupted by US financial support, so this scenario may well work to Gaza's benefit, because if the people of Egypt say enough is enough, the possibility of a real, Egyptian, government in control is too awful for Israel to contemplate.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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