Israel’s embassy in Egypt celebrated the 70th anniversary of the State’s foundation last night, the first celebration of its kind since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011. The party took place at the Nile Ritz-Carlton and was attended by foreign diplomats and a handful of Egyptians.
Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt, David Govrin, gave a speech in which he welcomed the Arab world’s recent warming towards Israel. He explained this was thanks in large part to the work of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, according to the Times of Israel.
Govrin told guests that:
the joining of the Saudi Crown Prince to the vision of stability and economic development shared by Egypt and Israel constitutes an important cornerstone.
“We have to broaden this partnership to additional states in order to advance common interests and in order to combat states and terror organizations that are acting under Iran’s inspiration.”
The ambassador expanded on Israel’s ongoing rivalry with Iran, warning that “only a regional common struggle may confront Iran’s striving for nuclear weapons and undermine its consistent support to the terror organisations in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
Some have seen the event as indicative of strengthening relations between Egypt and Israel under the rule of current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Al-Sisi has praised economic ties between the two countries and publically supported a $15 billion deal allowing an Israeli company to supply natural gas to Egypt.
However, the event was not universally well received. In the week prior to the celebration, attempts were made by senior Egyptian officials to cancel the event, citing security considerations. Yet others have speculated that fear of public demonstrations and reprisals against a normalisation of relations between Egypt and Israel was an underlying motivation, according to Ynet.
Opposition was also rife in the Egyptian media. It is believed an anonymous source leaked the details of the embassy event to Egyptian magazine Rose Al-Yūsuf, which then published the location and a photograph of the Israeli ambassador in a bid to disrupt the event.
Formal relations between Egypt and Israel have been ongoing since the two countries signed a peace agreement in 1979. Following the Camp David Accords, then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin agreed to mutual recognition, a normalisation of relations and Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula which it had captured during the 1967 War.
Yet beneath the surface, relations between the two countries have been troubled. Israel closed its Cairo embassy in 2011 after crowds stormed the building during the Arab Spring uprising, only reopening it in 2015 at a more secure facility. Last year, Cairo’s Ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, said that the peace treaty will remain incomplete as long as a Palestinian state has not been created.
This year has seen competing celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the Palestinian Nakba, in which over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Great March of Return, weekly protests in Gaza in the run up to Nakba Day on 15 May, has seen around 50 Palestinian protesters shot dead by Israeli forces.