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Was Bennett's visit to Egypt really 'historic'?

Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on September 13, 2021 [Israeli Government Press Of. (GPO)/Anadolu Agency]
Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on September 13, 2021 [Israeli Government Press Of. (GPO)/Anadolu Agency]

The head of Egypt's General Intelligence Directorate delivered an invitation from President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi last month for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to visit his country. This was expected. Shortly after Bennett was sworn in as Prime Minister of the occupation state in June, Sisi had called him and highlighted the importance of an official visit to Egypt.

Bennett duly accepted the invitation and met with Sisi in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm Al-Sheikh earlier this week. Unlike his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly made several secret visits to Egypt to meet Sisi, Bennett was happy to make his visit and meeting public. He posed for the cameras and let the whole world know where he was, and why, hailing the meeting as "important and very good".

Sisi invited Bennett allegedly for the benefit of Egypt. The Director of the Liberal Democracy Institute in Cairo, Dalia Ziada, described the Sharm Al-Sheikh meeting as a "historic moment" with the Israeli and Egyptian flags flying side by side. What was so historic about it?

For Sisi, his regime and his supporters, it provided the opportunity for the Egyptian president to beg Bennett to ask the Biden administration in Washington to give its backing to the regime and thus, by implication, its tacit acceptance of the daily human rights violations against the Egyptian people.

READ: The Israeli-Egyptian siege of the Gaza Strip must end unconditionally without delay

From the beginning of his term of office, US President Joe Biden has made explicit his intention to pressure Sisi on his human rights record. "We will bring our values with us into every relationship that we have across the globe," pledged State Department Spokesman Ned Price in March. "That includes with our close security partners. That includes with Egypt. We take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention."

A country with a similarly appalling human rights record would be able to lobby on Egypt's behalf. Israel fits that bill perfectly, given its unique influence in Washington.

"They [the Egyptians] saw the positive, close connection created between Bennett and Biden in the recent meeting, and there is an understanding that Israel can influence the administration and the US in two areas that are important to Egypt," a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Ofir Winter, told the Times of Israel. The two areas in question are US aid to Egypt and mediation with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett visits Egypt in first official trip for a decade

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in the first official trip to Egypt in a decade – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Sisi apparently also seized the opportunity to call on the international community to support his efforts to mediate between the occupation state and the Palestinian resistance in the besieged Gaza Strip. He did not tell the media, nor did his office dare to reveal it, that he pledged to Bennett that he would tighten the siege on the Palestinians in Gaza under the pretext of working to stop Hamas building up its arsenal.

"Sisi told Bennett the calm in Gaza must be maintained and that the international community needs to support Egypt's reconstruction efforts in Gaza," said the president's office. However, an Israeli official revealed to the American news website Axios that Bennett told Sisi that Egypt has to strengthen inspections at the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza in order to prevent the smuggling of dual-use materials that can allow Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities.

Writing on Twitter about Sisi seeking Israel's help to get Washington turn a blind eye to his human rights abuses, Egyptian writer Salim Azzouz said, "Israel's assistance would help you only if it would have helped other dictators." He pointed out that Israel's pledges are empty promises.

READ: Colonialism and solidarity define the decisive Israel-Palestine battle in Africa

Despite the grandiose claims by Sisi and his regime, backed by a compliant mass media, the reality is that the meeting was "historic" for Israel, but not Egypt. "Israeli officials — not least the prime minister — expressed great satisfaction and optimism after Naftali Bennett's first meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi that the cold peace that Israel has made with Egypt since 1979 is about to thaw," said the Times of Israel.

The newspaper reported Bennett as saying that he discussed broadening trade and tourism, and said that he and Sisi "laid the foundation for deep ties moving forward." It added that the meeting struck a "hopeful tone that there would be a shift from the largely behind-the-scenes ties toward a greater public embrace."

That is what was historic about the meeting. If it was anything else, why did Egypt only release censored images and videos of the meeting?

The most shameful and compelling aspect was that Sisi agreed to tighten the siege of Gaza. What a disgrace that the head of the largest Arab state continues to impose restrictions on a neighbouring Arab land which is occupied by one of the worst colonial regimes in the world, the apartheid state of Israel. The fact that Sisi opted not to make any public announcement to this effect tells me and every other reasonable person that he knows what the reaction would be among the people of Egypt if they knew the reality of what he is up to. Sadly, there is nothing "historic" about that reality either.

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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AfricaArticleEgyptIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestine
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