04/26/2012, 00.00
EGYPT - ISRAEL
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End to gas sales to Israel raises questions about Camp David Accords

Anti-Israeli bluster rises on the anniversary of the Sinai's return to Egyptian control. However, for experts people want to change, not end agreements with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to keep extremism in check. The group wants the agreements to be more respectful of the Egyptians and provide greater security for Sinai's Bedouins who are the victims of religious extremism and criminal gangs.

Cairo (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - The decision by the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) to stop selling gas to Israel marks a new beginning in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Although downplayed by both sides as commercial dispute, it does raise questions about the 1978 Camp David Accords, which the establishment in both Egypt and Israel considered untouchable.

In the meantime, to mark the day Egypt regained control of the Sinai peninsula from Israel in 1982, a group of protesters pledged they would cover a memorial to Israelis killed in the war with an Egyptian flag bearing the words, 'Sinai - the invaders' graveyard'.

The gesture will be one of the most public expressions of anger among ordinary Egyptians who have to cope with economic and energy crises after having to accept Mubarak's pro-Israel policies.

"People want economic agreements with Israel changed," said Nagui Damian, a young Coptic leader of the Jasmine Revolution. "They protected the political interests of the Mubarak government and never took into account the situation of poor Egyptian families."

Egyptians no longer want the government to sell out national resources to a country accused of serious human rights violations against the Palestinians.

Despite the climate of tensions, neither side wants a breakdown in relations between the two states and a cancellation of agreements that have guaranteed peace for more than 30 years in the region and access to US economic aid.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, which has always opposed relations with Israel, calls only for changes to the economic agreements in order to make them fairer, give Egyptians greater dignity and increase security in the Sinai Peninsula.

Yesterday, Waleed al-Haddad, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of Egypt's largest party, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP), told Israeli daily Haaretz that concerns over security are growing in the desert peninsula. Criminal gangs have blown up the gas pipeline that delivered gas to Israel 14 times in recent months. They have also attacked villages.

Sinai Bedouins have appealed to the Egyptian parliament to deploy more troops to the peninsula, accusing the government of failing to take them into account in its security plans.

The "peace deal with Israel isn't [in the] constitution, it's just an agreement that can be changed," Haddad said. Egypt, he insisted, has the right to increase the size of its security forces on its territory where it should exercise full sovereignty. Equally, he also complained that Israelis were allowed into that area of Egypt without a visa.

Thousands of foreign tourists visit the Sinai every year, playing an important role in Egypt's fledgling economy.

"Without the presence of the Egyptian military it will be impossible to maintain a routine life," Haddad explained.

"Democracy is about responding to public sentiment and public sentiment has little interest in maintaining a real relationship with Israel," said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

In view of the situation, Egypt should follow Turkey's example, which cut back its relations with Israel without breaking them after the Mavi Marmara affair. At the same, anti-Israeli sentiments are not likely to go beyond anti-Israel bluster and symbolic gestures.

In fact, even the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main party in the Egyptian parliament, needs Western backing and is concerned that Islamic extremism in the Sinai could lead to violent acts.

After Mubarak's fall, a group called the Revolutionaries of Sinai had wanted the Dayan Rock memorial destroyed, but now said covering it in a flag would suffice.

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