Egyptian-Israeli Peace Stretches Thin

After more than three decades of peace between Israel and Egypt, relations are fraying. A cross-border attack last month left five Egyptian police officers dead. Protesters last weekend stormed Israel's embassy. This week, most Israeli diplomats fled Egypt. Things have gotten so bad that Egypt's prime minister this week said even the 1979 peace treaty wasn't sacred. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins host Scott Simon from Cairo to talk about the latest there.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

After more than three decades of peace between Israel and Egypt, relations are fraying. A cross-border attack last month left five Egyptian police officers dead. Protesters last weekend stormed Israel's embassy. And this week, most Israeli diplomats fled the country. The situation has grown so tense that Egypt's prime minister said this week even the 1979 peace treaty is not sacred.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us from Cairo. Soraya, thanks very much for being with us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: And that Camp David Peace Accord, 1979, the scene of President Sadat and Menachem Begin making peace was a watershed moment for the Middle East. Is there a real possibility that treaty is going to be reopened?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, that's what Egyptians want. I mean, they really feel that they had no say in this matter - that this was something that was foisted upon them by the previous government - or actually, President Sadat, and then enforced by the previous government under Mubarak. So they feel like it's time to revisit this; in a democratic society, the people should have a say. And it does seem that the government is sort of bending to that will even though, I think it's important to note, the military and the government has repeatedly said that they're honoring the commitments as they stand, for now.

SIMON: How did relations between Egypt and Israel reach this point?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it's never been good between the Egyptian people, necessarily, and Israel. I mean, again, they've always been very much concerned about what happens with Palestinians, and they've been pretty anti-Israel all along. It's just that under the previous government, none of that was really tolerated in an open sense even though the Mubarak presidency and regime - or government, I should say, did nothing, really, to stop that sort of sentiment. And so after Hosni Mubarak was removed from power - or stepped down in February because of the uprising, people have been really expressing this for the first time, in a way that is very visible to the world.

SIMON: The breech of Israel's embassy last week led to Egypt's military calling on the use special, emergency state security courts. What are they? What's that about?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the emergency law - and these courts are a part of that - have been around for three decades. And there's some debate about whether there's actually an expansion of the law here, or whether the military is basically saying OK, we will no longer do military trials, but we're going to do these state security courts instead. I mean, this was their reaction to what happened to the embassy last weekend, and 39 people have been referred for trial here. But people are very concerned that the military is using this as an excuse to clamp down on the democracy and the freedom which the people here are seeking.

SIMON: And the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak continues. What's the latest on that front?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, today is another closed session. This time, they are looking at CDs featuring critical evidence, according to Al-Ahram - which, of course, is a state-run newspaper here. But it's been very difficult to find out what's been going on.

Last week, we had many top officials testifying, including the former vice president and intelligence chief, and a former interior minister. All those sessions were closed. But this is still the prosecution's turn. They're very much trying to prove that Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister basically issued shoot-to-kill orders for protesters, which resulted in the deaths of about 850 protesters. And their case, at least as far as we've been able to ascertain - because again, the government has now shut down coverage and in fact, banned coverage for a while, with threatening to put people in jail - but so far, it seems the prosecution's had a very tough time making their case.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Thanks so much.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.