The gesture will be one of the most public expressions of anger against Israel since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, marking the emergence of a long-repressed hostility among many ordinary Egyptians.
But while some of the new breed of politicians who emerged after the revolution are only too happy to exploit such defiance, there are still powerful reasons why mainstream leaders are not ready to burn their boats with Israel.
Calls for such a public act of protest would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, for whom the 1979 peace treaty with Israel was a cornerstone of regional policy.
Under him, public antipathy towards Israel — a nation with which Egypt has fought four wars — was kept in check, often brutally. It changed when the anti-Mubarak uprising erupted on January 25 last year. Egyptians now openly voice frustrations and are demanding Egypt’s new political class listen.
“After the January 25 revolution, the regime fell and with it everything linked to treaties and protocols,” said Saeed al-Qasas, head of the Revolutionaries of Sinai, which vowed to cover on Wednesday the Dayan Rock memorial, a large stone erected in the desert with names of fallen air force personnel.
Egypt’s transition to democracy from autocratic rule is transforming the political landscape at home but also promises to shift foreign policy of the Arab world’s most populous nation which was the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel. None of the mainstream politicians emerging in Egypt have said they would abandon the treaty, but the new order promises to make what was often described as a “cold peace” colder still, raising tensions on a sensitive border if mishandled.
Yet, even after handing over power to a new president by July 1, the generals who have ruled since Mubarak’s fall are likely to act as guardians of a deal that brings them US$1,3 billion US military aid a year.
Egypt, its economy in tatters, also can’t afford to alienate the US or other Western states whose governments and investors are likely to be vital in reviving growth and creating jobs, crucial points to any Egyptian political career.
But Israeli politicians are already fretting over the political changes in Egypt and worry about the rise of Islamists, who swept the parliamentary election and are strong contenders in the presidential vote that starts on May 23-24. One senior Western diplomat said the army, mainstream Islamists and other leading politicians recognised the benefits of maintaining a deal that kept the border peaceful for three decades.
“But there is zero traction in broader society,” the diplomat said, adding that this could encourage Islamists to test how far the boundaries of ties could be pushed.
Islamists and their rivals in Egypt’s presidential race, the final stage of a turbulent political transition, are already using Israel as a political punch bag to chase votes. They are vowing no repeat of Mubarak’s cosy ties with Israel.
“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.
He suggested Egypt could follow Turkey’s example where once-close ties with Israel had worsened sharply after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in May 2010 in a raid on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip.
One such gesture may have been a decision this week to scrap a 20-year deal reached in 2005 to export Egyptian gas to Israel. It drew applause among the Egypt public, although both sides said commercial differences not politics were behind the move.
Professor Uzi Rabi at Tel Aviv University said that gas deal decision pointed to a region more “attuned to the street”
Some Israeli officials have shown increasing signs of worry as they have watched Egypt’s political drama unfold.
An Israeli newspaper cited Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman saying Egypt was more dangerous to Israel than Iran, a country Israelis accuse of building nuclear weapons. — Reuters.