Let us as a nation stop talking about the past and stop talking about our role as leaders in the region and actually become that leading nation..
All the historical certainties about Egypt being the leading Arab nation no longer hold.
How can we be the upholders of Arab unity, and regional challengers to the status quo, while at the same time be conniving to erect a ten kilometre-long steel barrier between this nation and Palestine. Just like the 'enemy' erects barriers to enclose and encroach on the West Bank, we aid them by outflanking Gaza. Except our barrier is made of impenetrable steel, and seems to be all the more durable and foreboding to the people of Palestine, even though it may be an underground barrier. And I use the word Palestine, not Gaza, because Gaza is part of Palestine and the rhetoric nowadays leads us to think that there are two entities – Gaza and the West Bank. But I digress.
Open borders with Palestine would negate the need for tunnel networks and would bring much liquidity out from the shadow economy into the formal one.
During the most recent war on Gaza, the former Egyptian regime lost itself bucket-loads of legitimacy by standing idly by as the Israelis pounded Gaza for almost a whole month, leaving almost 1,500 dead souls and plenty more injured, homeless or simply downtrodden. The most this country [Egypt] could do for the Palestinians was to stand up in media forums and denounce the aggression, of both sides! There was no qualifying statement to ask the Israelis about their aggression. Egypt equated Hamas' projectiles into Israel with the full-scale onslaught brought to Gaza by the Israeli war machine. The border remained closed between them and us, and when it opened, it was like we were doing our brethren in Palestine a favor.
Today, our government mutedly carries out the ominous task of erecting this mammoth barrier between us and them citing reasons of national security; that the intricate tunnel networks that run from Gaza into the Sinai somehow undermine the security of this once great nation. The government is building the barrier very swiftly and rumor even has it that the funding comes from abroad. The argument that this is for reasons of national security cannot really be refuted. But, the reasons for building the barriers can be rectified. Open borders with Palestine would negate the need for tunnel networks and would bring much liquidity out from the shadow economy into the formal one. Will tunnels still be built? Of course. But they will be the exception not the rule.
Here we must analyze the situation and decide where we stand. Do we consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization or is it a part and parcel of the Palestinian nation and is therefore afforded the right to bear arms in defense of the occupied Palestinians? Why is it fair that Israel obtains the latest in military technology from the USA while we deny the Palestinians the right to bear a miserable AK-47? Why did it take so long for the powers-that-be in Egypt to permit the aid convoy into Gaza? And once it was allowed, we scurried to take credit for it and to show our support for Palestine? The farcical nature of this whole affair was summed up by Sheikh Tantawi who conveniently came out and practically issued a fatwa supporting the construction of this barrier – through the Azhar-affiliated Centre for Islamic Research. [The body stated that: “It is Egypt’s legitimate right to erect barriers that would stop the damage caused by the tunnels linking Rafah to Gaza” adding that “what is smuggled through those tunnels threatens the security of this country”.] For good measure he also declared those opposing the barrier to be un-Islamic.
The fact of the matter is that this nation can no longer claim greatness. Needless to say there are many great souls in this country, and how we let this greatness erode is depressing. A nation of great figures, past and present, can no longer rest on its historical laurels. Such is the state of affairs that Egyptians are no longer welcomed in the Arab world as they once were. Such is the state that we can go to the Sudan and get mistreated and not be able to do anything about it.
We simply lost all the goodwill that this nation has accumulated over the years.If we want to be great we need to show greatness and quit our talk about being the regional leader and about being a force for good in the world. Egypt is no longer great, and we can no longer whine when others hate us. We do not have that right. We lost and still are losing any form of goodwill we have in the region. Except with the Israelis. And frankly, by building this barrier, we seem to be doing their bidding.
A nation of great figures, past and present, can no longer rest on its historical laurels
History does show one thing however; walls are built to be knocked down or breached. The Berlin wall fell, the Great Wall of China was violated and this appalling barrier between Egypt and Gaza, albeit underground, will be penetrated. If we are to call ourselves a great nation again we must do it in action and not words. We need to actively involve ourselves in the politics of the region. We must put an end to the savagery in Syria, we must become an honest, genuine and committed partner in the peace process between Israel and Palestine, we must put an end to the failure in Somalia.
And if we are really worth our greatness, we – the Egyptian government and establishment – will be at the vanguard of the rebuilding of Libya. Not just by sending them the workforce that they need, we need to have a much bigger role than simply supplying labor. We need to invest there, foster our ties with them, maybe even create an economic union with the two other North African countries that have undergone revolutions in the past year.
Let us as a nation stop talking about the past and stop talking about our role as leaders in the region and actually become that leading nation.
Mohamed Khalil works at Commercial International Bank (CIB), Egypt, in the Strategic Planning department. Khalil has published articles with Al-Masry Al-Youm, The Daily News Egypt and a number of other publications