Paul Pillar

What Egypt Should Say

The attack by an Egyptian mob on the Israeli embassy in Cairo Friday night is a very bad development. The military rulers of Egypt have said and done a few of the right things (including eventually, though belatedly, sending commandos to rescue besieged Israeli diplomats), but they need to say more. The audience is primarily the Egyptian public, but also Israelis and the outside world. An appropriate statement might go something like this:

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces strongly condemns the violence at the embassy of the State of Israel. The perpetrators of this action will be punished. Anything approaching a repetition of this incident will not be tolerated. Members of the security forces are expected to perform vigorously all of their duties, including the protection of diplomatic properties. Those failing to do so will be severely disciplined. The inviolability of foreign diplomats and their premises is one of the most important principles of relations among states; it is just as important for Egypt as it is for other nations.

The council acknowledges the strong sentiments and concerns of the Egyptian people regarding some of the policies of Israel. Indeed, the council, like most people in the region, shares those concerns, which center on the continued colonization of occupied land and the denial of the right of Palestinians to their own state. But actions such as this violence will not bring realization of that right any closer; instead, it will only make it more distant. No one, Israelis included, can be expected to trust their neighbors to live up to agreements when embassies are being invaded and ransacked.

Egypt took a historic and leading role in trying to move relations between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors to a new and more peaceful level. Egypt made peace with Israel partly because such a peace is essential to any broader peace between Israelis and Arabs, including Palestinians. It is not the fault of Egyptians that our own efforts did not lead to a solution of the Palestinian problem. But peace between Egypt and Israel is just as important for a broader regional peace as it was before. Egyptian-Israeli peace also has been highly beneficial to Egypt and is certainly better than the costly wars of the past.

The council acknowledges the strong and understandable feelings regarding recent violence along our border with Israel. But no such feelings can ever justify actions such as took place at the Israeli embassy. In the incident by the border, both innocent Egyptians and innocent Israelis were victims. The two governments need to work together to prevent recurrence of such incidents. Any disruption in the relationship makes it harder to perform that task.

In recent months Egyptians have once again been a leading example for the people of the Middle East. Egyptians have been admired in our region and beyond for how they have combined vigorous assertion of their views with a responsible, constructive approach toward building a new order in their country. Destructive actions such as those Friday night are an embarrassment to our people.