Editor's Note to Bush, Powell, Peres, Sharon and Jews everywhere. Those described below are NOT peace partners. You must open your eyes and see the Harsh Reality.

The Jerusalem Post, November, 23 2001


By Shlomo Avineri

In 1979, following the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, I was a member of the Israeli delegation that negotiated the cultural, scientific, and educational agreement between our two countries.

This was in the halcyon days of what was then perceived as the new era of peace, initiated by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. We all hoped not only for the end of war, but also for the beginning of a process of reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the region. It was in this spirit that our delegation suggested to our Egyptian counterparts to set up a joint commission on history textbooks.

We took a leaf out of the Franco-German experience, where such a commission, made up of educators and scholars, did much to replace the traditional nationalist narratives on both sides by a more moderate and less confrontational approach. We thought that our Egyptian colleagues would welcome such an initiative.

We were totally unprepared for the Egyptian response. The head of the Egyptian delegation, a deputy minister, virtually went through the roof: "This is totally unacceptable. You want to dictate to us what will be in our textbooks? This is part of our sovereignty".

All our entreaties - bringing the German-French reconciliation as an example between, after all, two sovereign nations - were to no avail. Such a commission was never set up.

I have been haunted by this experience, though at the time we all tended - naively, it now appears - to play it down: what does it matter what is in the schoolbooks, so long as people are not killed on the border and our nations are at peace and not at war?

But more than 20 years later, and in the current global crisis, something can be learned from our exercises in well-intentioned futility. Egyptian textbooks were not changed not only regarding Israel, which continues to be depicted to Egyptian schoolchildren as a Nazi-type country, much as it was when our countries were at war. The image of the United States, and the West in general, has not been changed either from the times of president Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the old anti-Western rhetoric is still dominant. And this has consequences for the current stand of the Egyptian government when it comes to the global war against terrorism.

How can President Hosni Mubarak really mobilize his people - and not only the government - on the side of the war against terrorism when in his own schools, day in and day out, America and the West are depicted as imperialist, colonialist and war-mongering?

Where would Egyptian schoolchildren learn about the democratic values of equality, liberty, rule of law, freedom of speech - if their schoolbooks do not teach them these values? How should he or she know that the West is also about emancipation, not only about imperialism, if this is never mentioned in school? Or if World War II and the victory over Nazism is never really discussed? It is in this context that American support for Israel is also presented in the Egyptian and Arab narrative as another example of the West's imperial designs on the Arab world.

The reason for this convoluted educational policy - recently repeated in newly minted Palestinian textbooks - is obvious: it is an easy, and cheap, way of diverting criticism from the democratic deficit so glaringly obvious in the Arab world, and in Egypt itself.

The absurd allegations against one of Egypt's foremost intellectuals, Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim, recently sentenced to jail by an Egyptian State Security Court, is another example of this total alienation of the Egyptian regime from western, democratic values.

But the Egyptian government has been riding a tiger: by continuing to demonize Israel, it has created the anti-Israeli atmosphere in the Egyptian media and universities that has soured for many Israelis the meaning of peace. And by nurturing anti-Americanism as a defensive strategy, Mubarak's regime has created the sea in which bin Laden's fish can so easily swim. Mohammed Atta first learned to hate the US in Egyptian schools and from Egypt's state-controlled media.

When the US next negotiates strategy with Egypt, not only bases, intelligence-sharing and arms deliveries should be mentioned, but also school textbooks. And when Israel next negotiates - with the PLO, or with Syria - it should look not only at strategic hilltops, but also at textbooks - not as we did in 1979.

A peace that is not anchored in people's hearts and minds is not peace, and it collapses with the first wind. The US has been as generous financially to Egypt as it has been to Israel in the last 20 years: it is now reaping a whirlwind of hatred and is faced by an Egyptian government which is hemmed-in by the consequences of its own educational and ideological anti-Western policies.

Winning the war means that this has also to change, and the burden is on the Egyptian government. Everyone understands the sensitivities involved. But just as there was no compromise about Nazism, there can be no compromise about the ideological underpinnings of the murderous ideology responsible for September 11. As President Bush said, "You are either with us or against us."

(The writer, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, is currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.)

2001 The Jerusalem Post

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