Monday, November 10, 2008

Bernard Lewis on the Peace With Egypt

Recently, it was my pleasure to talk with Professor Lewis [who] told me something about Sadat. I will paraphrase, but pretty faithfully, I think:

“Sadat did not decide to make peace with Israel because he suddenly converted to Zionism. His reason was quite different. He was aware that Egypt was becoming a Soviet colony. I saw that myself, on frequent visits to Egypt. The Soviet presence was palpable — more obtrusive than the British presence, and I’m old enough to remember that. The Soviets were taking over, there were places where no Arab was able to set foot.

“I remember talking with a shopkeeper in Upper Egypt. He said there were no tourists coming anymore, which was, of course, very bad for business. ‘But you have plenty of Russians,’ I said, whereupon he spat into the gutter and replied, ‘They won’t buy a package of cigarettes, and they won’t give you a cigarette.’

“Anyway, the Russians were taking over, and Sadat saw that. He realized that, on the worst estimate of Israel’s intentions, and on the most generous estimate of Israel’s power, they were less dangerous than the Soviets. And the Israelis were not going to take over Egypt, that was clear. That was why Sadat decided to make peace. Fortunately, he found someone on the other side who would respond.

“We are moving to a similar situation now. Many Arabs have concluded, ‘Israel is not our main danger, our main problem.’ If you look at the Hezbollah war, in 2006, Arabs silently hoped that Israel would finish the job, and were very disappointed when they failed to do so. That continues now. Obviously, they don’t come out strongly in support of Israel — they wouldn’t do that. But there is, shall we say, a readiness to accommodate which did not exist in the past.”

Some time ago, Professor Lewis was paid an extraordinary compliment. One of his books was published in Arabic translation (unauthorized). It was published by the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, the book was published in Hebrew by the Israeli defense ministry — and, as Professor Lewis says, that is an interesting pairing: the Muslim Brothers and the Israeli defense ministry.

In his preface to the Arabic version, the translator said, “I don’t know who this author is, but one thing about him is clear: He is either a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case is one who has disdained to falsify the truth.”

An extraordinary compliment indeed.

blog comments powered by Disqus