Gaza’s agony is Egypt’s calling for change

Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi can, and has rea­son, to turn the city of wrath into a com­mer­cial oa­sis and en­gine of peace

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By AMOTZ ASA-EL www.Mid­dleIs­

‘Man fears time, and time fears the pyra­mids,” goes an Arab say­ing that salutes the im­pos­ing struc­tures’ longevity, and ridicules their ten­ants’ hope to avoid death.

Cu­ri­ously, the pharaohs who hoped to defy time were suc­ceeded by Greeks who de­fied space. That is how Alexan­der the Great built Alexan­dria, mak­ing the pre­vi­ously in­su­lar Egyp­tians look north, to their Mediter­ranean shore and to the foreign world that sprawled beyond it.

“Con­sider the world as your coun­try, where the best will gov­ern re­gard­less of tribe,” Alexan­der told his lieu­tenants in 324 BCE, thus pi­o­neer­ing the first era of glob­al­iza­tion, in which Alexan­dria would be­come the heart­beat of a tri-con­ti­nen­tal civ­i­liza­tion.

Egypt would later re­peat­edly re­vert to its founders’ in­tro­ver­sion, most fate­fully in the 1580s, when one Ot­toman fac­tion scut­tled a ri­val fac­tion’s plan to link the Mediter­ranean and Red seas by dig­ging a canal at Suez.

The ones who would re­open Egypt to the outer world would be Chris­tian for­eign­ers – first Napoleon, who de­feated a lo­cal army at the pyra­mids’ foothills, and then the Euro­pean en­trepreneurs who carved the Suez Canal.

Now, an Egyptian leader has an op­por­tu­nity to be­come the first lo­cally bred Alexan­der, one who would re­de­fine his coun­try as the ful­crum of a brave new era. The man is Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi, and his op­por­tu­nity lies in Gaza.

MON­DAY’S VI­O­LENCE in Gaza left Is­raelis throw­ing up their arms in de­spair.

Say what you will about how Is­rael treats its enemies, there is no ar­gu­ing the Jewish state goes out of its way to pro­tect its own cit­i­zens, of­ten at great risks and ex­or­bi­tant costs. Gaza has just dis­played this at­ti­tude’s per­fect in­ver­sion.

The sight of youngsters be­ing bussed for pay to their en­emy’s border and then thrust to­ward its gun bar­rels by lead­ers who them­selves hide in bunkers – made us feel Ha­mas’s moral bank­ruptcy has never been more com­plete and peace could not be more dis­tant.

What have we not tried? First we in­vited Gazans to work in Is­rael. Then we built an in­dus­trial zone at Erez. Then we opened an air­port at Dhaniya. And fi­nally, we pulled out some 10,000 civil­ians and troops, only to see that coastal swath turn into a mil­i­ta­rized pow­der keg.

Last fall, we watched Pales­tinian Author­ity Prime Min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah land in Gaza, hop­ing his much-her­alded visit would be fol­lowed by some civic de­liv­ery. A road­side bomb near his mo­tor­cade in March put an end to that, leav­ing Gaza to lan­guish in its squalor, self-pity and de­spair.

Now, fac­ing Euro­pean and Amer­i­can crit­ics, not to men­tion Turks who count Gazan bod­ies at the fence and cite their num­ber as proof of our “crimes” – a logic by which Ger­many was the moral side in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain be­cause the Luft­waffe lost many more pi­lots than the Brits – many of us feel alone in this war.

Well we are not alone.

WITH US in this show­down are Arab lead­ers who re­al­ize Gaza’s mess is no longer about na­tion­al­ism or free­dom, but about fun­da­men­tal­ism and gen­eral trou­ble­mak­ing which can eas­ily torch Arab cities else­where.

That is why Egypt played such an ef­fec­tive role in quelling this week’s may­hem.

Seen from Pres­i­dent Sisi’s win­dow, Ha­mas is an off­shoot of, and in­spi­ra­tion for, the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that is his neme­sis. That – and no pro-Is­raeli sen­ti­ment – is what made Egyptian in­tel­li­gence force Ha­mas’s re­treat from the fence.

The Egyp­tians, then, bring both mo­ti­va­tion and clout to the Gaza cri­sis that threat­ens them no less than it threat­ens us. What they lack is a plan, a vi­sion that would of­fer Gaza’s young adults – 65% of them job­less – an al­ter­na­tive to fun­da­men­tal­ist es­capism.

So here’s a blueprint for an Egyptian plan:

Build a Riviera of ho­tels and re­sorts to Gaza’s im­me­di­ate west, along the sparsely set­tled north­ern Si­nai’s pris­tine, 270 km-long coast­line; sprin­kle farms be­hind them, and fac­to­ries beyond the farms; re­store the de­funct railway be­tween Gaza and Port Said, and ad­mit through it daily thou­sands of Gazans to work in the new fac­to­ries, farms and re­sorts along the re­ac­ti­vated railway be­fore climb­ing the train to com­mute back home.

On both sides of the Egyptian-Gazan border, north of Rafah, build a jointly run sea­port, and use it to ex­port Gaza’s re­dou­bled pro­duce and man­u­fac­tures, much the way the an­cient Egyp­tians did west of here, when their ships sailed past the ma­jes­tic, 40-ft. tall Light­house of Alexan­dria.

This de­vel­op­ment drive’s ini­tial phase can be com­pleted within sev­eral years, and im­me­di­ately put to work all of Gaza. The con­se­quent cap­i­tal in­flows will then fuel Gaza’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, be­gin­ning with a mod­ern sewage sys­tem, new power sta­tions, a chain of de­sali­na­tion plants and wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sta­tions, and then pro­ceed­ing to roads, side­walks, schools, hous­ing projects and shop­ping cen­ters.

For now, Egypt is merely treat­ing the symp­toms of Gaza’s po­lit­i­cal dis­ease, pas­sively watch­ing its pas­sions sim­mer and then help­ing put the lid back on it once its wrath boils over.

De­vel­op­ing north­ern Si­nai would re­boot the Mid­dle East, much the way Sisi is striv­ing to rein­vent Egypt by launch­ing am­bi­tious eco­nomic re­forms, hous­ing projects and fam­ily plan­ning pro­grams de­signed to defuse Egypt’s pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion.

North­ern Si­nai’s de­vel­op­ment would not only sal­vage Gaza, and it would not only be­come a cat­a­lyst of Egyptian pros­per­ity; it would re­store Egypt’s sta­tus as a re­gional leader; it would place it in a po­si­tion to bro­ker new Pales­tinian-Is­raeli ac­com­mo­da­tion; it would make it an en­gine of global tol­er­ance; and it would fash­ion Egypt as a paci­fy­ing al­ter­na­tive to med­dle­some Turkey and war­mon­ger­ing Iran.

Cut­ting the Si­nai-Gaza sea­port’s red rib­bon, and re­call­ing Ha­mas’s fallen rule, Sisi will then quote Alexan­der, the man who mar­ried the daugh­ter of his Per­sian en­emy Dar­ius, in the spirit of the great con­queror’s state­ment, “I do not dis­tin­guish among men as the nar­row-minded do.”

And then, look­ing west to north­ern Si­nai’s un­fold­ing Riviera and in­dus­trial plants; and east, to Gaza’s emerg­ing of­fice tow­ers, recre­ational parks and sea­side prom­e­nade, the Egyptian pres­i­dent will say: “Gazans, Egyp­tians, Arabs – con­sider the world as your coun­try.”

(Ibra­heem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

PALES­TINI­ANS WAIT to pass through the Rafah border cross­ing be­tween Egypt and Gaza.

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