Eric Trager, to whom I linked in my previous post, has a piece in TNR on the mob attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo last Friday, where he reminds us that Egyptian rage against Israel is not driven by “pro-Palestinian concerns” but rather by the sad fact that
Egyptians overwhelmingly hate Israel for wholly Egyptian reasons: Despite 32 years of peace under the Camp David Accords, Egyptian national pride remains tied to the country’s previous wars with the Jewish state. It’s therefore all too predictable that the groundswell in Egyptian nationalism that ousted Hosni Mubarak this spring has been accompanied by an equally powerful surge in anti-Israeli sentiment.
THE VALORIZATION OF WAR with Israel is something that millions of Egyptians experience everyday as they drive over the 6th of October Bridge, one of Cairo’s busiest thoroughfares that was named for the date on which Egypt attacked Israel to launch the 1973 war. Meanwhile, approximately 500,000 Egyptians have left the congestion of Cairo for October 6th City to the southwest, which is home to October 6th University, and an additional 140,000 Egyptians now live in 10th of Ramadan City, which is named for the equivalent date on the Islamic calendar and houses the 10th of Ramadan University. Cairene schoolchildren, for their part, visit the October War Panorama, where they are taught that Egyptian forces defeated the “enemy” in the 1973 war
The 1973 war—which is viewed in Egypt as a victory—is central in the national narrative but does not entirely explain the deeply ingrained hostility toward Israel by Egyptians. Of all the wars that Egypt has fought with Israel, the one that no doubt confirmed the iniquity—as ordinary Egyptians see it—of the Israelis was the 1967 to 1970 War of Attrition. During these three years, Israeli artillery and bombers strafed and napalmed the Suez canal zone, sending several hundred thousand residents of Suez city fleeing and killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers on a single day, among others. Failing to put an end to the Egyptian artillery barrages against IDF positions across the canal and in the Sinai, the Israelis launched deep-penetration bombing raids in the Nile delta and around Cairo, striking targets of military value but, in view of Egypt’s population density, with the inevitable “collateral damage,” which was high. The worst was the April 8, 1970, IAF bombing of an elementary school—mistaken for a military target—in Bahr al-Baqar (50 km NW of Ismailia), which killed 47 schoolchildren (and was, not surprisingly, well-reported in the local media; e.g. see above). Such events do get seared into the collective memory. According to Benny Morris, around 10,000 Egyptians—civilian and military—were killed during the War of Attrition. That’s a lot. Israel, in fact, suffered more casualties during this period than in the Six-Day War in 1967, but they were all soldiers and who were occupying Egyptian territory (territory that Israel made clear, at the time, it would never return to Egypt in its entirety, even with a peace agreement). A large number of the Egyptian casualties, on the other hand, were civilians.
This is not to justify what happened in Cairo last week, nor to apologize for the anti-Semitic rhetoric in Egyptian public life that fans the flames of the toxic hatred of Israel there. But, following from Trager, there is a recent historical basis for it.