As I noted yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood is busily propagating conspiracy theories about Israeli guilt for Sunday’s terror attack in Sinai, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. But there’s a bright side to this story: For the first time ever, many Egyptians aren’t buying it.
True, dozens of demonstrators converged on the Israeli ambassador’s house Monday to demand his expulsion, asserting that Israel was to blame. But the real mob scene occurred at the slain soldiers’ funerals – where crowds chanted slogans denouncing not Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood, and physically attacked a representative of the Brotherhood-led government, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil.
Nor did the media blindly regurgitate the usual conspiracy theories of Israeli guilt: They duly reported the Egyptian military’s assertion that the attack was perpetrated by terrorists from Sinai aided by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Prominent Egyptian commentators even criticized the army for ignoring the intelligence warning Israel had shared, and President Mohammed Morsi for pardoning thousands of radical Islamists and freeing them from jail. And both in television interviews and on social media sites, many ordinary Egyptians blamed the attack not on Israel, but on Morsi, for having reopened the Gaza-Egypt border.
Moreover, the outrage shifted the balance of power between the army and the Brotherhood in the cabinet, enabling the army’s representative, Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to force Morsi to seal the Egypt-Gaza border “indefinitely,” just days after having triumphantly reopened it. The army also poured troops accompanied by bulldozers into the Gaza border region to begin sealing the Gaza-Sinai smuggling tunnels – a step Israel had long pleaded for in vain. It even launched its first-ever air strikes on suspected terrorists in Sinai.
Finally, the public outrage seems to have emboldened Egyptian liberals: Former parliamentarian Mohammed Abu Hamed, for instance, launched a blistering attack on Morsi in which he even took the courageous step of defending the peace with Israel.
“The president bears responsibility for this [Sunday’s attack], which was caused by actions his government has taken recently, such as opening the crossings and giving amnesty for Islamist detainees,” Abu Hamed told his followers via Facebook.
“These exceptional measures, which allowed the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip without any security measures, allowed the entry of a large number of extremist religious groups from al-Qaeda and others to Sinai in addition to the elements of Hamas,” Abu Hamed charged. “It is known that these groups have beliefs and ideas of jihadists who are seeking to involve Egypt in a new conflict with Israel. This is in addition to the president-elect’s decision to release a number of extremists, some of them facing death sentences… which is spreading extremist ideas again in breach of the peace agreement, something that is not in the public interest.”
There’s no guarantee any of this will last: Anti-Israel incitement has been the norm in Egypt for decades, and anti-Israel sentiment runs deep. But if Sunday’s attack proves the start of a process that leads ordinary Egyptians to reevaluate who their real enemies are, that would be an enormous boon not only for Israel, but for the prospects of a lasting Middle East peace.