Egypt’s Spiteful Boycott of Israel

Egypt’s interim prime minister literally broke into tears over the weekend trying to convey just how bad the country’s economy has gotten. Not a small part of that economic crisis is grounded in Egypt’s spiteful economic campaign against Israel, which has seen Cairo sever most of its industrial and agriculture ties with Jerusalem:

[Israeli] officials, sounding cool, noted that there were precious few relations left to break, since Egypt had long been severing ties to punish Israel for refusing to yield to the Palestinians in the peace process. Egyptian-Israeli agricultural schemes long ago ground to a halt. Factories with Israeli links that had profited from tariff-free exports to the United States have shut. Since Egypt’s revolution began in January, Israeli tourists have virtually stopped coming. This year Egyptian militants have blown up a pipeline pumping Egyptian gas to Israel nine times.

Despite facing an economic downturn of generational proportions, the Egyptian government even banned palm frond exports ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot this year. The fronds are ceremonially necessary during the holiday, and Israel used to import 700,000 per year from Egypt. Not in 2011.

Just in case there are any agricultural ties left, by the by, Minister of Agriculture Mohamed Reda Ismail wants you to know he’ll be eliminating them. During a recent public discussion on the potential harms of pesticides, he took a detour to assure Egyptians that “if I knew [of any] Israeli experts working in the agricultural field in Egypt, I will fire them immediately” (Arabic; Google Translate).

Israel is of course a global leader in agricultural innovation but – again – the Egyptian government has its priorities. Petulant anti-Israel campaigning first. Feeding Egyptians second.

The last Egyptian minister of Agriculture scapegoated Israel for the E. Coli-infected Egyptian farm exports that killed 48 Germans and a Swede. The current one is willing to give up on growing more food so he can indulge in Israel-bashing. And the next one is likely to be an out-and-out Islamist.

I’m beginning to worry that things in Egypt aren’t getting better.