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Israeli President Shimon Peres Shimon Peres
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Alexandria Synagogue

Rev Majid El-Shafi

El-al to Stop Flights to Cairo, first time since Israel-Egypt Peace treaty

by Rhonda Spivak, September 21, 2012

If you want to get a taste of just how much Egyptian-Israeli relations have really deteriorated, look to the skies. Israelis are clearly too afraid to visit Cairo.

For the first time since the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed, El Al has indicated that it is about to stop its weekly flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo due to the enormous operational costs and a shortage of passengers.

As reported in the Times of Israel ,The Israeli airline’s CEO Eliezer Shkedi wrote in a letter to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman that maintaining the flights involves enormous operational and security resources that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

"In the absence of a business justification, and in light of the financial resources involved in providing this service, El Al is unable to continue to bear the burden these heavy costs and therefore our intention is to end the service to Cairo immediately," Shkedi wrote.

El Al has operated a weekly flight between Tel Aviv and Cairo for over 30 years, since the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. However, following the ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak a year and a half ago, it reduced the service to a bare minimum as fewer and fewer people are traveling the route.

Ma'ariv reported that officials fear that if El Al ceases its flights, they may not be returned for a very long time, similar to the situation of the Israeli embassy in Cairo which still has not opened after it was attacked by an Egyptian mob last year.

According to a source which spoke to Ma'ariv, the Israeli Embassy has not been able to re-open in Cairo since they are unable to find a commercial landlord that is willing to rent to them space for offices.

According to the Times of Israel, Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Levanon has said that Israel has proposed a number of alternative offices in Cairo, but the Egyptians are stalling in re-opening the embassy.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is simply not interested in normalization," Levanon told The Times of Israel.

Shkedi suggested that if the Israeli Foreign Ministry is interested in maintaining the flight service to Cairo, the government will need to give significant financial resources required to continue flights.

A Jerusalem official told Israeli Army Radio that keeping the route operating had diplomatic importance and that it was in Israel’s interest to do so.

Levanon told the Times of Israel that, today, aside from the very bare minimum of diplomatic relations, the peace accords between Israel and Egypt are "empty." He says that cultural exchanges pursuant to the peace accords are non-existent, and Egyptian visitors to the Israeli Embassy or the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo are questioned by the intelligence services.

He summed up the situation by saying, "With Mubarak, at least, we always had an open door. Now, we don’t."

Regarding the uncertain future of the treaty with Egypt, read the Egypt Independent "Amending Treaty with Israel A Matter of Time" (Sept 19)

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi himself won't even utter the word "Israel" since he has been elected. It's too taboo for him. In August Morsi sent a letter to “Shimon Perez,” thanking Peres for his Ramadan good wishes, and said positive things about the need for regional security and stability, including for the Israeli people. But then hours after news of the letter spread, Morsi’s office denied that he’d been corresponding with Peres at all:

I must say that I, for one, have not been surprised by the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the course of events ever since I interviewed  Rev. Majed el-Shafie, an Egyptian human rights advocate who essentially predicted what would happen following the overthrow of Mubarak in  February 2012. The article I wrote then which  appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Monday Feb. 14:, is worth reprinting now so readers can be reminded of  just how clearly some analysts, unlike the Obama administration, were able to foresee what was going to happen. 


by Rhonda Spivak, February 14, 2012

Rev. Majed el-Shafie, an Egyptian Muslim who converted to Christianity and was tortured and condemned to death, fears that the current upheaval in Egypt will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shafie is alive today because he managed to escape Egypt and get to Israel by driving a jet-ski from Taba in Sinai to Eilat in 1998.

Rev. Shafie, who was eventually given political asylum in Canada and now lives in Toronto, is the president and founder of the largest human rights organization monitoring events in Egypt, known as One Free World International, El-Shafie Ministries.

His organization, which monitors violations in Egypt and other Arab states against the Christian minority, has 24,000 people in Egypt alone updating him on the situation on the ground there.

“We have people all throughout Egypt who are informants letting us know what is really going on there.

Many of these people are volunteers who do this because they believe in it. But others are Egyptians, including some who work in the police and the army, who take bribes to be an informant. That is how we do it.”

According to Shafie, “the Muslim Brotherhood has used the demonstrations in Egypt to advance its agenda. They are going street to street, door to door asking people to go out to demonstrate... They want a hand in the new government. They are being more aggressive, more active, are coming out in full power.”

Shafie says that the Muslim Brotherhood is popular with the poor, illiterate people of Egypt “because they provide the basic food and necessities to them... The Muslim Brotherhood is very wealthy. They own supermarkets in Egypt and they get funds from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.”

He believes that if elections are held in Egypt in the near future, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely come to power.

Shafie, 34, was born a Muslim in Cairo to a distinguished family of lawyers and judges. He was exposed at an early age, through a Christian friend, to hatred toward the Christian minority in Egypt. He decided to convert to Christianity and subsequently wrote a book about it. As a result, he became an outcast and a victim of oppression.

He began a mission to insure that the Christians in Egypt had all the same legal rights as the Muslim community there. After beginning a ministry which built two churches, a Bible school and a medical clinic, he established a newspaper to request that the Egyptian government grant equal rights to the Christian community.

The government did not tolerate this, and Shafie was arrested in 1998 and taken to the torture section of the Abu Zaabel prison in Cairo.

“I was jailed at Abu Zaabel jail and tortured for seven days, and then put under house arrest for three months... After receiving the death penalty, I escaped from house arrest and hid with a Beduin family for two months in Sinai.

“Then I went to the Hilton hotel in Taba, [near the border with Israel] and I stole a jet-ski and landed in front of the Princess Hotel in Eilat, in Israel... It was about a three-minute ride on the jet-ski,” he said.

But when he got to Eilat, Shafie was imprisoned again – this time by Israeli authorities because the government did not know what to do in his circumstances. Legally, he could not stay in Israel; but if they sent him back to Egypt, he would be executed.

“I was in an Israeli prison because under the peace treaty with Egypt, they couldn’t take me in,” he said.

He stayed in prison in Israel for “one year, three months, 15 days, 12 hours and 24 minutes. When you are in prison you count every minute.”

Shafie was eventually released through the assistance of the UN, Amnesty International and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which managed to obtain political asylum for him in Canada, where he emigrated and became a citizen in 2006.

Shafie, who founded as One Free World International, El-Shafie Ministries in 2004, cautioned that the United States should not support Mohamed ElBaradei’s attempt to become the leader to replace Mubarak, as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would “ride to power on his coattails.”

He said, “I am concerned that under the current circumstances, Mubarak’s abrupt departure will create a political vacuum, which will be filled by Islamic extremists. The West appears to be embracing Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the UN nuclear inspection agency, as a replacement for Mubarak. This is of serious concern as ElBaradei, in addition to betraying heavy anti-Israel sentiment through his actions at the UN agency, is communicating with the Muslim Brotherhood, [which has up to now been] a banned Islamic extremist movement, in order to actively involve the Brotherhood in the future political landscape of Egypt.”

Shafie noted that ElBaradei has said he intends to include the Muslim Brotherhood, which he has referred to as “an integral part of Egyptian society,” in the political process, and that ElBaradei has called the Brotherhood “a conservative group that favors secular democracy and human rights.”

Many Western news outlets have adopted the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative, nonviolent movement. But, Shafie countered: “Nothing could be further from the truth. While it officially renounces violence, the Muslim Brotherhood is the ideological parent of terrorist movements such as Hamas and al-Qaida. Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are behind daily forced conversion attempts, violent attacks, and torture against Egyptian Christians. The Brotherhood cooperates with Hamas in Gaza and [its] leaders are determined to launch war against Israel.”

“This is a very serious matter and we cannot, under any circumstances, allow the Muslim Brotherhood to increase its influence in Egypt. To do so would be to condemn the Egyptian people, from Christians and other religious minorities to moderate and secular Muslims, to a regime of oppression and religious tyranny that will make Mubarak’s repressive regime seem like a beacon of freedom.”

Shafie said that in Egypt there are “daily persecutions” by Muslim extremists of the Christian population, which makes up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

For example, he said that on January 30, a week after the demonstrations began, not far from Cairo, members of two Christian families were killed in a brutal attack by Muslim extremists.

“They were randomly killed... Muslim extremists took advantage of the fact that with all the ongoing chaos there were no police around,” Shafie said. But, he notes, “this was not widely reported in the mainstream Western media.”

According to Shafie, the two families were killed by “Jamt Islamiya,” a group that “was born out of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Shafi believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, they “will say at the outset that they respect the treaty with Israel, but then shortly afterwards they will say they want to reform the agreement.”

Shafie is of the view that “Obama needs to work with the Egyptian army and Omar Suleiman, as democracy can’t occur tomorrow.

The regime needs to be supported until Suleiman can reform the constitution and educate the people, and allow freedom of the media, freedom of speech and work toward a free election.”

When asked how long he felt would be needed before a free election could take place in Egypt, Shafie answered, “Five years from now, there should be an election...

Democracy in Egypt is an infant – it needs to learn to crawl before it can learn to walk.”

Shafie has family in Egypt but “is not in communication with them since they disowned me after I converted to Christianity.” He emphasized that “the people of Egypt have been living ‘in darkness’ under a dictatorship for 30 years – you can’t expect them to adjust to the light right away.”

“Thirty percent of the population is illiterate – they can’t read and write their own name – you can’t give them absolute democracy in the beginning, because it’s easy for them to turn to extremism. The United States and other countries should support Omar Suleiman. We need slow change.

“Democracy as we know it in the West cannot simply be transplanted into Egypt, a country that has never experienced any form of true democracy.

Democracy cannot survive where people cannot read their own constitution. It must be taught, nurtured and brought to maturity so that it can flourish.”

If there were elections now, Shafie says the Muslim Brotherhood would win because they are “the most organized group.” In his view, any transitional or new government under Suleiman “will be playing with fire by including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He is also concerned that if democracy is brought to Egypt too quickly, “we will see the same scenario that we saw in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006, where Hamas won the elections,” or we risk “repeating the Iranian scenario, where pro-democracy forces deposed the shah in 1979 but were quickly overcome by the radical Islamic ayatollahs.”

He noted, “When Egypt had elections in 2005, even though they were rigged, the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 out of 454 seats in the Egyptian parliament. The Brotherhood really got more than 88 seats; but once they got 88 seats, the regime shut down the elections completely.”

Regarding Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, Shafie said that the peace was not one that was really between people.

“It was a cold peace that the Egyptians entered into [in order] to get money from the Americans,” he said. “There is no love lost between Egypt and Israel.”

He said Mubarak’s regime was supporting Hamas under the table by enabling the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza.

There are reasons for Israel to be concerned about developments in Egypt.

“There is now a whole well equipped army in Egypt [due to American support Egypt received after entering into the peace agreement with Israel]. It is a built-up modernized army that could in the future be at war with Israel.”

Shafie said that unlike Egypt, the Arab gulf states are stable, even though there is no democracy there “because the people are wealthy.” He said that “Saudi Arabia has a higher standard of living than Egypt.”

In Egypt, due to Mubarak’s corrupt regime, Shafie said, “the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class is disappearing. The average Egyptian salary is under $2 a day.”






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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.