The time seemed ripe for a project exploring the forces opposed to the peace process in Egypt. Much controversy had ensued from the famous "Copenhagen process" [1997], as the Egyptian intellectuals who went to Denmark to meet with their peace-seeking Israeli counterparts came under intense fire from the Egyptian media and political circles. The research project we undertook within this context - a summary of which is presented below - is limited to the academic trends in Egypt. It not only provided an opportunity to the Copenhagen group to articulate their views on the peace process and Israel, but also allowed other journalists, politicians, party leaders, activists, and public figures to express themselves on the issue.
We began by briefly examining the media, an important tool in shaping public opinion in Egypt, including the publications of various political parties and factions. From there we proceeded to compile a list of names of interviewees representing the various schools of thought on the subject. Four main ones emerged as the most outspoken: liberalism, Marxism, Nasserism, and Islamism. We then proceeded to synthesize the results of the interviews.
Our interviews dealt both with general and specific issues and outlooks. We asked each interviewee his/her vision of regional peace, the peace process, and normalization with Israel. We also asked about the perception of "the other," of Israeli society, and whether interviewees differentiated between Jew, Zionist, and Israeli, and, if so, how. This introduced a degree of sophistication and complexity and it was here that many interesting insights emerged, as personal reflections on what an "Israeli really was" usually impacted, if not defined, the interviewee's perception of the politics of the situation. We also were careful to distinguish between the notions of "peace," "peace process," and "normalization," as these concepts were and are very different things.
As for the categories presented above, they are by no means exhaustive, and cannot account for the idiosyncrasies of each particular system of thought. Indeed, there are significant differential factors within each trend and we should not fall into the trap of a rigid preconception of the position of each intellectual that falls within a given group. However, they are useful in establishing general guidelines and frameworks that, we noted, are very often utilized in articulating positions regarding peace with Israel, and aid in broadly differentiating between the plethora of views that exist regarding this issue.

The Islamists

First, it must be noted that the Islamist movement in the Arab world, in general, and in Egypt, in particular, is quite diverse, representing multiple ideological frameworks and paradigms. Thus, it is crucial to bear in mind that the opinion of one or several Islamists does not by any means account for the views of all Islamists. These views do not necessarily even represent the official stance of the group, which lacks such a unified platform or agenda. Perhaps what unifies all these groups and individuals is the transformation of the present Egyptian state into an Islamic one ruled by the Shar'iah (Islamic law). That said, Islamists differ in their vision of the politics of Islamization, representing precisely a microcosm of the diversity and dynamics of the movement as a whole.
When it comes to Israel, their views range from moderate criticism that invokes more "secular" arguments against the actions, or religious bases of the State of Israel, to more extreme views that perceive and express a doctrinal or religious enmity with the "Zionist entity." There is some basic criticism of Israel that all parties in the Islamist camp share among themselves and with the wider group of intellectuals we spoke to. First is the condemnation of the nuclear superiority and exclusive position Israel enjoys in the region, in addition to its ongoing projects of militarization and aggression both in the occupied territories and in the region as a whole. Second, Islamists, like many Nasserites, often link Israel with a Western-led conspiracy that aims to corrupt or impede the region's economic, political, or cultural development. This is seen, for example, in the widely circulated story in the Egyptian press, mostly by Islamists and nationalists, that Israel is out to undermine Egypt's major production, cotton, via the highly suspect bilateral agricultural cooperation and technological exchange between Egypt and Israel.
Beyond the basic criticism of Israel most Islamists share, there is a startling degree of variety among them in their respective diagnoses and prognoses regarding the situation. The moderate camp's critique is based on Israel's doctrinal and religious claims to the land. "God has not promised anyone anything," one Islamist told us. This is a striking remark, considering that many Islamists' own claims to the land of Palestine are religiously based. Many Islamists told us that in order to achieve peace, Israel must relinquish its doctrinal claim to the land, abolish its racist exclusivism, and eliminate discrimination based on ethnicity or religion. Israel must become a democratic secular state that grants equality to all its citizens, in which case the right to rule may be given to any citizen, Jewish or Muslim. Again, this seems to be a great concession made by what is often perceived as a very dogmatic, intolerant political force. Other more extreme points of view, however, assert that the struggle between the Arabs and Israel is ideological or doctrinal, not just political. Peace will be accomplished only when Arab- Muslim rule extends over the land, because the land is Muslim territory they must retrieve at any cost.

The Nasserites

The Nasserites tend to be more rigid and monolithic in their opinions. The most salient aspect of their discourse is the belief that the conflict is a zero-sum game. In other words they believe that there are no half solutions and no concessions to be made to the Israelis. A recurrent question that we found throughout the interviews was: How can one negotiate on one's right to the land? All of the land of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and no compromises should be made on this principle. As such, the struggle for the Nasserites is not one of borders but of existence. This naturally eliminates the two-state solution from their agenda and, most importantly, it implies a rejection of the present negotiations between the Arabs and the Israelis.
The so-called peace negotiations, for the Nasserites, are a mere tactic that the Israelis are using to secure and legitimize their economic and political superiority in the area. To this end, the Israelis want to impose normalization on the Arabs. Most of the Nasserites believe that the Israelis have no genuine intentions of achieving peace without securing their own interests at the expense of the Arabs. A further proof of that is the Israeli refusal to make concessions on Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and on the right of return or compensation of Palestine refugees. This is not a deal that is done between equal partners and will not achieve a just and comprehensive settlement. They frequently allude to the Camp David Accords, and the little benefit that Egyptians have reaped from it, except for the recuperation of Sinai. Political conditions have changed indeed, but the Nasserites maintain that the causes that have led to the present injustices against the Arabs still prevail.

The Liberals

We found a variety of opinions among the liberal academics who, by and large, believe that it is possible to arrive at a settlement with Israel, but that it is much harder to achieve a just resolution of the conflict. Most of them consider the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis humiliating to the Arabs, who were forced to make unnecessary concessions to accommodate Israel. However, the liberals emphasize that this is the only solution for the time being and that the Arabs should take maximum advantage of the present opportunities. In future arrangements, the liberals contend that it would be very hard to integrate Israel into the region politically and culturally. The reasons relate to a "psychological barrier" that would be very hard to overcome. Here again, the example of the Camp David Accords is used to demonstrate the uselessness of signing an agreement between leaders without psychological and political readiness on the popular level. All conditions have to be ripe for the conclusion of a comprehensive peace.
Like the Nasserites, the liberals believe that normalization for the Israelis means imposing their dictates on the Arabs, while refusing to pay a price for peace. Again, this is seen in Israel's unwillingness to stop settlement building and to deal with the sensitive issues such as the status of Jerusalem and refugees. They also warn of the continued Israeli nuclear build-up, which constitutes a threat to the whole region.
The liberals' predictions for the future are rather bleak. In the best-case scenario, they expect Palestine to become a weak, marginalized umbrella state for Israel. They do not necessarily equate peace with economic prosperity, and perceive all promises of economic development as a myth that has been propagated to entice the Arabs into concluding peace agreements with Israel. We can deduce from this that the liberals, in fact, believe there could be a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict provided that Israel changes its policy and accepts to make concessions. This will provide an atmosphere conducive to the conclusion of a just and lasting peace.

The Marxists

As mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to convey a unified Marxist conception of the peace process and normalization. There are a few positions, however, that are common to all. First, although most Marxists reject normalization in principle, this is conditioned on Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians and the Arabs. Normalization will naturally ensue, they say, once a real peace is realized. Second, most Marxists believe in the principle of establishing contacts with the progressive forces on the Israeli side. Third, most maintain that normalization is one of the few remaining bargaining tools that the Arabs hold for demanding concessions from Israel. Fourth, most Marxists condemn Sadat's unilateral peace initiative, which they consider as the first step that led to the general deterioration of the Arab condition, although they do recognize the exigencies of the changing political realities on the regional and international scenes over time. Finally, all Marxists view the resolution to the conflict as lying in the establishment of either one, or two democratic secular states existing side by side and not based on religious or racial discrimination. It is interesting to note that, to them, Arab dominance is not so much a crucial issue as is the question of a secular democratic state that treats its citizens equally, whether they are ruled by Jewish, Arab, Christian or Muslim forces. All Marxists regard the struggle as essentially political that has, over time, taken on other dimensions, such as religion, that were initially extraneous to the conflict. Naturally, most Marxists share the concept of Israel as a Western "capitalist agent." Most importantly, however, is the unanimous demand for justice. In some cases, the approach is pragmatic embodied in the withdrawal of Israeli forces to the 1967 borders; in other cases, it is the expectation of the dismantling of a racist state and the forging of a democratic, secular one instead.


In our research, several main themes have emerged. The first is the specificity of the position of Egyptian intellectuals regarding the peace process and normalization. It is grounded in and explained by Egypt's historic peace initiative launched in 1977 by president Anwar Sadat. Perhaps what is not prevalently discussed in this context is the extent to which president Sadat was isolated in his endeavor, with backing neither from Egyptian intellectuals, nor even from the masses. Most Egyptian intellectuals, at the time, believed that what this peace represented was Egypt's "letting down" of the Arabs, in general, and the Palestinians and their cause, in particular, especially given the historical devotion which Nasser had bequeathed to this sacred cause. The feeling of having betrayed the Palestinians persist today among the many intellectuals we spoke to, heightened by the realization that the economic prosperity and domestic reforms that Sadat had promised as fruits of peace did not, in fact, materialize. Thus, in some sense, Egyptian intellectuals feel responsible for the Palestinian predicament; they feel it is their own aborted cause which now they must dutifully and vigorously defend, in an attempt to rectify the mistakes and failures of the past.
Second, we noted the shifting of ideological paradigms among many intellectuals after the 1967 and, in some cases, the 1973 wars. A great number of them changed ideological orientation at a crucial historical juncture, mostly following the 1967 war. Many intellectuals who were Marxists, for example, turned Islamists, and some who were Islamists turned liberals. This reflects the intense shock and disillusionment that followed 1967, and the self-criticism, re-examination and re-evaluation that many Egyptians underwent. It seems as though a nation, or at least a part of it, went through a process of historical redress and purging of what after 1967 seemed to be shattered dreams, illusions, futile promises and empty rhetoric. In many cases, the intellectuals who had undergone a paradigm shift espoused their newfound ideologies with even more zeal. Many Marxists-turned-Islamists vehemently condemned and scorned the empty idealism of Marxism, or its "blasphemous atheism." Of course these changes cannot be simply explained by Egypt's own historical circumstances and the trauma of 1967; they are more accurately explained by the interplay of domestic, regional, and international changes and developments.
The categories discussed above, besides serving as a broad framework of academic and intellectual systematization, served to outline a historical process of ideological constructions, deconstructions, and reconstructions. These groups, which may have held somewhat unified stances in the past, have evolved, with their most prominent spokespeople now often operating outside the framework of an official party or political organization.
What is interesting to note is that some members within a given group are sometimes closer ideologically to a member of another group than to one within their own. Another interesting phenomenon is the growing similarity in rhetoric among the various political groups, and factions, especially among the Nasserites and Islamists. Both, for example, have espoused the famous slogan that "the struggle [with Israel] is not one of borders, but of existence." Islamists have recently had great success in getting closer to the opposition in Egypt, and there are suggestions that they have even succeeded in co-opting that opposition leading it to amend its discourse to include, if not to uphold, the principles of Islam in their political agenda.
The major differences we found between the various political groups were grounded in domestic politics that are ideologically and even personally motivated, based on the history of the groups' inter-relationship that transcend differences in broader political visions. Thus the variance in visions of peace should also be considered as context-specific.
Even though there were extremists calling for the dismantling of the "Zionist entity" in all schools of thought, these were the more intellectually and politically marginalized among all those we spoke to. As mentioned above, every school of thought displayed diversity, exceptions, and surprises to those who came in with preconceived notions. Among Islamists we interviewed, for example, some advocated the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Palestine that could be ruled by either Jews or Muslims. Among Marxists, we found those who advocated a very pragmatic approach to the whole conflict, and who accepted the conditions of the new world market. Among liberals, we found those who rejected the peace process in its present form altogether. The Nasserites were perhaps the only group that had a somewhat unified stance regarding the conflict, and, not surprisingly, they are regarded as one of the most politically stagnant groups on the Egyptian scene today.
Another interesting point relates to the target sample itself. It is usually assumed that the intelligentsia are at the forefront of historical changes in their respective societies and countries, and that their ideas have great impact on the forces of change within society at large. However, in many countries, especially the less democratic ones, this is not necessarily the case. First, intellectuals are often isolated from decision-making and power centers. Second, there may be a cleavage between the state, intellectuals, and the masses, as was alluded to by several of our interviewees. Frequently, intellectuals do not necessarily reflect the views of their country's masses, nor are they always aware of them. Recognizing the importance of intellectuals and academics in moving history forward, but simultaneously aware of their limitations in certain contexts, we suggest in the future that it might be useful to examine the particular case of every country, and to locate its real forces of change. Perhaps more grass-roots initiatives should be sought as well. These suggestions were seconded by the intellectuals with whom we spoke.
Finally, all groups agreed on certain basic principles: they include the rejection of Israel's privileged status as a nuclear power in the region. All of them strongly asserted the need for even-handedness on the part of the US and the international community in dealing with Israel on this issue. Second, all groups insisted on a crucial point that sums up the perception by many Arabs of the position of the State of Israel in the region. Everyone we spoke to believes that Israel regards itself as a superior force with a mission in the region, one of "enlightenment" that will lead the backward, war-ravaged, despondent region to progress. This attitude of superiority on the part of Israel underpins the reasons why Israel is perceived by the Arabs as a colonialist state or agent. All interviewees agreed that Israel must relinquish this superiority complex vis-à-vis the Arabs; it must cease to think of itself as "a light in a sea of darkness." The Israeli mentality must be transformed to view Arabs as equal citizens, equal partners that will together forge a common regional future and fate. Finally, all insisted that Israel must redress the grave historical injustice that has accompanied the establishment of the State of Israel, and meet the basic requirements in restoring to Arabs and Palestinians their forfeited rights and dignity.

This article is a condensed summary of a longer research paper completed in January 2000 and based on a research project undertaken in the fall of 1999. <

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