Unconfirmed reports that Israel will soon reopen its consulate in Alexandria have touched off anger from anti-normalization activists in the coastal city.
The London-based Al-Araby al-Jadeed website quoted a source in the security directorate of Alexandria as saying that the naming of an Israeli consul in the city is imminent, and that new security precautions have been taken there following a visit last month by Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, David Govrin. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Jerusalem Post that the report was “premature.”
He said Govrin had met with members of the tiny Jewish community, visited its Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue and met the governor of Alexandria during his visit.(David Govrin, Israel’s new Ambassador to Egypt)
Al-Araby al-Jadeed said Govrin also met with Coptic church leaders and businessmen and visited the Alexandria library, after being given security approval to do so by Egyptian authorities. The website reported that security approval had also been given for reopening the consulate. Nahshon said it had been closed some time before a mob ransacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in September 2011. In April and May of that year, after the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, crowds of hundreds, and at time thousands, of anti-Israel protesters would gather near the Israeli Consulate in Alexandria.
Govrin’s ability to expand his purview in Alexandria is another sign of the improvement in bilateral ties under president Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, who took power in a military coup in 2013. But many Egyptians are unhappy about this and view the government’s more positive stance toward Israel as a betrayal of the Palestinians. Al-Araby al-Jadeed quoted Mohammed Abdul-Tawab, an activist in Alexandria, as saying, “The mere walking of the Israeli ambassador in the streets of Alexandria is a severe provocation against the feelings of the citizens, requiring the intervention of the security apparatus to guard him and impose a security ring around all his movements.” Worse than that, Abdul-Tawab added, is the prospect of an Israeli “becoming a resident in headquarters on city land, and raising the flag of his country that rapes and occupies Palestine.”
Haitham Hariri, a member of the Egyptian parliament from Alexandria, said there is “no justification” for closer relations with Israel. He said Israel is not sincere about peacemaking or returning occupied territory, and continues to build settlements while not respecting international decisions on the Palestinian issue. “Cairo should pressure Israel more, not reopen closed consulates,” he said.
Kamal Ahmad, another MP, said that reopening the consulate would “not constitute a threat to the Egyptian state.”
“It is a natural step in light of diplomatic relations between the countries” and does not signify the relinquishing of Arab territory, he said, adding that while parliament and trade unions should reject normalization, the government has to maintain the peace treaty because of Egypt’s international commitments.
Israel reopened its embassy in Cairo a year ago after it was closed for four years in the wake of the rioting, during which six staffers were rescued by Egyptian commandos following the intervention of US President Barack Obama.
Govrin presented his credentials to Sisi in August. Last month, Sisi reportedly applauded the level of security cooperation between Egypt and Israel during a closed meeting with Jewish leaders in New York. The Post quoted foreign reports as saying that the IDF’s intelligence unit 8200 is assisting Egyptian forces to collect and decipher information on ISIS in Sinai.
But Sisi’s stance appears to go beyond strictly security matters. In May, Israeli officials voiced satisfaction with the introduction to Egyptian schools of a ninth-grade textbook that requires pupils to memorize provisions of the 1979 peace treaty and delineate “the advantages of peace for Egypt and the Arab states,” which was seen as an improvement over the more sterile treatment of the peace treaty in books from the era of Mubarak.