- Egypt is in the northwest corner of Africa. It’s the Arab world’s most populous country—87 percent of its people are Muslim. Its capital is Cairo. A part of Egypt called the Sinai Peninsula connects to western Asia, where Egypt and Israel share a border.
- Israel is a western Asian country on the east shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Its government reports that a majority of its citizens are Jewish.
- In a building in Cairo, Israel has an embassy where Israel’s ambassador to Egypt and other diplomats work.
- Egyptian demonstrators: These are Egyptian citizens who are not happy with Egypt’s relations with Israel, among other things like the way new governors were selected. Many young and politically involved citizens are unhappy. But many of the 3,000 responsible for recent incidents are described as Ultras—tough, often violent soccer fans.
- Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF): This group of Egyptian military leaders is currently in charge in Egypt. The former president, Hosni Mubarak, gave them power after protesters urged him to leave. According to Egypt’s state website, SCAF consists of 18 military leaders. They made changes to Egypt’s constitution and plan to hold elections by November. They also appointed new governors, and political analysts and protestors who kicked Mubarak out weren’t happy with their selection.
- Benjamin Netanyahu: He’s the Prime Minister of Israel. He’s been called stubborn and resilient in the face of recent Middle Eastern unrest.
- Palestinian/Israeli conflict: Jewish Israelis and Islamic Palestinians have been fighting over land in Israel since the early 1900’s.
The Palestinians claim that since they were there before Israelis, they deserve the land. However, both Jews and Muslims have important religious reasons for wanting to live there. Different settlement plans have been proposed by different groups, but conflict continues. The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics says Israel is more than 75 percent Jewish and almost 17 percent Muslim. But some Palestine supporters don’t trust those numbers.
This conflict has contributed to the traditional tension between Israel and the Arab world.
- 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty: Egypt and Israel signed this treaty after decades’ worth of conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab nations. It ended the war, and it said that both countries would keep troops out of the Sinai Peninsula. The US agreed to fund Egypt’s military if Egypt stuck to this treaty.
- Sinai Peninsula Attacks: In August 2011, attackers crossed into Israel from Egypt, killed 8 Israelis and hurt 30 more. The attackers came from the Sinai Peninsula, but no one is sure of whom they were associated with. Some people said their actions showed the world that SCAF wasn’t good at ruling its people.
- Israelis struck back. The ensuing fight killed three Egyptian border guards, which angered the protesters that kicked Mubarak out. They thought SCAF should bring Egypt’s ambassador in Israel home and make Israel’s ambassador in Egypt go home. SCAF didn’t do this because they wanted to maintain peaceful relationships with Israel, perhaps to keep getting US military funding.
- On September 9, 2011, Egyptian demonstrators attacked the Israeli embassy building. They knocked down the wall surrounding it and went inside, where they threw documents out of windows.
The Israeli ambassador and 85 other diplomats weren’t hurt. Some say they were escorted out by the Egyptian military and flown home to Israel, but others think the Egyptian military didn’t help in their escape. The military also tried to stop the demonstrators, but not until they knocked the wall down. Some people think the military let this happen on purpose, to make the demonstrators look worthy of harsher discipline, or maybe even to justify postponing elections.
Repercussions and Future:
- Egypt-Israel relations were already tense. Now, things are looking even tenser. Israeli diplomats, officials, and Netanyahu have condemned the attacks. But the US and other countries might be getting frustrated with Netanyahu’s stubborn attitude, leaving Israel disadvantaged in its foreign relations.
Netanyahu also discussed what the attacks might say about SCAF’s ability to govern, suggesting along with others that they have little control. SCAF has vowed to change this by using emergency law, which allows for increased policing and suspension of constitutional rights.
This has sparked talk of more protests. Protesters wanted Mubarak to leave Egypt because he was ruling under emergency law. They feel like Egypt is drifting into the same situation again.