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Analysts Expect Little Effect of Egypt's Decision to Curtail Relations with Israel - 2002-04-04

Egypt's decision to limit direct contacts with Israel followed a week of sometimes violent pro-Palestinian protests demanding action against Israel. But political analysts in Egypt say the government's decision will do little to quell Egyptian anger over Israel's military offensive in Palestinian-controlled areas.

Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but the relationship between the two countries has been chilly. In November of 2000, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest the Israeli handling of the Palestinian intifada, and many Egyptian businesses ceased their cooperation with Israel.

Egypt has been under pressure to sever ties with Israel, following Israeli's offensive against Palestinian-controlled areas. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the offensive last week in response to a series of deadly suicide attacks, saying Israel is in a war against terrorism.

For the past week, there have been angry, and sometimes violent, demonstrations on many college campuses in Egypt. Across the street from Cairo University, several American businesses were destroyed by angry protesters who were demanding the government take harsh action against Israel.

Fahmy Howeidi is a political columnist for Egypt's government-run newspaper, al Ahram. He says the government's decision only to limit, not sever, ties with Israel might end up increasing Egyptian anger. "The people... feel that the only action, which can satisfy their anger, is to cut the relations with the Israelis, at the least," he explains. "This is the minimum."

Walid Kazziha teaches political science at American University in Cairo. He agrees public anger will not be calmed by the government's decision, which he believes is intended to tell Israel that Egypt is running out of patience. "It sends a message to Israel that the limits of the Egyptian position are being rapidly reached," he said. "The next step, I would imagine, would be severing diplomatic relations, which is not a great plus for Israel, if... Sharon's administration is really and sincerely interested in becoming friendly with the Arab regimes around it."

Responding to Egypt's decision, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying he "regrets the decision, because more contacts would be better than fewer, right now."

But Tashin Beshir is a former Egyptian ambassador to Canada and also was spokesman for the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Mr. Beshir says, short of completely severing relations with Israel, Egypt's move will have little influence on the Israeli government. "Israel is not listening to President Bush," he added. "So these little steps are only mild - local - expressions of our displeasure, but they don't amount to much."

The Egyptian government has so far resisted calls to completely sever ties, which it maintains can be used to influence policy.