Within the American news cycle, the front-and-center story about Egypt has three areas of interest: What will it mean for Egypt? What will it mean for the United States (read: security and oil prices)? And what will it mean for Israel? Wolf Blitzer seems to use these on CNN almost religiously as if it were his lecture outline.
A couple of things most Americans may not realize: Egypt has been America's most reliable Arab ally in the region. In exchange for billions of dollars of aid, Egypt has supported almost every American interest in the area, from the pursuit of terrorists to the war in Iraq. But Egypt also realizes that America has an interest in Israel's security. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 following the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords led by Jimmy Carter. Since then, Egypt has been a benign neighbor on Israel's southern border. From Israel's point of view, its southern border has been pacified.
Even during the massive Israeli bombing of Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 when more than one thousand Arabs were killed, Egypt offered muted complaints. But here is the real catch: Egypt controls a border with Gaza. The town of Rafah is a border crossing and in Gaza's most desperate moments, Egypt has refused to permit regular aid or rearmament of the Gaza Strip. Just last year, some of my friends and students participated in a march on the Egyptian side of the border demanding that food and medicine be brought in. It failed. One of my students was arrested.
But what if a government comes to power in Cairo that refuses to do America's bidding? What if they see the astonishing treatment of Gaza's 2.3 million desperate people as a major moral issue? What if they fully open the border at Rafah? As one Israeli put it: This would be Israel's worst nightmare.
No one wants to see Gaza armed and aggressive in a way that would set off another Israel bombing attack. But in light of Israel's neglect and hostility, many would like to see Gaza developed. And this may be Egypt's new interest. How will America react? And if Rafah opens, what will be the Israeli response?
Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is the author of numerous books both on the Middle East (Jesus and the Land, Whose Land? Whose Promise) and the New Testament (Jesus the Middle Eastern Story Teller, The New Testament in Antiquity, and Encounters with Jesus).