President of Egypt Al-Sisi
President of Egypt Al-Sisi Reuters

Is the cold peace between Israel and Egypt that has existed since the Camp David summit in 1979 finally over? It’s hard to tell since the bulk of the Egyptian population is still moribund against the 1979 peace agreement between the two countries while Egypt remains the most anti-Semitic country in the world.

Despite this, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made clear that they want to reset the relations between their countries after Israel signed additional peace agreements with four Muslim countries, three of them in the Middle East.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the first time spoke over the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who congratulated him on assuming office.

“The two leaders discussed a broad range of bilateral, regional, and international issues. They praised the peace agreement between the two countries, which was achieved under the aegis, and with the mediation, of the US and which has constituted a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East for over 40 years,” Bennett’s media adviser wrote in a statement to the press.

“Prime Minister Bennett thanked President Al-Sisi for his country's important role in establishing stability, security, and peace in the region, as well as on the Palestinian issue, with emphasis on its efforts to advance a solution on the issue of the captive and missing Israelis. The Egyptian President underscored the need to establish the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, with the goal of improving the civil and humanitarian situation of the residents of the Strip, and noted the need to resume the diplomatic process,” Bennett's office reported.

The praise for Al-Sisi showed that Bennett understands the importance of honor in the Arab world.

The two leaders furthermore discussed the importance of advancing bilateral economic, commercial, and civil cooperation.

At the end of the phone call, Al-Sisi and Bennett agreed to meet each other in Cairo soon, something that showed how the relationship between Egypt and Israel is warming while it also showed that Bennett is fully aware of Egypt’s increasing standing in the Middle East.

That had not been the case after the so-called Arab Spring toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood after the ouster of Mubarak led to the isolation of Egypt and a loss of influence in the Middle East.

Al-Sisi, who led the coup d’etat by the Egyptian military that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, was occupied by internal affairs such as the insurgency of Islamic State’s branch in the Sinai Peninsula and other places in Egypt.

The Egyptian President also had to deal with an economy that was in tatters and decided to use the Egyptian army to launch huge building projects that would provide jobs and would give a boost to the economy. One of these projects was the creation of a second Suez Canal. Another was the construction of a new capital for Egypt that will house six and a half million people.

Egypt’s army, meanwhile, was successful in quelling the insurgency by Islamic State and increased cooperation with the Israeli Defense Forces during the battle against the Jihadists.

Egypt under Al-Sisi has now partly restored its standing in the Middle East and is the only player in the Middle East that has been able to contain Hamas in its fanatical battle against Israel.

During the last 11-day war between the Gazan terror groups and the Israeli military, Egypt succeeded IN mediating between the parties and, in the end, brokered the ceasefire that ended this round.

Al-Sisi then decided to pledge $500 million for the rehabilitation of Gaza and sent his army and Egyptian companies to Gaza to execute building projects.

At the same time, Egypt again attempted to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. However, at the last minute, Egypt canceled a meeting between the two rival Palestinian Arab regimes in Cairo as it saw that also this mediation effort would not produce any results.

“Egypt’s involvement in Gaza is understandable. First, because the enclave lies along its border and is a potential powder keg threatening the general stability of the region and, specifically of Egypt. Secondly, it allows the administration to portray itself as a regional leader on a key Middle Eastern issue,” Hebrew University Professor Eli Podeh wrote in a recent op-ed about Egypt’s changing position in the region.

Al-Sisi’s warming ties with the new Israeli government could also have something to do with the improvement of Israel’s standing in the Arab world after three Arab countries and the predominantly African Muslim country, Sudan, also closed peace agreements with the Jewish state recently.

These peace agreements also gave a boost to relations between Israel and Egypt because it is no longer taboo to seek better ties with the Jewish state in parts of the Arab world.

Aside from that, Egypt is increasingly playing a larger role, not only in Africa but also in the eastern Mediterranean where it has become a member of the new East Med Gas Forum. This forum has as other members Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

Al-Sisi is now seeking rapprochement with Iraq and was in Baghdad recently for a summit with Iraqi President Barham Salih and King Abdullah II of Jordan. It marked the first time in three decades an Egyptian president was on an official state visit in Iraq.

The three leaders discussed an increase in security and economic cooperation, media reported.

The rapprochement between Iraq and Egypt comes at a time that Iran is also seeking to increase its clout in Iraq and is trying via its proxies of the Hashd al Sha’abi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias to destabilize Iraq once again and to get rid of the Western influence over the battered country.

So, there are challenges for Egypt’s president, and they not only have to do with the struggle with Islamist governments and groups who have a different agenda for the Middle East, but also with Egypt’s internal situation.

Not only has the economy of Egypt become sporadic once again as a result of the Corona crisis, but other internal problems such as the demographic growth are a stumbling block for the Egyptian president’s drive to regain Egypt’s historical standing, as Podeh rightly pointed out.

Then there is a looming (military) confrontation between Egypt and Ethiopia over the filling of a giant dam in the Blue Nile. Ethiopia informed Egypt and Sudan last week that it would resume the filling of the dam with water from the Nile, something that led to a sharply worded condemnation by the Egyptian government. Al-Sisi has repeatedly made clear that his army could use military force against Ethiopia if it continues the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Associated Press reported last week that Egypt is currently conducting a military build-up and last week opened a new naval base west to Alexandria.

The tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia caused stocks to tumble at the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

The dispute over the GERD dates back to 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt held a televised debate about the Ethiopian plan to build the dam.

Ministers were caught falsely accusing Israel of providing aid to Ethiopia and building a pipeline from the dam that would bring Nile water via the Red Sea to the southern Israeli seaside resort of Eilat.