With all honesty, Egypt's 90 million residents deserve the great joy that flooded the squares and three canal cities over the weekend, when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the new major extension of the Suez Canal.
It began with an aerial display and moved on to the depth of the canal, aboard the El-Mahrousa yacht, the first vessel to cross the original Suez Canal 150 years ago. Dressed in Egyptian military uniform, al-Sisi stood on the deck, waved, posed for photographs and failed to conceal his excitement. He then went down to the stage, bringing along nine-year-old Omar Salah, a cancer patient whose wish was to wave the flag of Egypt with the rais before his death.
In his speech, al-Sisi promised to execute a long series of economic reforms and create jobs for one million unemployed Egyptians. He later hosted a dinner for the dignitaries, which included the president of France and the kinds of Jordan and Bahrain, and treated them to parts of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" and a wonderful concert by Omar Khairat, "Egypt's Beethoven." The festival concluded with a display of fireworks.
Some 1,000 VIPs and zero mishaps. All the warnings of a mass-casualty terror attack were curbed and proven false. The Muslim Brotherhood was forced to settle for poisonous slurs on the media. Sinai's terror organizations failed to spoil the party. Al-Sisi and his group – backed by 20,000 soldiers, police officers and security forces – accomplished the mission.
But al-Sisi won't let himself rest. He is about to move on to the plan's next stage: Digging six major tunnels which will connect the great Egypt to Sinai and end the neglect and economic-social-political alienation, which have turned Sinai into a terror-creating vacuum. The plans are impressive. They include a promise to revive the desert and finally connect Sinai to the Egyptian womb. Al-Sisi has sworn that he will closely supervise the work managers so that they complete the construction work before the deadline, just like he did with the canal.
Israel has a great interest in seeing Egypt's dreams fulfilled, in seeing the number of vessels in the canal doubled, in seeing the proceeds stabilize the Cairo treasury's coffers, in seeing the Sinai terror erased (with a significant Israeli contribution), and in seeing Egypt's citizens finally go out to elect a parliament. The Egyptian top echelon knows exactly what we think – that Israel, in the Egyptian context, belongs to the "good guys" camp.
And yet, we were left with a feeling of a missed opportunity. After being forced to "show an understanding" towards the fact that Israel was excluded from the list of countries invited to the Economic Development Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh several months ago, Egypt deleted us once again.
An official spokesperson in Cairo went to the trouble of informing the press that four countries had not been invited to the Suez Canal's inauguration ceremony: Iran, because of its support for Hamas, its funding of Hezbollah and its long fingers against Saudi Arabia; Syria, because of the anger at President Bashar Assad; Turkey, because of the long score with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's big mouth and his dangerous embrace of Hamas; and Israel.
What are we doing in the same line with Egypt's enemies? Al-Sisi could have taken advantage of the event, invited President Reuven Rivlin to the yacht or to the VIP tent in Ismailia and called the press to take a picture of the leaders joining hands with the guests of honor, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Rivlin has earned a good reputation for himself in the Arab world; I don’t know a single leader who would have protested the presence of the Israeli president at the event or a protest movement which would have staged a demonstration at Tahrir Square. Did al-Sisi miss an opportunity here?
The new Egyptian ambassador, Hazem Khairat, will arrive in Israel in a few weeks from now, and one of his first stops will be at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, where he will present his credentials. Another stop will be at the Foreign Ministry, where he will meet his counterparts.
My guess is that his Israeli counterparts are walking around with a lot of resentment. Even when the relations with Egypt are thriving under the table, it's hard to envy the team of Israeli diplomats in Cairo, which is operating under tight security and has no embassy. The Egyptians even "forgot" to invite the Israeli ambassador, Dr. Haim Koren, to the canal celebrations.