The Sum of All their Fears: Why Israelis react with fear and loathing to the Egyptian revolution
It’s yet unclear whether the Mubarak regime will survive the next few days – there are conflicting reports saying his sons and wife have already fled Egypt – and it’s not clear which will be the next regime to topple: There are demonstrations in Jordan, Yemen – not all that unusual there, admittedly – and, surprisingly enough, Saudi Arabia.
We seem to experience what looks like an Arab Spring of Nations, beginning with Tunisia – yet the Israeli public, as well as its leadership, are discontent. An uprising against vampires like Ben Ali and Mubarak, who held their offices for decades, not only fails to excite them, it practically frightens them. The Israelis have placed themselves, automatically, on the side of the Arab tyrants.
After all, Israel is pretty comfy with them; they don’t surprise you. An anonymous Israeli minister – I guess it’s Boogie Ya’alon, a former army chief of staff and current Likud politician, since he has the requisite indoctrination – told Time yesterday that, as a principle, Israel prefers democracies “because democracies do not initiate wars” (he probably forgot about Iraq). But, on the other hand, “I’m not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process”.
Of course not. The timing is never right. After all, Israel only wants the Arabs to be democratic so it can avoid making peace with them. The demand that the Arab countries become democracies before there will be any peace initiatives – since there is no point in making peace with unpopular tyrants – was the core Nathan Sharansky’s book, the one George W. Bush loved so much. Now, when the revolutions are here, Israel shows its true colors: it’s on the tyrants’ side.
Our security establishment likes telling us that a revolution in Egypt or any other Arab country will automatically end with the Muslim Brotherhood or some other Islamist faction taking over. Maybe. On the other hand, this is Mubarak’s hoary position – and needless to say, he’s not a disinterested party. It is also the position of Israeli intelligence, which once more failed to foresee the collapse of the Tunisian dictatorship and the heavy riots in Egypt; yet another failure in a long string.
This prognosis, however, may rely on one sample only: That of Iran, which is not even an Arab country. The Iranian revolution is 30 years old; we have seen it lose its young generation. Islamists have come to power in Algeria, but did not have the chance to govern; the army deposed them, initiating a long and bloody civil war. An Islamic party came to power in Turkey, and while it’s clear it’s not a festival of freedom, it is not Iran, either.
The Brotherhood did not start the riots. In Tunisia, they came only after Ben Ali fled, and their chances are doubtful. In Egypt, the Brotherhood is the oldest and most organized opposition group – and they still came in late. According to reports today, when some Brotherhood activists broke out in cries of “Allahu Akbar”, they were over-shouted by other activists, chanting “Muslims, Christians – we’re all Egyptians”. Egypt, it is worth noting, has a semi-democratic past: During the reign of King Farouq, it had an active parliament and free and exuberant press. Mubarak is the third tyrant in a military dynasty – Nasser and Sadat were the first two – which did its best to wipe out this tradition. When a pundit tried to tell Al Jazeera yesterday – which, by the way, did a fabulous job – that the democracy of the times of Nasser should be restored, he caused a bitter smile.
As I said, we can’t know yet how the Egyptian revolution will turn out. But it is sickening to see the Israeli consensus demanding that when Arabs think of their future, they should imagine a hobnailed boot crushing their faces forever, in order to protect Israelis from their own fears. This concepts demonstrates, again, how much Israelis view Arabs as savages who can neither govern themselves, nor develop. They always need a strongman to keep them down. This concept tells us much more about Israelis than about their neighbours.