The Egyptians are giving us a lesson in democracy

In Israel we like to boast about being the only democracy in the Middle East, but while democracy in Israel slides down the slippery slope, the Egyptians are showing us what true democratic spirit is

By Mati Shemoelof

The media and Israel’s left wing has recently been dealing with the harassment of left-wing organizations and the chilling of free speech. It seems that with so much of their attention focused on the delusional fringes of the racist right wing, Israel’s leftist organizations have forgotten the social struggles. We have not heard a word about the struggle led by social activists Yitzchak Jacky Edri in Dimona, protesting the privatization of water. No organization has taken upon itself in any kind of meaningful way the struggle for public housing in Beit She’an. These are just two sample struggles over basic resources, which could expand to include all classes in Israel.

The Egyptians are giving us a lesson in democracy
Protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square (photo: Ramy Raoof/Flickr)

The budget also passed without any form of insistent resistance. Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz is continuing the process of privatization, marking target after target and giving it freely to the wealthy. Perhaps the Treasury Minister is using Foreign Minister Lieberman – the fascist steps taken by the delusional right wing gained much more leftist attention than important social issues.

Greek philosopher Aristotle saw the ordinary form of democracy as a degenerate form of government. He thought that a life of equality would dull the citizens’ senses and be a situation where they would be too accustomed to good times and unwilling to fight for it. The perfect state that he described is a form of active democracy, where the citizens use their franchise rights on a daily basis. This is exactly what we see around us, in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Egyptians have learned from the Tunisians, and from the successful use of social networks by the Iranians. The current movement in the Arab world have brought about a renewed definition of relations between the people and their government. The government has discovered that it could not disconnect the people from technology – the attempt to cut off the Internet and cell phone networks in Egypt was the last straw. Mubarak’s tyrannical regime kept every fifth person on as an informer to security forces, but still could not put a halt to the social rage in the streets.

Slavery to liberty in Egypt – really?

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is sitting pretty, imagining that the lies about the extent of unemployment in Israel can continue, with two-digit unemployment being reported as lower than ten percent. Israel believes that a large portion of the future profits from natural gas can be handed over to tycoon Yitzchak Tshuva, because he is more important than most other people living in the country. Israel turns its back on the periphery, deepening the gap between rich and poor. Anything goes, as long as we’re all certain that we’re the only “democracy” in the Middle East.

It is those Arab nations, in Tunisia and Egypt, who come closer to the state Aristotle had described. We can only watch in awe those multitudes who join the demonstrations in Egypt, who take responsibility for the safety of neighborhoods, who bring together all various movement in Egypt under the umbrella of opposition leader Dr. Muhammad Al Baradei. At every demonstration the citizens of Egypt stress the universal demand for rights, justice, equality, and freedom of expression.

The giant demonstrations in Egypt remind us of the extent to which the Israeli regime is withering away in its passivity. At the very height of the leftist demonstrations we saw twenty-thousand demonstrators at the Tel Aviv Museum, where Kadima’s Minister Meir Sheetrit and Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh stood together for the first time. But what was the demonstration about? The future of the left-wing organizations. Why was the demonstration not held in the periphery? Where are the people who have truly been sidelined out of Israeli society? When will we see the one million poor Jews and Arabs gathering in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square and demanding replacement of the leadership which has abandoned, humiliated and abused them? The multitudes in Tahrir Square teach us an important lesson about how to use democratic action to redefine the relationship between a nation and its ruler.

Mati Shemoelof is an Israeli poet, editor, and social activists. This article was originally published on the website of Israel’s Channel 2 news. It was translated from Hebrew by Dena Shunra.