Israel Frets Over Egyptian Uprising
Editor’s Note: Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak is making clear that he won’t leave office quietly, as his supporters struck out violently against opposition protesters on Wednesday. But the larger question is whether the revolt in Egypt will spark systemic political change in the Middle East.
That possibility is not welcome in many quarters, including within Israel’s Likud government which is expressing fear that the political upheaval in Egypt might lead to a hostile regime on Israel’s western flank, as Lawrence Davidson notes in this guest essay:
I watched Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk about the ongoing events in Egypt. In essence, he said that if the demonstrations against the 30-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak succeeded the world could get an Iranian-style regime in Egypt and that would be the end of democracy.
"Our real fear is of a situation that could develop ... and which has already developed in several countries including Iran itself -- repressive regimes of radical Islam," Netanyahu said on Monday. “In a situation of chaos, an organized Islamist body can seize control of a country. It happened in Iran. It happened in other instances.”
Netanyahu’s facial expression was consistently serious and grim. He appeared to be perfectly sincere.
The Prime Minister’s vision of ayatollahs on the Nile was backed up by Israeli diplomats and journalists who, in a rather frantic way, explained that the U.S. and Europe are acting stupidly in their response to the Egyptian crisis.
According to the Israelis, Mubarak has to be unquestionably supported. Look what happened when you pulled back from the Shah in ‘79. Do you want to make that mistake again? How naive, how weak, how suicidal.
To finish all this off, Israeli spokespersons pointed out that events once more demonstrate thatthe Zionist state is the only stable government in the Middle East. It is the only real example of democracy in the region.
Yet, as the Bard reminds us, "what is in a name?" Not all democracies smell as sweet as a rose.
On Wednesday, we saw what the great Egyptian ally was capable of. The Egyptian army had promised that it would not shoot at the protesters. But, alas, there was a loophole. The army never said it would not facilitate the arrival of thousands of thugs who would, well, not exactly shoot the demonstrators. They would just club, stab, and run them down on camels.
Many of these thugs were, in fact, police and government agents in civilian clothes, backed up by street toughs. In other words, what we saw in the streets of Cairo was an Egyptian version of Mussolini-style fascists in Rome circa 1922, Nazi brown shirts in Berlin circa 1932, and, of course, Israeli settlers in the rural by-ways of the West Bank circa 2011.
But the Israeli leadership, representatives of stability and democracy as they claim to be, don’t seem to notice the ugly historical similarities.
They think the real villain of the peace is Barack Obama. The U.S. president has "put a bullet in Mubarak’s back." He has double-crossed a loyal ally and is now "demanding the head" of "the almost lone voice of sanity in the Middle East,” except, of course, the Israelis themselves. Bottom line: "America has lost it."
If Mubarak emerges victorious from the fray, there would be joy in Jerusalem. For behind all the Israeli lament there is an obvious disregard for things like real democracy, human rights, justice and freedom – those pie-in-the-sky human desires that don’t measure up to the fact that Mubarak has kept the "peace" for 30 years on Israel’s western border while Israel has proceeded to illegally dispossess the Palestinians.
That is the real bottom line. Mubarak goes and Israel loses a vital partner in crime.
I tried to watch Netanyahu, and read the Israeli papers, as a Jew. I figured that to do so was an act of solidarity with expatriate Egyptians watching Mubarak say he was duty-bound to hold office through his present "elected" term.
For both progressive Jews and Egyptians, this had to be a very difficult exercise because there was no escaping the conclusion that the leaders of both countries are either outright liars or living in a fantasy. Either way, it is a real stretch to think of them as "lone voices of sanity." I think a more accurate assessment would judge them of questionable sanity and quite dangerous.
On the one hand, Netanyahu and Mubarak deserve each other. They are both perfectly willing to kill a lot of people to get what they want and they throw temper tantrums when others suggest this is wrong.
On the other hand, President Obama, at least to date, deserves credit for trying to do the right thing, the sane and peaceful thing, in Egypt. But he has misjudged his “allies,” both in Cairo and Jerusalem. He is dealing with thugs in suits.
In the long run, what are the folks in Washington going to do? Are they going to follow through (breaking really new ground) and show the world that the U.S. will not associate with Mussolini-style fascists, Nazi-style brown shirts, and Israeli fanatics?
A necessary start in that direction is pulling the plug on all military aid to Egypt. If Mubarak and his generals want to stay in power let them pay their own way.
No doubt the Saudis will be willing to help them out. As for the United States, it might be time to start acting in a truly idealistic fashion. Most of the world will love it. Egypt is a good place to start.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest; America's Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.
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