After 18 days of mass demonstrations in Egypt's cities, President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and his 30 years of rule have come to an end. Control has been handed over to the army, which promises that it will respect the protesters' demands and prepare the country for elections.
Egypt's popular revolution and the revolution that preceded it in Tunisia herald a new era in Middle East history. It's an era in which the people demand to be heard and be allowed to help shape their fate, instead of being subjects of dictatorial regimes that impose their authority through emergency legislation and powerful security services. A political revolt like this, in which unarmed citizens overthrow a ruler they hate, had never taken place in a an Arab country. It took the experts, leaders and intelligence services by surprise.
The demonstrators' victory celebrations that received the embrace of U.S. President Barack Obama find the largest Arab country in a state of uncertainty. It's too early to assess the nature of the regime that will be set up in Egypt, who will head it, and how power centers - first and foremost the army and the Muslim Brotherhood - will fit in. Likewise, it's too early to assess whether the revolution will spread elsewhere in the region or whether the rulers in those countries will survive.
Until the final moments of his rule, Mubarak championed "security and stability," and Israel saw his regime as a vital strategic pillar. His adherence to the peace treaty gave Israel prosperity, a quiet border, energy supplies, and the basis for joining the region as a welcome neighbor. Now Israel has to get used to Egypt's new rulers.
The dramatic change over the border naturally gives rise to fears, but Israel must not interfere in its southern neighbor's affairs. Egypt has no conflict with Israel and must not be presented as an enemy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must demonstrate restraint and self-control. His warnings that Egypt could turn into a new Iran, and the talk about increasing the defense budget, merely create destructive tension and put Israel on the side of the ousted regime. The revolution in Egypt did not stem from the ties with Israel, and Netanyahu would do well to keep quiet and give this neighboring country a chance to establish a democracy.
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