Why Should Israel Be the Only Democracy in the Mideast?

People are scaring us with talk of an Isalmist takeover of our big neighbor. But doesn't Egypt deserve democracy too?

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

CAIRO - The late Arab-American scholar Edward Said appears to have been right. We're all suffering from Orientalism, not to say racism, if the sight of an entire people throwing off the yoke of tyranny and courageously demanding free elections fills us with fear rather than uplifting us, just because they're Arabs. Even the knights of the left and the leaders of the peace camp are issuing declarations of loyalty, continuing to repay Hosni Mubarak for his welcome in the presidential palace even after the entire Egyptian nation has shown him the door.

Anwar Sadat, left, Jimmy Carter, center, and Menachem Begin on the White House lawn, after signing the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979. Credit: Archive

Are we afraid that we won't be able to bask in the title of "the only democracy in the Middle East"? Doesn't Egypt deserve democracy too?

People are scaring us with talk of an Isalmist takeover of our big neighbor. The Muslim Brotherhood will certainly play an important role in any political democratic structure that emerges in Egypt, and that has to be dealt with. But then, we also have religious fundamentalists in the government. That is the price of a parliamentary democracy. And the previous U.S. administration was intimately linked to fundamentalists, but that's okay too, because evangelical Christians love Israel.

And what about the peace treaty? Hundred of Egyptians who were asked about that this week on the streets of Cairo said that they support continued diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt. Even among supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was difficult to find someone calling for the Israeli Embassy to get out of the country, though there were a few.

The 1978 Camp David Accords survived the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was not exactly a great democrat himself, and there is no reason to believe they will not survive even after Mubarak steps down from the presidency. Israeli journalists looked through some of the tens of thousands of pictures coming from Cairo, searching for protesters carrying a poster of Mubarak with a Star of David. In the end they found a single one. And among the thousands of Egyptians who called on Mubarak to "Go to Saudi Arabia," there were indeed two or three who shouted, "Go to Tel Aviv."

But even if it is difficult for us to accept it, Israel was simply not a factor in the whole Egyptian saga of the past week. And there is no reason that it should be. True, they don't like us, and why should they? They are Arabs and Muslims, and rightfully or not, they see Israel as an occupying country, and they want an Egyptian government to do more to right the wrong. Been to Europe lately? They don't like us much there either, for precisely the same reasons - but the Europeans apparently deserve democracy more than Egypt. After all, we were happy when the Berlin Wall fell.

Experts will say a positive attitude is naive. After all, the 1979 revolution against the shah in Iran began as a popular and democratic movement, and in the end we got Khomeini. It's a fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quick to congratulate the Egyptian demonstrators. Undoubtedly, the leaders of Iran are happy to see Mubarak's misfortune, but they're also shaking when they see the broadcasts from Cairo's Tahrir Square. They know that the original inspiration for the demonstrations was not the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia but the Iranian citizens who took to the streets of Tehran half a year ago.

The Revolutionary Guards managed to suppress the unrest at the time, but the Egyptian protests are proving that the deterrent effect of a police state, even one that has been in effect for decades, can completely disappear in a matter of hours. Iranian citizens will be encouraged by this and try again, and perhaps the next time it will be much more difficult for the government to defeat them.

Maybe our real fear is quite similar to that of the ruling classes of our neighboring states. What if the next Arab nation that rises up to the same extent will not be the Jordanians or the Yemenis, but the Palestinians? How will the Israel Defense Forces respond when thousands march with bare hands toward the fences of the settlements, and demand a free country of their own?



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