Waking Up From the Egyptian Arab Spring

Last week's comments by Israeli official Amos Gilad about a 'terrible dictatorship' in Egypt were quickly hushed, but as banal as his warning sounded, it hit the nail on the head.

Last week Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security bureau, said that "democratic aspirations" in Egypt had resulted in a "terrible dictatorship." And immediately there was a tempest in the local teacup.

Ostensibly, Gilad said something totally banal. Anyone with eyes in his head and who has even the slightest knowledge about what is happening in Egypt knows that his description absolutely hits the nail on the head. Not only would several million Israelis endorse Gilad's statement, were they asked their opinion of the regime in Egypt - several million Egyptians would also agree with it. Among them would be all those who have awakened from the euphoria of the "Arab Spring" and discovered that they have tumbled from the frying pan into the fire: Instead of President Hosni Mubarak they now have the Muslim Brotherhood.

And now, in the best tradition of hypocrisy, everyone who can has sprung up to silence this correct statement with a big "hush!", in the name of maintaining correct relations with Cairo. First to jump was the Defense Ministry, with an official renunciation of Gilad's remarks. And as though with the wave of a magic wand all of the Israeli media, both written and electronic, joined in the "tsk-tsk-tsk," with its enlightened commentators and most serious experts on military matters, security and Arabs.

Under especially blaring headlines, these watchdogs of democracy condemned Gilad's pessimistic statement about Egypt as a miserable and irresponsible slip of the tongue, as a regrettable blunder resulting from a lack of tact, if not malevolence.

And the little guy observes this whole spectacle and wonders whether everyone hasn't lost their minds. After all, there is no dearth of signs indicating that Gilad is right.

Among other things, the new regime in Egypt is doing all it can to strike terror into the press with a bluntness unseen in Mubarak's day. Thus, for example, about two weeks ago a directive came from the head of the upper house of the Egyptian legislature to fire the editor in chief of the important newspaper Al Gomhuria.

Just imagine the reaction of the Israeli press to the arbitrary firing by the Knesset of the editor in chief of a local newspaper! But when it happens in Egypt, it isn't really so shocking, according to Israeli commentators on military affairs. And thus, they argue, there is certainly no need to insult the president of Egypt and endanger our relations with him.

Last week the censor at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the excision of a belly-dancing scene from a new Egyptian blockbuster film. True, there are worse things than that, but little by little - as such governmental moves encounter no opposition - the regime is continuing to suppress freedom.

Now there is talk of a law, due to be passed in the near future, limiting the nighttime opening hours of shops and restaurants. Everyone familiar with Cairo knows it to be a city that never stops, and now it will be thrust into darkness after midnight or 2 A.M. Of this too it could be said that it isn't the end of the world, there are worse things and simply for that reason there is no point in offending Cairo.

Many Egyptians are very apprehensive these days that their county's new constitution, now entering the stage of final formulation, will change the principle in the old constitution from Mubarak's day stating that Egyptian legislation must be based on the principles of sharia, to a more explicit declaration stipulating unequivocally that Egyptian law is completely based on sharia - pure and simple. A small difference that is really huge.

Okay, this too isn't the end of the world, but I am ready to sign on the dotted line that the very same commentators and experts who shushed Amos Gilad would be less concerned about decorum were there to be a danger of the passage of an Israeli constitution based on Jewish rabbinical law.

Who then is ostensibly arousing disgust with its double standards? Right, the Israeli media. The same media that should have been appalled way before Gilad's gaffe, and should have sounded a warning about Egypt's deterioration into an Islamic dictatorship, have assumed the role of the region's teacher of manners and etiquette. And they have a terrific excuse: It is not our role to meddle in what is happening in our neighbor's house, even if cries of "Help!" are coming from there.

It is interesting to note in this context the efficacy with which the Israeli intelligentsia (if indeed commentators on Arab and military affairs count as "intelligentsia") has adopted the dictates of the post-colonial approach, according to which a person who is outside a given society and culture has no right to criticize it lest he be considered arrogant and a colonialist, heaven forfend. A nice approach, which exempts anyone who considers himself to be an enlightened person from being concerned about the kinds of crude and cruel oppression inflicted on people in extremely traditional or religious societies.

True, it wasn't out of concern for civil rights in Egypt that Amos Gilad raised the alarm about the danger of a dictatorship in Egypt. His concern was entirely selfish, deriving from the fear that an Islamic dictatorship will bring about alienation from Israel, or even a crisis in relations between our two countries. Nevertheless, he really did express his inner truth honestly and without making calculations. However, the shushing that came from every side was entirely cynical and opportunistic. That "hush!" says: "As far as we are concerned, the Egyptians can go to hell with their Muslim Brotherhood. But as long as their president doesn't make too much trouble for us, we need to act properly toward him."

In exactly this way, because of the same opportunistic cynicism on Israel's part, the relations between Israel and Egypt deteriorated in Mubarak's day: Israel didn't care whether the Egyptian people were suffering from his dictatorship - the important thing was that proper relations be maintained with the ruler. Now Israel is repeating the same mistake.

"Common sense is, alas, not so common," an American friend of mine likes to say. In the case of the reaction to Amos Gilad's remarks, it is possible to see how true this is.