Israel Supports Democracy – Except in the Case of Egypt

There is a clear consensus in Israel about the necessity of democracy, but when it comes to Egypt, suddenly Israelis are shaking.

There is a clear consensus in Israel about the necessity of democracy, spanning from supporters of former Balad chairman Azmi Bishara to friends of National Union MK Yaakov Katz. In other words, broad disagreement can be found within the wide range of opinions, but no one opposes the holding of elections, including the accompanying baseless election campaigns and sleepy election monitors. To a large extent, even if people have critiques of the scope of democracy and the electoral system, there is clearly no opposition to the democratic idea.

But when it comes to Egypt, suddenly Israelis are shaking. The very words "Muslim Brotherhood" cause commentators jaws to drop, even though I do not think anyone here would oppose a common border or peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, the most Muslim nation of all. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made every effort to promote an agreement with the Saudis, and sharia law (the legal code of Islam ) did not prevent him from doing so.

In a democratic Egypt, even if the Muslim Brotherhood joins the coalition - like Shas here - there is no doubt that Islamic laws will not be imposed as strictly as in Saudi Arabia. As long as the democratic system is preserved, more or less, such matters maintain their own dynamic. If anything, Egypt has a Communist tradition, and the pendulum could just as well swing in a more secular direction there.

Jerusalem had an ultra-Orthodox mayor, but it does not seem to me that conditions were much worse, in terms of public freedom, than under Olmert or the city's current mayor, Nir Barkat. I never read any threatening articles calling for the cancellation of elections in Jerusalem because of the emerging ultra-Orthodox majority in the city.

Although there is great anger concerning Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories, there is a consensus in Egypt about ending the state of belligerence with its neighbor - an opinion also shared by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, of course, which needs the foreign aid. Similarly, in Israel, it is rare to hear voices calling for the cancellation of the peace treaty with Egypt or to rebuild Ofira (Sharm el-Sheikh ) from its ruins.

But the fact that I support democracy in Egypt does not necessarily mean that I would support the results of this democracy. On the contrary. The great thing about democracy is that it allows you to complain. While I concede that the French revolution was an important moment in history, this doesn't mean I must necessarily agree with the guillotine or with Napoleon's visions of grandeur; nor with the policies of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the expulsion of the gypsies. You can support democracy in the United States and still think that President George W. Bush should be tried in the Hague for the crimes committed during his terms in office; or still be frightened by the ignorance, racism and religiosity that persists over there.

Democracy is a point of departure. Yes it allowed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to improve his status in Israel, but thanks to democracy I can also openly criticize Lieberman without him being able to touch me. This is not a certainly among leaders like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Bashar Assad, or the rulers of Sudan and Yemen, who can torture anyone who criticizes them.

What is happening around us feels like a dream. The domino effect that struck the Communist states and toppled the military dictatorships in South America is today affecting the Arab dictatorships; within a decade we might find ourselves in an entirely different place.

In contrast to the war in Iraq, which enjoyed wide support in Israel - a war that was defined as bringing freedom to the Iraqi people, but was in fact a campaign of plunder and occupation, and ultimately led to the establishment of a puppet regime - the Egyptian citizens in Tahrir Square want freedom, are fighting to achieve it, and deserve every drop of liberty and social justice they can get.

It is not clear to me why we should feel threatened, or where people get the arrogance to think that democracy is a plaything of the West alone. This moment was bound to arrive. We should not be afraid or surprised, but only wonder why it did not happen sooner.