When I watched the long lines of Egyptian voters on television this week, the names of two historical figures came to mind: Mao Zedong and Shraga Netzer. One was the legendary leader of China, and the other was the leader of the “bloc” in Mapai (the predecessor of the Labor Party), who was involved in everything related to preserving the veteran leadership.
The story goes like this: When Mao was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, he replied: “It’s too early to tell.” When Netzer was asked why he insisted in keeping the ballot boxes of the internal elections in locked warehouses, at least for one night, he replied: “A sleeping ballot box is a thinking ballot box.”
It’s interesting to what extent those two statements apply to Egypt, both because of the long voting process and slow counting, and because even when the results are tallied it will still be too early to determine whether democratization has brought about a genuine breakthrough in the Egyptian government. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood wins most of the votes, it is still impossible to predict the status of the army, which has ruled for decades, since the revolution of Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The rule of the officers brought one disaster after another on the Egyptian people in the wars against Israel, until Nasser died heartbroken after the Six-Day War debacle.
But his successor, Anwar Sadat, who was said to have been chosen by Nasser as his deputy because he was considered a fool whose nickname among the officers was “Hamar” (donkey), was the one who brought about peace with Israel. Contrary to the philosophy of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel returned all the territories, up to the last millimeter.
Thanks to the peace with us, Egypt receives a total of $2.5 billion in economic and defense assistance from the U.S. In the days when they didn’t burn Israeli flags in Tahrir Square, Israeli and Egyptian officials used to coordinate “how much will you get this year” among themselves in secret.
The advent of democracy, with or without quotation marks, is positive in the long run. Although the status of the army in the ruling establishment is not yet clear, it may have a stabilizing influence in regard to democracy, similar to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey.
It is clear that in the immediate future the Egyptian army will have a stabilizing influence. And even if extremist Islam has greater representation in parliament, we can reasonably assume that the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt need not be based on hostility because of the Palestinian issue. What did Sadat once say at a press conference? “We’ve shed enough blood for the Palestinians, the time has come for them to take care of themselves.”
The peace between Egypt and Israel is based in principle on Israel’s willingness to withdraw to the last millimeter. And both countries have many reasons to continue the relationship, even if the relations are cold or tense.
Peace is made with democratic regimes, says Prof. Itamar Rabinowitz, and it is a long-term process. Whereas Shlomo Gazit, a former head of Military Intelligence, sees possible strengthening of the Islamic Brotherhood in a positive light. First, because it would be a strong and stable regime, which is good for Egypt, although the peace with us will be even colder. At the same time, estimates Gazit, the Egyptians will want to avoid a military confrontation with Israel. The diplomatic situation will oblige anyone who is elected to focus first and foremost on stabilizing the domestic situation, in order to maintain U.S. assistance.
Any government that is formed in Egypt will aspire first of all to improve the economic situation, tourism, the movement of ships in the Suez Canal, etc. That does not mean they won’t burn Israeli flags here and there. But where in the world nowadays is there any protest in which they don’t accuse Israel of some sin and burn its flags?
What should Israel do? A. Don’t show Egypt a sour face, no matter who rules there. B. Demonstrate sensitivity and caution in its reactions not everything that we don’t like is necessarily against us. C. It is impossible for us to have a thuggish foreign minister who threatens to “teach them a lesson,” referring to Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. It is inconceivable for Israel not to give the Palestinians the money they have coming to them.
But most important of all: Renewing the talks with the Palestinians is Israel and Egypt’s key to preserving the peace treaty between them.
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