Israel’s Brother al-Sissi

Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Egypt’s president are judicious, wise and hate Hamas. Wait, maybe they’re not so similar. In Israel, everyone stands with the leader.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Egypt's army chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, April 24, 2013.
Egypt's army chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, April 24, 2013.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

So how was it to spend a month with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as commander in chief? Simply marvelous. He was judicious, wise, balanced, restrained, prepared, sensitive, patriotic, committed to victory and victorious. What more could a nation ask? Who else has a prime minister or president like that?

Okay, Egypt. Did you see Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi? He was wise, judicious, stuck to his guns, hates Hamas just like we do, not to mention Barack Obama. He coordinates his interests with ours, speaks pleasantly and rides a bicycle. Egypt can truly be proud of having a president who brings to mind our own prime minister. Did I say “brings to mind”? He’s his brother.

Actually, there’s no comparison. After all, Egypt doesn’t have Israel’s problems. It’s not a recalcitrant country and not an occupying one; it isn’t condemned by the international community and isn’t being pressured by America. It doesn’t have wars like we do; its existence isn’t threatened. All it has to do is support 90 million people.

Particularly galling is that, unlike Netanyahu, the Egyptian president doesn’t have to deal with coalition partners or fight with the opposition. He navigates, he decides. The army obeys his orders; he simply rides roughshod over his main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Before your envy overflows, and before our angry patriots tell me to go live in Egypt, calm down. Israel remains a democracy. Every minister or Knesset member can express his opinion freely.

If Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thinks we should reoccupy Gaza or get rid of Israel’s Arab citizens, he doesn’t hide it. When Economy Minister Naftali Bennett thinks we have to destroy Hamas, he doesn’t need to clear it with the censor. If Finance Minister Yair Lapid admires Netanyahu’s wisdom, he says so openly.

When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is convinced there’s no choice but to unite the ranks, no one will shut her up. Even the ministers who whine to my colleague Barak Ravid that nobody briefed them on what was happening in the field, or that decisions were made without consultation, won’t quit their jobs in protest. It’s a time for unity.

More importantly – and more practically – anyone who wasn’t consulted won’t have to give an accounting. He won’t have to explain the screw-ups, face a commission of inquiry or hire lawyers. The mute and the blind aren’t indicted for their disabilities. When even the leftist parties fall silent and act like a flock following the bellwether, nobody can stop them from adhering to a policy of “one people, one mouth, closed.”

Go out and demonstrate? Nobody wants to play into Hamas’ hands at a time when the Home Front Command is forbidding gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Here there will be no Tahrir Square; we don’t topple the regime through demonstrations. How can you compare us to Egypt?

Israel’s democracy, unlike Egypt’s, exists in only two steady states: war or the run-up to the next war. Egypt, by contrast, has already freed itself from feelings of permanent threat – it signed a peace agreement with Israel. Now it’s busy with mere trivialities: Islamist terror, radical organizations that set off bombs in Cairo – nothing comparable to Hamas.

Egypt has long since stopped trying to explain or justify its failures and problems as stemming from its conflict with Israel or the Palestinian issue. When al-Sissi wants to mobilize the people, he asks them to donate money to revive the country’s economy and finance another lane for the Suez Canal.

Egypt elected a general to improve civilian life, not to wage a better war. And when a religious regime with fascist tendencies gained power democratically two years ago, the people knew how to get rid of it. In Egypt, unlike Israel, Tahrir Square conducts a physical and moral dialogue with the regime. It wields influence. In Israel, we don’t need a square. Everyone stands with our leader.

Now it’s al-Sissi’s turn to envy his brother.

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