Q&A on Egypt Protests With Haaretz Mideast Analyst Zvi Bar’el

Zvi Bar'el was live online to answer readers' questions about events neighboring Egypt.

Haaretz Mideast affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el answered readers’ questions about the events in Egypt on February 10, 2011. Many thanks to Zvi and to all the Haaretz.com readers who participated in this live event.

Zvi Bar'el has written extensively on the Arab and Islamic world, and has a Ph.D in the History of the Middle East. He is a veteran columnist for Haaretz and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.

Zvi Bar'el
Nir Keidar

Since he joined Haaretz in 1982, Bar’el has served as the managing editor of the newspaper and its correspondent in Washington; he has also covered the Palestinian Territories.

In 2009, Bar’el was awarded the Sokolov Prize for lifetime achievement in print journalism. He teaches at Sapir Academic College and is a research fellow at the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as at the Center for Iranian Studies.

Q: Dear Mr Bar'el,
The current turmoil in Egypt seems to indicate a more isolated position for Israel in the Middle East in the near future. As such, should Israel have strengthened its support for the Jordan regime, since it is the other Arab state which has signed a peace treaty with the Jewish State? Best regards.
From Théo Cohen

A: Israel sees its isolationist status not in reference to Arab states, but in reference to Europe and the United States. This is why when Israel deals with the peace process it is doing it to satisfy the United States or the European Union and not so much its potential Arab partners.

Q: Is there any possibility of the Islamization of Egypt as there is anti-America and anti-Israel feeling amongst the masses?
From Satnam Singh Maan (via Facebook)

A: Egypt is an Islamic state its people and citizens are mostly Muslims. If you mean that the regime will become Islamized, I don't believe that there is a danger of that, and you should distinguish between anti-American feeling, anti-Israel feelings, and Islamization. The demonstrators in Cairo are mostly young people who want democracy but don't want an Islamized state and yet they are not really keen on Israel's policies in the Middle East, nor do they want an American interference or American dictation as to their future regime.

Q: What part of Egypt's economy is owned by the military? Or is it owned privately by high-ranking military figures? What will happen to the employment situation in Egypt, if the military loses its head (Mubarak and company)? Thanks.
From Judy Hirsch

A: The economy in Egypt is partly privatized and mostly owned by the government. The army as such, unlike in Iran, has its own economical benefit but it doesn't own economical infrastructure except for military production. Therefore the employment in Egypt is not dependent on the military's economic performance. It will depend mostly on the government's ability to mobilize investments, building factories, changing the market structure, etc.

Q: Is Hamas related to the Muslim Brotherhood, and if so, how? How will the participation or control by the Muslim Brotherhood in a future Egyptian government influence the powers working in Gaza?
From Victor Shteinberg ‎(via Facebook)

A: Hamas is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ideologically and tactically it is a branch of the movement. I don't see a possibility that Muslim Brotherhood would take over the regime in Egypt. It may become partners in it and it may put Hamas into reconsidering its position toward the Palestinian Authority and toward Israel. Hopefully they will realize that even an ideological and religious movement can be part of a regime which recognizes Israel.

Q: After the Egyptians will achieve their goal, and Mubarak steps down followed with free election, will there be an independent, secular judiciary system in Egypt? If not, what good is democracy, if the Egyptians will have to choose between Hezbollah, Hamas and Osama bin Laden? And if Sharia law will have the last word, then what's all the fuss about?
From J.K., Brooklyn, U.S.A.

A: The kind of regime and judicial system that the people want is their own democratic decision as long as they are allowed to choose. Egypt is a state where most inhabitants and citizens are Muslim believers and they want to have their lives guided by liberal yet not anti-religious system, and this should be their choice. This is also a version of democracy.

Q: Was it known that President Mubarak was so hated by his people? If yes, to whom? Thanks.
From Daniel Roger

A: I don’t know whether President Mubarak was hated personally as much as the regime was despised. It was known for a long time that there is mistrust and detachment and a wish for extensive changes among the population in Egypt which was expressed extensively on the internet and even in local newspapers and in literature. Anyone who had followed trends in the public opinion in Egypt could have detected it. This was no secret.

Q: After Mubarak leaves the presidency, what will be the attitude of the Hamas leaders in Gaza towards the “new” government? In that sense, do you think that Egypt will eventually open the border for good with Gaza? If not, why not? Toda raba.
From Daniel Chemerinski, Brazil

A: It depends what kind of government there will be in the coming years in Egypt. It depends also on Hamas’ attitude toward Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. We should not expect an overall change of the Egyptian policy, but a rather balanced policy which will have to cater to most political and ideological groups in Egypt. It does mean that Israel’s policy in Gaza will be adopted by the new government. Israel’s policy is a major factor in deciding what sort of policy Egypt will adopt.

Q: If the Camp David Accords are some how dissolved, will that mean that the two highest amounts of American foreign aid to Egypt and Israel will stop too? If not, for how long will Americans be made to fit the trillion dollar bill into its ever-growing national debt?
From Steven Howie (via Facebook)

A: Well, why should we assume at all that a court would dissolve the accords? Foreign aid doesn’t necessarily buy better foreign policy, and it doesn’t mean that the United States is wasting money. Foreign aid helps American companies to sell in the area.
How long will you be willing to spend money? Well, this is a good question. America is spending in money in Iraq, in Afghanistan, other parts of the world, and I believe that Americans have the right to decide when, where and on what they will spend their taxpayers’ money.

Q: How would a change of system in Egypt change the situation for the system in Judea and Samaria?
From Cathal Rabbitte

A: No, there’s no connection between the changes. What it may affect is the backing that the Palestinian Authority was receiving from Egypt in the last decade, if we are to have an Egyptian regime which will be more concerned with Egyptian problems than with foreign policy.

Q: How does possible regime change in Egypt influence the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Is there any fear of what's next in Israel, or is the IDF confident that they can defeat all Israel's neighbors, if it were to come to that?
From Kevon Thomas-Paper (via Facebook)
A: A regime change in Egypt may have a regional impact, mostly for the Egyptians. From a strategic point of view Egypt may lose its leading status in the area, which may affect the status of other countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. On the other hand, they gain a lot by having a better regime, more democratic, which will cater to its citizens considerations. Yet we shouldn't always confine the impact of regime changes in the area to a viewpoint which looks at the military possibilities of Israel and other countries. We may think as well in terms of disagreements, operations and coordination, rather than looking at the IDF's ability to cope with the situation. 

Q: Is the Israeli government's support of the Regime of Mubarak and its quite frankly inflaming press releases on the topic indicative of Israel as a state supporting totalitarian dictatorial style regimes in the middle east?
From Gary Spedding (via Facebook)

A: Israel is not supporting or objecting to Mubarak, and the press releases were just expressing concern about the probable instability that may ensue as a result of Mubarak's departure. I don't think that it is in israel's interest to interfere, intervene or meddle in any other regime.

Q: Was it the Iranian Green Summer which blew the wind of change? What is next for Iran in all this?
From Beaugeois Marie (via Facebook)

A: I don’t think that revolutions or crises are a contagious plague. Each country has its own circumstances, and we cannot attach Iranian demonstrations to the Tunisian or the Egyptian reaction to their own regimes. Iran on the other hand may look at the results of the demos in Egypt and may some draw lessons as well. But it doesn’t mean that we are going to see a new surge of Iranian public demonstrations because of the Egyptian developments. If at all, it will be because of circumstances specific to Iran.

Q: Do you think the changes sweeping the Middle East at present, will make the Sunni-Shia divide more or less troublesome? Is this divide over or understated in the media and general public’s mind?
From Martin Hoffmitz

A: What we see in the Mideast right now is an economical, social and political disagreement and a bitterness of the relevant population against some regimes. It is not a religious strife, and it has nothing to do with the Sunni-Shia divide. Shiites in Iran may or may not emulate the protests in Egypt as well Egyptians who are Sunnis do not consider Shiite Iran to be a model.

Q: Close your eyes - imagine an “existential crisis against Israel in real time.” You have time for one phone call to a regional country... Which would it be and why?
Sally Cummins

A: I would call Qatar because so far it has demonstrated an ability to solve crises in the area more than any other country.