|Over the past three weeks the Israeli media has been extremely interested in Egypt.
During the climatic days of the unprecedented demonstrations, television news programmes spent most of their airtime covering the protests, while the daily papers dedicated half the news and opinion pages to the unfolding events.
Rather than excitement at watching history in the making, however, the dominant attitude here, particularly on television, was of anxiety– a sense that the developments in Egypt were inimical to Israel’s interests. Egypt’s revolution, in other words, was bad news.
It took a while for Israel’s experts on “Arab Affairs” to get a grip on what was happening. During the early days of unrest, the recurrent refrain was that “Egypt is not Tunis”.
Commentators assured the public that the security apparatuses in Egypt are loyal to the regime and that consequently there was little if any chance that President Hosni Mubarak’s government would fall.
Once it became clear that this line of analysis was erroneous, most commentators followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lead and criticised President Barack Obama’s Administration for not supporting Mubarak. The Foreign News editor of one channel noted that: “The fact that the White House is permitting the protests is reason for worry;” while the prominent political analyst Ben Kaspit expressed his longing for President George W. Bush.
“We remember 2003 when George Bush invaded and took over Iraq with a sense of yearning”, Ben Kaspit wrote. “Libya immediately changed course and allied itself with the West. Iran suspended its military nuclear program. Arafat was harnessed. Syria shook with fear. Not that the invasion of Iraq was a wise move (not at all, Iran is the real problem, not Iraq), but in the Middle East whoever does not walk around with a big bat in his hand receives the bat on his head.”
Israeli commentators are equivocal on the issue of Egyptian democracy. One columnist explained that it takes years for democratic institutions to be established and for people to internalise the practices appropriate for democracy, while Amir Hazroni from NRG went so far as to write an ode to colonialism:
“When we try to think how and why the United States and the West lost Egypt, Tunis, Yemen and perhaps other countries in the Middle East, people forget that. The original sin began right after WWII, when a wonderful form of government that protected security and peace in the Middle East (and in other parts of the Third Word) departed from this world following pressure from the United States and Soviet Union… More than sixty years have passed since the Arab states and the countries of Africa were liberated from the ‘colonial yoke,’ but there still isn’t an Arab university, an African scientist or a Middle Eastern consumer product that has made a mark on our world.”
Fear and the brotherhood
While only a few commentators are as reactionary as Hazroni, an Orientalist perspective permeated most of the discussion about Egypt, thus helping to bolster the already existing Jewish citizenry’s fear of Islam. Political Islam is constantly presented and conceived as an ominous force that is antithetical to democracy.
Thus, in the eyes of Israeli analysts, the protestors- that Facebook and Twitter generation- are deserving of empathy but also extremely naïve. There is a shared sense that their fate will end up being identical to that of the Iranian intellectuals who led the protests against the Shah.
Channel Two’s expert on “Arab Affairs” explained that: “The fact that you do not see the Muslim Brotherhood does not mean they are not there,” and another expert warned his viewers not to “be misled by ElBaradei’s Viennese spirit, behind him is the Muslim Brotherhood.”
According to these pundits, the Muslim Brotherhood made a tactical decision not to distribute Islamists banners or to take an active part in leading the protests. One commentator declared that if the Muslim Brotherhood wins, then “elections are the end of the [democratic] process, not its beginning,” while an anchorman for Channel Ten asked former Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer whether “the person who says to himself: ‘How wonderful, at last the state of Egypt is a democracy,’ is naïve?”
The Minister responded: “Allow me even to laugh. We wanted a democracy in Iran and in Gaza. The person who talks like this is ignoring the fact that for over a decade there has been a struggle of giants between the Sunni and Shia with tons of blood spilled. The person who talks about democracy does not live in the reality we live in.”
Ben-Eliezer’s response is telling, not least because it is well known that Israel supported the Shah regime in Iran and has not proven itself to be a particularly staunch supporter of Palestinian democracy. Democracy in the Middle East is, after all, conceived by this and prior Israeli governments as a threat to Israel’s interests.
Dan Margalit, a well-known commentator, made this point clear when he explained that Israel does not disapprove of a democracy in the largest Arab country but simply privileges Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt over internal Arab affairs.
Israel, one should note, is not alone in this self-serving approach; most western countries constantly lament the absence of democracy in the Arab world, while supporting the dictators and helping them remain in office. In English this kind of approach has a very clear name – it is called hypocrisy.
Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation and can be reached through his website.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Archive for February, 2011
Posted by uscsjp on February 21, 2011
Posted by uscsjp on February 4, 2011
GAZA Feb 4 (Reuters) – Egyptian soldiers isolated on the Gaza border by 10 days of internal upheaval are getting bread, canned goods and other food supplies from the enclave, which is usually on the receiving end of food aid.
A source in the border town of Rafah said security forces of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, had been providing the troops with supplies for the past three days.
Israel has blockaded Gaza for over three years with the assistance of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government, and half the population depends on handouts of staples from the United Nations. With mass protests demanding Mubarak should quit, sources in Rafah said north Sinai was tense. Angry Bedouins were in control of many roads following armed clashes with Egyptian police.
The sources said Palestinian merchants in Gaza have also been smuggling vegetables, eggs and other staples into Egypt, where store owners have run out of stock because normal supplies are cut off by the unrest — reversing the usual flow of goods.
Hamas security forces had beefed up their presence along the border and in the area of Gaza’s honeycomb of smuggling tunnels to prevent any breach of the border line. No photography or television images were allowed. (Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by David Stamp)
Posted by uscsjp on February 1, 2011
Ever since the victory over the dictator of Tunisia and the subsequent uprising in Egypt, my email has been flooded with messages from Jews around the world hoping and praying for the victory of the Egyptian people over their cruel Mubarak regime.
Though a small segment of Jews have responded to right-wing voices from Israel that lament the change and fear that a democratic government would bring to power fundamentalist extremists who wish to destroy Israel and who would abrogate the hard-earned treaty that has kept the peace between Egypt and Israel for the last 30 years, the majority of Jews are more excited and hopeful than worried.
Of course, the worriers have a point. Israel has allied itself with repressive regimes in Egypt and used that alliance to ensure that the borders with Gaza would remain closed while Israel attempted to economically deprive the Hamas regime there by denying needed food supplies and equipment to rebuild after Israel’s devastating attack in December 2008 and January 2009. If the Egyptian people take over, they are far more likely to side with Hamas than with the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Yet it is impossible for Jews to forget our heritage as victims of another Egyptian tyrant – the Pharaoh whose reliance on brute force was overthrown when the Israelite slaves managed to escape from Egypt some 3,000 years ago. That story of freedom retold each year at our Passover “Seder” celebration, and read in synagogues in the past month, has often predisposed the majority of Jews to side with those struggling for freedom around the world.
To watch hundreds of thousands of Egyptians able to throw off the chains of oppression and the legacy of a totalitarian regime that consistently jailed, tortured or murdered its opponents so overtly that most people were cowed into silence, is to remember that the spark of God continues to flourish no matter how long oppressive regimes manage to keep themselves in power, and that ultimately the yearning for freedom and democracy cannot be totally stamped out no matter how cruel and sophisticated the elites of wealth, power and military might appear to be.
Many Jews have warned Israel that it is a mistake to ally with these kinds of regimes, just as we’ve warned the US to learn the lesson from its failed alliance with the Shah of Iran. We’ve urged Israel to free the Palestinian people by ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s long-term security will not be secured through military or economic domination, but only by acting in a generous and caring way toward the Palestinian people first, and then toward all of its Arab neighbours.
Similarly, America’s homeland security will best be achieved through a strategy of generosity and caring, manifested through a new Global Marshall Plan such as has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Keith Ellison.
In normal times, when the forces of repression seem to be winning, this kind of thinking is dismissed as “utopian” by the “realists” who shape public political discourse. But when events like the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt occur, for a moment the politicians and media are stunned enough to allow a different kind of thinking to emerge, the kind of thinking that acknowledged that underneath all the “business as usual” behaviour of the world’s peoples, the yearning for a world based on solidarity, caring for each other, freedom, self-determination, justice, non-violence and yes, even love and generosity, remains a potent and unquenchable thirst that may be temporarily repressed but never fully extinguished.
It is this recognition that leads many Jews to join with the rest of the world’s peoples in celebrating the uprising, in praying that it does not become manipulated by the old regime into paths that too quickly divert the hopes for a brand new kind of order into politics and economics as usual, or into extremist attempts to switch the anger from domestic elites who have been the source of Egyptian oppression onto Jews or Israel which have not been responsible for the suffering of the Egyptian people.
We hope that Egyptians will hear the news that they have strong support from many in the Jewish world. We are not waffling like Obama – we want the overthrow of Mubarak, the freeing of all political prisoners, the redistribution of wealth in a fair way, trials for those who perpetrated torture and other forms of injustice, and the democratisation of all aspects of Egyptian life.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, California. You can read more about the Global Marshall Plan here.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.