Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Predictable fears in Israel

We may have to coin a new word: demophobia: the fear of democratic government.

Angela Merkel speaks as Benjamin Netanyahu looks on

Angela Merkel speaks as Benjamin Netanyahu looks on.
[ Image Source ]

After decades in which Israel repeated as a sort of mantra that it would like nothing better than to find its Arab neighbors living under liberal democracies, that country finally finds itself facing the real possibility that the largest and strongest of those neighbors, Egypt, may soon oust its autocratic government and install precisely such a democracy. And Israel is terrified, not without cause.

If the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak had a redeeming feature in Israeli eyes, it was stability: In Mubarak, Israel had a neighboring leader who maintained peace and mediated in negotiations with Palestinians, freeing Israel to develop a powerful economy no longer drained by an outsize military budget. Therefore, it winked at the repressive excesses of his regime and called him friend.

Today, Mubarak holds on by a rotting thread, having sacked his cabinet and promised comprehensive reforms and his own resignation at the end of his term in September. But Egyptians are fed up, and none of his promises means much to a country that has endured the callousness and brutality of what most perceive as a self-appointed president-for-life; worse, Mubarak seems to have been grooming as successor his son, Gamal, who is widely held to be more authoritarian than his father.

No later than September, then, the Mubarak sultanate will end in an election that observers expect to be clean, fair and open to all participants; this assumes Mubarak doesn’t accede to public loathing and depart sooner. And it is what will happen when this ophidian despot slithers aside that inspires fearful speculation in Israel and Washington, where grim-visaged commentators predict the ultimate victory of the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to an Egypt comparable in creed to post-revolutionary, Islamist-dominated Iran.

I think this represents a significant misreading of both current developments and history. Egypt is not Iran; it is not ruled by a Shah appointed by the CIA at the behest of the company now known as BP; absent, therefore, is the pervasive animus that characterizes Iranian relations with the US and much of the West. Further, although the Muslim Brotherhood is among the popular forces in Egypt, it must compete against numerous other factions, many of them secular. And it is not a leading participant, by all accounts, in the present unrest. I therefore predict the eventual appearance of a secular, multi-partisan republic comparable in general terms to the developed nations of Europe; whether led by former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei or some other leader who arises in the coming months, Egypt will, I think, become known as a moderate center of gravity in a rapidly changing Middle East.

Of course, none of this means Israel has nothing to fear. While few Egyptians are radical, politically or religiously, almost all of them despise Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza, with whom they share a border and much history. It is therefore reasonable to expect, not active hostilities, but at least far less amity between the two nations; this will likely lead to increased military spending and deployment of troops along their long border, and a reduced regional influence for an Israel increasingly isolated and friendless.

Such are the hazards of democracy.

Originally published as a review of an Al Jazeera article on the Egyptian uprising
and reactions to it in Israel.

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