Sunday, January 30, 2011

The View From Israel

I became curious as to how Israel was reacting to the on-going incipient revolution in Egypt, so I turned to the English-language, online edition of Haaretz to discover that, by and large, the Israelis are as cautious and - let's admit it - behind the curve on events as the United States.

One article, in particular, stuck out for me. Written by Zvi Bar'el, the article's title suggests a simple-minded wonder that the no-longer huddled masses of Middle Eastern dictators are using new media and technology in support of their pursuit of revolution. The article itself, however, offers a far more broadminded, thoughtful analysis of events in the wake of the Tunisian uprising.
Up to now, the world has been divided into two camps: "complicated" countries where the government represents the public and every decision is subject to public oversight, and "easy" countries where business is conducted at the top and the public is just window dressing. The dividing line between the two has always been starkly clear. Everything north of the Mediterranean belonged to the first group and everything to the south and east to the second.

The north had political parties and trade unions, a left wing and a right wing, important intellectuals, celebrities who shaped public opinion, and of course, there was public opinion itself. In the south the division was simple. It was the distinction between moderates and extremists, meaning pro-Westerners and anti-Westerners.

If you're a Saudi king who buys billions of dollars of American weapons, you're pro-Western and therefore entitled to continue to rule a country without a parliament, one where thieves' hands are amputated and women aren't allowed to drive. If you're an Egyptian president who supports the peace process, you're pro-Western and have permission to continue to impose emergency rule in your country, jail journalists and opposition members, and fix elections.


And all of a sudden, into the whirlwind, into the era of certainty and the lexicon in which the region's countries are neatly packaged, the Arab "street" erupts, a sophisticated street. It uses "our" methods: Facebook and Twitter - the tools of democracy we have invented - to present us with a situation of disorder. How do you defend yourself against this? This Arab street has already used these tools to depose Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, and its ideas have gone viral. What if it manages to establish democracy in Egypt? In Yemen? Look what happened to the Shah of Iran, albeit using now-outmoded cassettes.


We don't have to wait for other regimes to fall to understand that the revolution is happening before our very eyes. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will not fall due to demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and Yemen's ruler will also continue to rule by force. But it's a revolution of awareness and of the fundamental notions of what the Middle East is. Most importantly, we need a revolution in the way the West views the region.
Another piece, by Gideon Levy, offers a stunning indictment of authoritarianism across the Middle East, including not just the usual suspects, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as well.
Not only is the Fatah regime in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza destined to fall, but perhaps also, one day, the Israeli occupation, which certainly meets all the criteria of criminal tyranny and an evil regime. It too relies only on guns. It too is hated by all levels of the ruled people, even if they stands helpless, unorganized and unequipped, facing a big army. The first conclusion: Better to end it well, with agreements based on justice and not on power, a moment before the masses have their say and succeed in banishing the darkness.

A second, no less important conclusion: Alliances with unpopular regimes can be torn up overnight. As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.
Parenthetically, I have to wonder how The New Republic's editor, the egregiously racist Marty Peretz, feels about these columns?

In any event, it seems to me these commentators, at least, understand that matters in Egypt, and perhaps across the (Arab, authoritarian) Middle East are out of the hands of the United States and Israel. Mr. Levy also seems to understand that, regardless of the regime that might replace Mubarak's, there will be little regard for Israel, considering its long-time, violent occupation of Palestinian territories, and that this might be the time to pursue a just settlement.

In all, impressive, thoughtful commentary.

Virtual Tin Cup

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