iran revolution rally 311.
(photo credit: AP)
As the revolt against tyranny spreads across the Middle East, shaking the very
foundations of the Arab political order, it appears as if we are at the doorstep
of a new and uncharted world.
Old certainties, like the sands of Arabia,
are rapidly being swept away, leaving Israel and the West peering into a
potential vacuum of insecurity and doubt.
Fundamentally Freund: The limits of peace
Fundamentally Freund: Wiki-Palestine
The thought of the Muslim
Brotherhood rising to power in Egypt, or radical Islamists seizing control of
Jordan or Yemen, is enough to make even the most sober analysts reach for some
Just think about it: The entire strategic balance in the
region could easily come unhinged if forces hostile to the US and its allies
gain greater clout thanks to the popular unrest.
Democracy, of course, is
still the best system invented by mankind, so it is only natural that many wish
to cheer on the protesters and see them prevail. After all, why should Libyans
have to chafe under the quixotic rule of crazy Muammar Gaddafi, or Qataris be
forced to submit to the whims of their eccentric emir? But democracy also has
its flaws, and chief among them is the fact that the people have the right to be
wrong, and to choose the worst possible leaders.
It is eminently
conceivable that if given the chance, millions of newly-emancipated Muslim
voters might do just that by pulling the lever for extreme
This is more than just nervous hand-wringing. Consider
the findings of a survey released in December by the Pew Research Center’s
Global Attitudes Project, which found widespread support in a number of Arab
countries for terrorist groups and suicide bombings. In Jordan, which has had a
peace treaty with Israel since 1994, a whopping 60 percent of those polled said
they had a favorable view of Hamas; 55% felt the same about Hezbollah, and more
than a third expressed a positive opinion about al-Qaida.
The fact that
these organizations live to kill, and do not hesitate to spill the blood of the
innocent doesn’t seem to bother Jordanians all that much. If given the chance,
whom do you think they would vote for?
And in Egypt, which has been at peace
with Israel for three decades, the situation is only marginally better. Just
under half – 49% – of all Muslims in Egypt say they look kindly on Hamas, while
30% back Hezbollah and 20% have a positive opinion of Al-Qaida. That doesn’t
exactly sound like a good basis on which to build a liberal, Western-style
When it comes to support for suicide bombings, the picture is
equally distressing. Twenty percent of Egyptians and Jordanians, and 39% of
Lebanese, said such atrocities are often or sometimes justified.
not sound like a lot, but Egypt’s population is over 80 million, which means
that some 16 million do not have sufficient moral qualms to reject the barbarity
of suicide attacks.
HOWEVER MUCH we might want to believe that deep down
all people are the same, and that if only we could reason with them we would
join hands and sing the chorus to “We Are the World,” that is not going to
happen any time soon.
So we need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking
this is 1776, and that Jeffersonian-style democracy is about to flourish
throughout the region. It isn’t.
Millions of our neighbors might be
longing for freedom, but many of them also wish to toss us into the
The truth is that there is not much that Israel can do in the
current situation, other than to keep its eyes and ears open and prepare for any
eventuality. But one thing we can certainly do is to exploit what is happening
to improve our standing in the world.
The contrast between the region’s
sole democracy and its assortment of monarchies, autocracies, sultanates and
emirates is stark and undeniable. Instead of maintaining what amounts to radio
silence about the events unfolding around us, the government should be pressing
hard to underline the vast differences between Israel and its
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu highlighted this point at
the beginning of the month, when he told visiting German Chancellor Angela
Merkel that “we are an island of stability in the region.”
But much more
needs to be done.
The message we should be disseminating, as the world’s
attention is tuned to our area, is quite simple. We have built a vibrant and
free society on the shifting sands of the Middle East, while our neighbors have
We have given unprecedented freedom to Jew, Christian and Arab alike
to voice their opinions, pray as they wish and vote for whomever they choose. We
earnestly seek peace, and do not back terror – state-sponsored or
Until the time comes when our neighbors can honestly say the
same, the Middle East will continue to simmer.