There are many uncertainties regarding the situation in the aftermath of the
Arab Spring. It is clear, however, that Egypt has been and will continue to be
not only the most populous Arab country, but also the clear and undisputed
leader of the Arab world.
This is due, to a large degree, to its
historical legacy, its cultural roots, its geographical position, its size and
population, and its modern-day leaders’ ability to be in the forefront of Arab
policy – be they Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat or Hosni Mubarak.
recent Egyptian presidential elections resulted in a new balance of power
between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. It will take a long time before
there is clarity about the governance of the land of the Nile post-Tahrir. It
may even take more than one presidential election.
The current Egyptian
political instability is related to a lack of a democratic tradition and of
organized democratic political parties, which has left the field open to the two
existing organized forces: the army, the biggest military in the Arab world, by
definition and experience not democratic, and Islamist forces, primarily the
Muslim Brotherhood, which essentially do not believe in real democracy and
prefer religious Islamic law.
In the months and maybe even years to come,
we will probably witness an extremely uneasy balance of power between military
and mosque – somewhat along the lines of the Turkish model, yet accompanied by
This scenario is replicated in most countries in
the post-Arab Spring era, in which strong security apparatuses coexist in a
tense relationship with the influx of Islam – mostly Sunni, linked to the
Brotherhood, and partly Shi’ite, linked to Iran.
2011, the year of the
Jasmine and Tahrir revolutions, will go down in history as a watershed in what
has been a long journey toward Arab democracy. The young and liberal Facebook
generation made these revolutions happen out of disdain for totalitarian rule,
corruption and impoverished economies. They toppled Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali,
Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, brought about a regime change in Yemen, and Syria
may very well be next in line.
After Tahrir, no Arab ruler, dictator or
monarch is safe in his seat, given the ability and courage of the young, who
represent 65 percent of all Arabs, to organize and mobilize for change, yet the
young Tahrir generation is unable to organize itself into a potent political
In Egypt after the recent elections, both camps seem to be
failing, as the people are split in their support and, more important,
disillusioned with the whole process that did not bring about the desired
The inability to organize, in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab
world, a secular and liberal political force at the center, is detrimental to
the creation of real democracy. It stems from the nonexistence of a multiparty
political system as well as from a very weak civil society.
regime did not allow for the creation of new political parties and a vibrant
civil society. On the contrary, the Mubarak regime imprisoned political
opposition forces and cracked down on liberal, pro-human rights and
If Arab democracy is to eventually occur, which it
probably will in the course of the coming years, it has to emanate from a better
organization of the young Tahrir crowds from merely opposing dictatorship to
working actively in favor of a value-based civil society which will give birth
to new political parties. We see some signs of such a process in two Arab
societies – Tunisia and the Palestinian territories.
In Tunisia, after
the Jasmine Revolution, a coalition was created by a relatively moderate Islamic
party, Ennahda, and a liberal reform party headed by an open-minded, liberal
human rights activist, Moncef Marzouki, who is today president. In the
transition period, Tunisian civil society played an important and constructive
role, as exemplified by an impressive trend of women and youth empowerment,
which is also due to a good education system.
The Palestinian Authority
in the West Bank, though faced with many obstacles and flaws, has been
relatively successful in creating both a multiparty parliament, with a dozen
parties from the extreme Left to the extreme Right, and a vibrant civil society
of about 35,000 NGOs active in social issues and nation-building.
these societies are still a far cry away from bringing about Jeffersonian
democracy, but they have a chance to become models of Arab democracy in which
there is coexistence between liberal secular, religious and security forces.
Such coalitions exist not only in the Arab world.
It is to be hoped for
that this process of strengthening civil society and the development of a new
party system will occur in many Arab countries. The information revolution,
Internet connectivity and social networks open a real opportunity for such a
process, led by the young generation. And there is also a role for the
democratic West, and indirectly also for Israel.
The West, led by the
United States, must understand that transition from revolution to democracy in
the Arab world is a long and difficult process that must be homemade, with its
own cultural distinctions, and cannot be imposed from the outside.
there are ways to encourage such a process – by working with Arab governments on
institution-building and on the development of a multi-party system, and mainly
by strengthening civil society, primarily social and peace-building NGOs, which
are in need of financial and operational assistance. These should create a
situation where Tunisia can serve as a model for North Africa, and the future
state of “Palestine,” given its symbolic weight, for many other Arab
There is a lesson for Israel as well. Our own democratic
success story – today brought into danger by messianic religious forces – was a
result of a vibrant multi-party system, as well as a highly active and
value-based civil society.
Instead of constantly being so-called experts
and interpreters of the Arab worlds, which is the obsession of our media,
military and political elites, we have to ask ourselves if we can, out of
self-interest, contribute something to our neighborhood and the environment in
which we live, while naturally staying out of Arab politics.
ability we do have is to contribute to the creation of a democratic Palestinian
state at our doorstep, a development that would influence the attitudes of the
rest of the Arab world. This can happen in two ways – making peace with the
Palestinians, based on a two-nation-state solution; and cooperating more
actively with Palestinian civil society, which is open to such cooperation as
long as it is done in the context of a viable peace process.
first and foremost their responsibility and opportunity, which they have tackled
thus far with very mixed results. Yet we can be contributors, as next-door
neighbors should be.
We have to remember that probably never in history
did two democracies go to war against each other, and that our own democracy
will also be well-served to rid itself of a morally corrupting
So while all eyes are set on Cairo and the aftermath of the
elections, one has to understand that change in Egypt happens at the pace of the
slow flow of the Nile. Yet positive change toward greater democracy in the
Middle East is important and possible in much smaller states such as Tunisia and
more important, a future Palestine, which in turn would impact the rest of the
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served
as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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