Nawal al-Saadawi, now 80 years old, is a unique figure in Egypt. She is a
pioneer feminist and a radical Arab nationalist. Al- Saadawi has lived in the
United States but hates America and, of course, Israel. You can imagine that she
also loathes the Islamists. So how does someone like Saadawi react to the
Egyptian elections won by the Islamists?
She brands it an American conspiracy.
“Democracy is not elections and America uses religion to divide Egypt,” she said
in a recent television interview. You are going to be hearing – or not
hearing, if you depend on the Western mass media – a lot more of this kind of
How often have I heard Iranian exiles complaining that the United
States deliberately didn’t help the Shah in order to bring Ayatollah Khomeini to
power? The Turkish opposition has been talking this way for years. In Iran,
Lebanon, Syria and probably soon in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, people will be
saying: Why do we live under Islamist oppressive dictatorships? Answer: The
Americans brought them to power.
It’s an irony of history. Why do the
Iranians hate us? The Left tends to say that this is because the United States
backed a coup in 1953 against the democratic regime of Muhammad Mossadegh (a
regime that was already collapsing, in which the Communists were getting
stronger, and the Islamic clerics supported the coup) and the Shah
Now we are being told that America has been bad to back the
dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, though the United States opposed the far
bloodier dictatorships in Iraq and Syria.
Yet now the Obama
administration is backing new regimes that are also going to be rather nasty
(though there’s hope for Tunisia) and is failing to help democratic oppositions.
It is pursuing a pro- Muslim Brotherhood policy. One day some future American
president may be apologizing for that.
IN CONTRAST, the real Middle East
isn’t full of revolutionary Islamists who only want an American apology or a
boost into power in order to be friends of the United States. It is full of a
lot of people, maybe a majority in a number of countries, that would like not to
live under radical and repressive dictatorships. It also has a number of
governments that want Western help against what they see as their real enemies –
Iran and revolutionary Islamists.
There are a hundred anecdotes I could
tell but here are some from the last few hours, through personal sources. A Gulf
Arab was asked about his country’s strategic priorities. He replied that the
Iranian regime, “hates everyone. We need more guns” to defend ourselves from
Tehran. A close observer in another Arab country writes me that in contrast to
the West, “Everyone inside the region seems to ‘get it,’” regarding the threat
from Iran’s government.
Funny how clear actual Middle Easterners are
about what’s going on – at least when they are talking to each other – compared
to those across the seas whose interpretations are merely wrong-headed, bizarre
and soon proven to be wrong.
On the other side of the battle, the
Islamists are very happy. In an interview with a British newspaper, Hamas leader
Ismail Haniyeh spoke frankly about his analysis of the situation. What he has to
say tells more than all the analyses from all the Western talking heads,
journalists and politicians.
“The Palestinian cause is winning. With the
Muslim Brotherhood part of the government [in Egypt], they [the Egyptians] will
not besiege Gaza. They will not arrest Palestinians. They will not give cover to
Israel to launch a war.... Israel is disturbed by this. It knows the strategic
environment is changing. Iran is an enemy. Relations are deteriorating
with Turkey. With Egypt, they are really cold. Israel is in a security situation
they have never been in before.”
I don’t agree with him that Palestinians
are “winning” now and are those who gained most from the “Arab Spring.” But
there is much truth in what he says. Egypt will now let Hamas do pretty much as
it pleases, including smuggling terrorists, money and weapons across the border
into the Gaza Strip or setting up bases in Sinai. The Brotherhood in Egypt will
use the country’s resources to help Hamas.
Why would anyone even think of
making peace with Israel when they are enthusiastic believers in total victory,
the idea that events are on their side for wiping out Israel? Everyone in the
Middle East understands these attitudes are triumphing, no matter which side
they are on. Few in positions of power in Europe or America do.
It is not
true, though, that Israel has never faced such a situation before. That’s
precisely the way things were in the first three decades of Israel’s existence
and many elements of the contemporary situation are better than they were for
Israel in the last three decades, following peace with Egypt. Still, this is
quite different from the rosy picture of moderation breaking out all over that
prevails in Western governing circles.
Haniyeh and the kind of people
ruling Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are not rolling over in
the flower field of democracy and peace but rather exulting about how they are
on the road to bloody victory over Israel and the West. If you actually listen
to what they say most of the time, it couldn’t be more obvious.
writer is director of the GLORIA Center at the IDC Herzliya, and is editor of
MERIA Journal. His new book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by
Yale University Press.