Netanyahu Mubarak 311.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Less than two hours after toppling their leader of 30 years, the protesters of
Tahrir Square had started to tidy up. Barricades were dismantled, the
rubbish and debris removed, streets swept. A deliberate choice has been made by
protest leaders to resume normal life now that the hated Hosni Mubarak is
Perceived by many Israeli commentators as a movement shifting Egypt
toward extremism, the developments of the past few days belie such
characterizations of the protesters’ intentions.
The almost total lack of
anti-Israeli and anti-American slogans and placards in the past fortnight has
been striking, as has been the lack of Islamic content. Rather than being
hijacked by extremists, what we have seen is a popular process characterized by
a political maturity and moderation never witnessed before in the Arab
The protesters’ immediate, joyful acceptance of an interim army-led
caretaker administration only reinforces this reality. Acutely aware of the
bloodshed in Iraq when it was “democratized” after 2003, protesters are not
pushing for immediate elections, understanding the need for a period of calm
political management before elections later in the year.
temporary military leadership, in its first statement since the ousting of
Mubarak, bent over backward Saturday to emphasize that it’s business as usual.
The peace with Israel will be respected and promoted. “Egypt is committed to all
regional and international obligations and treaties,” insist the
IN ISRAEL, it has become the norm to view any regional
development that it has not preordained with knee-jerk pessimism, if not
outright panic, the assumption being that disaster is imminent. Yet the events
in Cairo and the statements from the Egyptian military demonstrate something
quite different, and should thus be welcomed.
The army will try to move Egypt
toward an Arab version of a moderate, secular democracy. The new political
framework may include provisions that recognize the importance of Islam –
religiously and socially, not politically – to the majority of its 84 million
inhabitants, and the new Egypt may take issue with some Israeli policies toward
This may mean a less intimate and more critical
relationship. But if premised on a mutual commitment to regional stability and
moderate politics, such a reality can only be preferable to the repression of
the past 30 years that helped drive so many Egyptians into the arms of radical
Even a minority role for Islamists in the first governments
that will follow may be a small price to pay for the benefits of stable
relations with a secure, secular, democratic Egypt – however unpalatable such a
scenario may seem to many in Israel. Egypt is not Lebanon, and is certainly not
It is thus in Israel’s interest to immediately change its
rhetoric. Binyamin Netanyahu’s public statements in the days before
Mubarak fell were almost as out-of-touch as Mubarak’s own speeches, missing the
Cairo mood and even drawing public rebuke from Britain.
Mubarak’s resignation, the language was not adjusted – Netanyahu’s Saturday
evening statement said nothing about the historic events, just that the peace
treaty “has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for
peace and stability in the entire Middle East.”
No good can come from
Israel – so proud of being the bastion of democracy in the otherwise dictatorial
Middle East – reacting to the democratization of Egypt with belligerent
rhetoric, military posturing and open expressions of doubt.
It may play
well to the fear and pessimism that has become so entrenched in the national
mind-set, but can only aid elements like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying
to push Egypt away from the peace treaty.
Things can of course still go
wrong, and in the elections later in the year the Brotherhood could still come
to power. But such nightmare scenarios are now far, far less likely.
remain so inherently pessimistic, however, that you can expect to hear the exact
opposite sentiment from certain politicians and commentators in coming weeks and
months. Such statements will not serve the country’s short- or long-term
interests.The writer, an academic and analyst specializing in Middle
East affairs and counterterrorism, lectures at New York University in London.