Mofaz implores US to revise Egypt aid policy

Former defense minister and IDF chief says Israel was caught off guard by regional unrest.

By OREN KESSLER
February 10, 2011 01:47
3 minute read.
Tzip Livni and Shaul Mofaz at the Knesset

Livni Mofaz Knesset 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz lashed out at the United States on Wednesday for its handling of the Egyptian uprising, and urged it to immediately convert the generous military assistance it gives Cairo to civilian aid.

“The Egyptian affair reveals a grave mistake,” said Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of General Staff, at a Herzliya Conference debate on the future of the Middle East peace process.

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“I call on the United States to immediately stop all military aid to Egypt and to the other states in the area and to convert it, without condition, to civilian aid.”

Mofaz said Jerusalem had been caught off guard by the wave of protests that shook the Arab world in recent weeks.

“Israel and the world were taken by surprise by the earthquake that began in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest,” he said.

The media relations officer at the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to answer The Jerusalem Post’s questions Wednesday on the state of Egyptian-Israeli relations amid the turmoil engulfing his country. In fluent Hebrew, he recommended contacting the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Cairo, but messages left there by the Post went unanswered.

At an afternoon session on regional implications of the unrest, Sherif El Diwany, senior director for Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, compared the situation in Egypt to a pressure cooker.

“It reached a point that it had to explode,” said El Diwany, who is Egyptian. “We don’t know if we’re going to end up with the onions or the carrots.”

Salman Shaikh, a Briton of Pakistani descent who heads the Brookings Doha Center think tank in Qatar, said of the Egyptian regime, “the system is broken... I don’t think that with President Mubarak at the helm we will get the orderly transformation that is needed... the longer President Mubarak stays, the more in danger he puts an orderly transition.”

Wednesday’s debate also addressed the possibility of other Mideast countries seeing Egypt- or Tunisia-style demonstrations.

Riad al-Khouri, an Ammanbased Lebanese economist, said he sees little chance of similar unrest erupting in Jordan.

“First of all, Jordan is not Egypt... The Jordanian street is not boiling,” he said. “Having said that, things are not well in Jordan... There’s a tremendous gap between the rich and poor. This is always a problem.”

While Jordan’s economy is growing, he cautioned, “we have to see who it’s growing for and who is benefiting.”

Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times journalist now writing for City Journal magazine, spoke of the prospects of revolution in Morocco, from which she recently returned on a reporting trip.

With 40,000 registered NGOs, she noted, the North African monarchy allows for a political space that doesn’t exist in other Arab countries.

Despite the huge gap between rich and poor, she said, a recent Carnegie Institute study showed Morocco has reduced poverty levels by 40 percent.

The country’s relatively good governance, she said, encouraged young people to feel “the future could be theirs.”

Eyal Zisser, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, echoed the sentiments of other experts in recommending prudence.

He told the Post that given the present volatility of the region, he would caution against making any predictions over just how things will unfold.


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