Arab World: The bad news from Egypt

No matter how many int'l or Egyptian assurances are given, Israel cannot depend on what might turn out to be wishful thinking.

Arab Unrest Map 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arab Unrest Map 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What does the Egyptian revolution mean for Israel? A great deal and, unfortunately, none of it is particularly good, though the country will have to adjust to these new circumstances. People who don’t know very much predict some great opportunity for peace in a rosy democratic dawn. But this has nothing to do with reality.
The implications should be divided into two categories: those that relate to Egypt directly and those arising from the event’s fallout on the regional situation.
Even if one assumes a best-case outcome – a stable, moderate democracy – it presents some difficult problems. The simplest way to put it is that certainty has been replaced by doubt. The issues include: Will the new government preserve the peace treaty? Not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the two best-known oppositionists (Ayman Nour and Mohamed ElBaradei) have spoken of the need to revise the treaty, hold a referendum or dispense with it altogether. Even if they do choose to preserve it, Israel must assume that this kind of thing is in the realm of the possible.
Even if the treaty is not formally torn up – due to fear of losing US aid or of Israeli retaliation – it can be emptied of content. If Egypt violates the treaty without admitting it, Israel may have trouble convincing the US to act. And how does it respond without triggering a confrontation? For example, let’s say that out of economic interest the government wants to keep open the gas pipeline. But it comes under repeated attacks by terrorists, the first of which has already happened, and soon no longer functions.
Another problem is border security. Again, we are told that it is in the interest of Egypt, especially the army, to avoid having terrorists cross the border.
Yet similar logic has often proven mistaken on many other issues. With junior officers and soldiers sympathizing with Islamism or radical nationalism, the orders of the generals in Cairo might not be followed with a high degree of discipline.
This country will have to spend more money and reservist days to rebuild its defenses along the long border with Egypt. No matter how many international or Egyptian assurances are given, it cannot depend on what might turn out to be wishful thinking.
THEN THERE’S the Gaza problem. Helping Hamas is considered a national and religious duty by most Egyptians. Maintaining the sanctions on Hamas and a closed border is unpopular. Can any elected government resist the popularity to be obtained by opening the border and want to sustain the unpopularity in maintaining the status quo? Such a step would further embolden Hamas and entrench it in power.
More arms and more sophisticated weapons are going to flow across the border. Indeed, this is already happening. The possibility of a renewed war with Hamas in several years is increased. And suppose the IDF needs to retaliate against a Hamas attack as happened in Operation Cast Lead? Can one assume that an Egyptian government would stand by and do nothing? Maybe; perhaps even probably, but not definitely.
FINALLY, THERE is the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood.
While the likelihood of the Brotherhood taking power in the near future is very low, the chance of it gaining power in the long run is now enhanced. At any rate, the Brotherhood is going to be an important force and perhaps an influence on the government. As it spreads its message of hate, this is not likely to lead to a love-fest for Israel.
Radical nationalism is also a threat. An Egypt that goes down that road could renew its alliance with Syria.
But won’t the Egyptians just concentrate on raising living standards and enjoying freedoms? Perhaps.
Yet the problem is that there is no money for improving the economy and there is more likely to be frustration than prosperity. We have seen how a government that cannot deliver the goods provides scapegoats instead.
In light of these factors and of the possibility of anarchy and terrorism, Israeli tourism is likely to become untenable. It certainly would not be advisable.
The situation can be summarized by saying that so far Egypt has gone from positive to neutral. The question is whether it will go over into the negative.
WHAT ABOUT the regional situation? Is Egypt likely to be a democratic light unto other Arabic-speaking societies? The likelihood is that the radical regimes – Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon – are not going to politely fold up.
Their armies and security forces are willing to shoot to kill. There may be demonstrations, but there won’t be revolutions.
The wave of popular upheavals is more likely to destabilize more moderate regimes that aren’t hostile to Israel than radical ones that are. In the end, though, probably no governments will fall. But they – especially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – will be intimidated. They know that any compromises with Israel or friendly relations with it will not sit well with the masses and those who would agitate them into anger and action.
Another consequence, then, of the revolution is to put the peace process, already frozen, into a very deep freeze. Those who believe that events in Egypt and anti-government demonstrations accord some great opportunity for advancing negotiations overlook this basic fact of how internal politics restrain the flexibility of leaders in the Arab world.
To make matters worse, friendly Arab governments now have to worry whether America is a reliable ally that will protect them.
Who knows whether Washington might declare them to be a dictatorship and support their opponents? And there’s also a message for Israel. How can it be expected to take risks and make concessions when it sees the very real possibility that anyone with whom it makes a deal may be overthrown and their successors not honor their pledges? Finally, iran, Syria and other Islamist forces see the Egyptian revolution as, at minimum, the destruction of their strongest Arab opponent and, at best, a possible gain for their side.
They are likely to be emboldened. After all, they have virtually taken over Lebanon without any strong US response and have entrenched the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
HOW CAN I present such a gloomy analysis while the Western world is celebrating a joyous event in Egypt? Because it’s unfortunately an accurate assessment. The gap between Israeli and Western perceptions is still another aspect of the problem. There’s no danger like one that the potential victims don’t even notice.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (