Comment: Recent unrest in Arab world is not about us

How the Egyptian revolution debunks the Israel-is-the-cause-of-Mideast-instability myth.

Egyptian anti-government protesters face off with police 311 (photo credit: AP)
Egyptian anti-government protesters face off with police 311
(photo credit: AP)
From an Israeli perspective, one of the most striking elements of the evolving revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world is the degree to which all of this is not about us.
For the tens of thousands of protesters who took to Egypt’s streets over the weekend, defying the curfew and calling for the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the Palestinians were simply not on the agenda.
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And the same was the case during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia earlier this month, and in the demonstrations intermittently taking place in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and Morocco. No cries of death to Israel, no signs to “lift the siege” of Gaza, no chants against housing projects in Ariel.
And to all those who would answer this by asking what kind of egotistical people would think that everything is about them, that they are the center of all regional developments, just consider what everyone from US President Barack Obama, to US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been saying for years: that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the main source of foment and ferment in the Middle East.
Remove that source of antagonism, this argument ran, move Israel out of the West Bank, stop building a new apartment complex in Gilo, and stability would be much easier to bring to the region.
Really? Truly? Let’s imagine that two years ago Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had accepted with open arms Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state on nearly 95 percent of the land, with a land swap for the rest, half of Jerusalem and an international consortium in control of the “Holy Basin,” would Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia not have set himself on fire, would rivers of people not be marching now in Egypt against Mubarak’s autocratic regime?
It’s clear that the tidal wave of popular anger against the Arab world’s “moderate” regimes would be washing over those regimes regardless of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Why? Because Middle East instability is not about us – it is about them. It is about Arab unemployment, and Arab poverty, and Arab despair of a better future.
One of the axioms repeated ad nauseum over the years by pundits around the world is that Arab despair breeds the radicalism that breeds the terrorism, and that the source of that despair is the Palestinian issue. Take that issue away and there will be far less despair, and thus far less terrorism. Hogwash.
True, there is hopelessness in the Arab world – but the source is not the Arab masses concern about the Palestinians; the source is the Arab masses concern about their own lives, their own unemployment and their own lack of freedoms. Fix that and you get stability; ignore that, and you get revolution.
But everyone – led by the US under Obama and the EU – ignored that, fixating instead on the building of another house in Ramat Shlomo, another apartment unit in Efrat. How many times have international leaders bewailed the humanitarian situation in east Jerusalem and in Gaza? How many statements have been issued expressing righteous indignation and concern? And, by comparison, how much attention did these same leaders pay to the humanitarian situation in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan and Algeria – in the “moderate” Arab states. And which situation, really, threatens the stability of the region?
The Middle East is now at a crossroads. There is a democratic moment fast approaching, but one looks at it with fear and trembling. The events in Tunisia and now in Egypt may indeed represent the Arab world’s first popular revolutions, but they are by far not the world’s first revolutions.
The fear and trembling is that what happened in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917 and in Iran in 1979 will repeat itself in Egypt and the Arab world in 2011. After the old was thumped out by the new in those countries, there was a brief moment when democratic forces arose – be it the National Constituent Assembly and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France, Alexander Kerensky in Russia, or Shapour Bakhtiar in Iran – only to be swept away by the radicals: Robespierre in Paris, the Bolsheviks in Moscow, Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran.
In Egypt, too, democratic forces are on the march, but the radical extremists are lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce.
None of this, of course, gets Israel off the hook. The conflict with the Palestinians is real, it’s acute and huge efforts must be found to try and justly manage if not solve it. But this conflict also must be put in its proper perspective; it must not be magnified far beyond its true dimensions.
When WikiLeaks began publishing US diplomatic cables in November, the world got a good glance at the degree to which the Arab leaders themselves did not see Israel – but rather Iran – as their main threat and the primary source of regional instability.
Now on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Saana, the world is getting a good glance at what the people see as the main threat – their own governments.
Neither the people, nor the leaders, are holding Israel and the Palestinians up as the main problem. Is the West listening? Is Obama?