Surprise, Suprise: Mubarak is a dictator

What we should learn from all this is that we know nothing of what truly happens in non-democratic regimes.

Amnon Rubinstein 58 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amnon Rubinstein 58
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt descended on the “international community” like a lightening bolt. The two unpopular regimes, although undemocratic, were not notorious for their brutal repression. On the contrary, Tunisia was known as a mildly pro-Western regime in which both polygamy and the veil were outlawed. Egypt was similarly regarded as a mild autocracy, and President Hosni Mubarak was considered a moderate, peace-seeking pro- Western stalwart. True, there were complaints from human rights NGOs, but in comparison with the permanent anti-Israeli barrage, these were mere twitterings.
Both Tunisia and Egypt were elected members of that circus known as the UN Human Rights Commission. In its reports, along with mild criticism, the commission complimented both regimes: Tunisia was praised for building “a legal and constitutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights,” and Egypt was lauded for initiatives “taken in recent years as regards human rights, in particular the creation of human rights divisions within the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs.” (Reading these excerpts, one may be forgiven for thinking that the true demonstration should take place in Geneva, seat of the Human Rights Commission.)
And, needless to say, nothing we have read or seen in the world media prepared us for the horrific street scenes and anti-regime accusations which burst out of our TV screens; the idea that Mubarak is a dictator came as a shock to Western audiences.
What we should learn from all this is that we know nothing of what truly happens in non-democratic regimes. Just as in the 1930s, Western journalists touring the Ukraine did not see the massive death by forced starvation around them, so contemporary media do not fathom what truly lies under an ostensibly mild non-democracy.
THE WORLD of news and NGO reports is slanted. It has a tendency to find fault with open societies and is misled by repressive regimes in which there are no free media or independent courts. Thus a paradox is established: The more democratic and open a country is, the more exposed it will be to allegations of human rights abuses.
This is true of both Egypt and Tunisia. The regimes there were not more repressive than other Middle Eastern regimes: Certainly their abuses were mild in comparison with Iranian and Syrian brutality.
Indeed, because both countries were subject to Western influence and pressure, they could not resort to the unbridled brutality with which the Teheran regime met its pro-democracy opponents in 2009.
The truth is even harder to digest: There is no substitute for democracy, even when flawed. But in the Middle East, free elections – an essential part of democracy – may lead to an Islamic Iranian-type regime which will stifle any sign of true democracy.
We’ll have to wait a long time before we see a reversal of this trend.
The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law (