* “Both Tunisia and Egypt were elected members of that circus known as the UN Human Rights Commission. In its reports, 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.’”
* “Israelis want to rejoice over the outbreak of protests in Egypt’s city squares. But instead, the grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power.”
* The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 peace treaty if it comes into power. Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt. Israelis now worry that this fragile opening to the Arab world is about to close.
This is a follow-up to the two dispatches earlier this week on Egypt. Today’s dispatch is again divided into two for space reasons. The other part can be read here: A troublesome ally (& “What Bush learned about Egyptian democratization”).
For previous dispatches on Egypt, please see:
1. Video: A close call as Hamas rocket narrowly misses wedding in Israel
2. Senators reject call to cut Israel aid
3. The woman who helped start a revolution
4. Quote of the day
5. “Israel, alone again?” (By Yossi Klein Halevi, New York Times, Feb. 1, 2011)
6. “Surprise! Mubarak is a dictator” (By Amnon Rubinstein, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2011)
7. ‘Burning Bush” (By Lee Smith, Tablet magazine, Jan. 31, 2011)
8. “Lessons on Egypt from Carter and the Shah” (By Ronen Bergman, Wall St J, Feb. 1, 2011)
[Notes below by Tom Gross]
VIDEO: A CLOSE CALL AS HAMAS ROCKET NARROWLY MISSES ISRAELI WEDDING
This video shows security camera footage of a Grad rocket narrowly missing a wedding reception in Netivot, Israel. This was one of two longer-range Grad rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza at southern Israeli towns on Monday night.
Wedding guests (including children) celebrating in this residential neighborhood of Netivot can be seen running for cover.
Although 48 hours have now passed since the attack, needless to say, almost the entire international media still hasn’t reported on it.
SENATORS REJECT CALL TO CUT ISRAEL AID
Six Senate Democrats are rejecting a proposal by new Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky to cut U.S. aid to Israel.
In a letter yesterday to the top House Republicans on the Appropriations and Budget committees, they said aid to Israel, the only democratic nation in the Middle East, is imperative.
Those signing the letter were Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Casey (Pa.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).
THE WOMAN WHO HELPED START A REVOLUTION
This is the video, originally posted on January 18th, that first called on Egyptians to come to Tahrir Square on January 25, thus sparking the current round of demonstrations.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Tom Friedman in The New York Times:
“I’m meeting a retired Israeli general at a Tel Aviv hotel. As I take my seat, he begins the conversation with: ‘Well, everything we thought for the last 30 years is no longer relevant.””
I attach four articles below. All four writers are subscribers to this email list.
-- Tom Gross
ISRAEL, ALONE AGAIN?
Israel, Alone Again?
By Yossi Klein Halevi
New York Times
February 1, 2011
ISRAELIS want to rejoice over the outbreak of protests in Egypt’s city squares. They want to believe that this is the Arab world’s 1989 moment. Perhaps, they say, the poisonous reflex of blaming the Jewish state for the Middle East’s ills will be replaced by an honest self-assessment.
But few Israelis really believe in that hopeful outcome. Instead, the grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.
Either result would be the end of Israel’s most important relationship in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty if it comes into power. Given the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas’s control of Gaza and the unraveling of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, an Islamist Egypt could produce the ultimate Israeli nightmare: living in a country surrounded by Iran’s allies or proxies.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the icon of the Egyptian protesters, and many Western analysts say that the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood has forsworn violence in favor of soup kitchens and medical clinics. Even if that is true, it is small comfort to Israelis, who fear that the Brotherhood’s nonviolence has been a tactical maneuver and know that its worldview is rooted in crude anti-Semitism.
The Brotherhood and its offshoots have been the main purveyors of the Muslim world’s widespread conspiracy theories about the Jews, from blaming the Israeli intelligence service for 9/11 to accusing Zionists of inventing the Holocaust to blackmail the West.
Others argue that the responsibilities of governance would moderate the Brotherhood, but here that is dismissed as Western naïveté: the same prediction, after all, was made about the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The fear of an Islamist encirclement has reminded Israelis of their predicament in the Middle East. In its relationship with the Palestinians, Israel is Goliath. But in its relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel remains David.
Since its founding, Israel has tried to break through the military and diplomatic siege imposed by its neighbors. In the absence of acceptance from the Arab world, it found allies on the periphery of the Middle East, Iran and Turkey. Peace with Israel’s immediate neighbors would wait.
That doctrine began to be reversed in 1979, when the Israeli-Iranian alliance collapsed and was in effect replaced by the Egyptian-Israeli treaty that same year. The removal of Egypt from the anti-Israeli front left the Arab world without a credible military option; indeed, the last conventional war fought by Arab nations against Israel was the 1973 joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur.
Since then all of Israel’s military conflicts – from the first Lebanon war in 1982 to the Gaza war of 2009 – have been asymmetrical confrontations against terrorists. While those conflicts have presented Israel with strategic, diplomatic and moral problems, it no longer faced an existential threat from the Arab world.
For Israel, then, peace with Egypt has been not only strategically but also psychologically essential. Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt – for all its limitations, it is the only successful model of a land-for-peace agreement.
Above all, though, Israeli optimism has been sustained by the memory of the improbable partnership between President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Israel’s prime minister, Menachem Begin. Only four years before flying to Tel Aviv on his peace mission, Sadat had attacked Israel on its holiest day. Begin, Israel’s most hawkish prime minister until that time, withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, an area more than three times the size of Israel.
Though Egypt failed to deliver the normalization in relations Israelis craved, the thousands of Israeli tourists who have filled the beaches of the Sinai coast experienced something of the promise of real peace. At least in one corner of the Arab Middle East, they felt welcomed. A demilitarized Sinai proved that Israel could forfeit strategic depth and still feel reasonably secure.
The Sinai boundary is the only one of Israel’s borders that hasn’t been fenced off. Israelis now worry that this fragile opening to the Arab world is about to close.
Surprise, Suprise: Mubarak is a dictator
By Amnon Rubinstein
The Jerusalem Post
February 2, 2011
What we should learn from all this is that we know nothing of what truly happens in non-democratic regimes.
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, a legal scholar, is the former Israeli minister of education.)
THE LATEST TEST OF GEORGE W. BUSH’S FREEDOM AGENDA
The mass uprising in Egypt that seems set to overthrow the Mubarak regime is the latest test of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda. The U.S. and Israel are hoping it works out better than the previous three.
By Lee Smith
January 31, 2011
Administrations are overtaken by events all the time. And so President Barack Obama may be forgiven for his strange press conference on Egypt last week, in which he didn’t seem to know whether to praise Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Washington’s longtime ally, or side with the masses whom the U.S. president has been courting since his 2009 Cairo speech. And yet the fact remains that the Obama Administration has no strategy to deal with events still unfolding in Egypt, nor even a worldview on which to base one. His predecessor, for all his flaws, did have a strategy. What we’ve been watching on the streets of Egypt this past week is the fourth test of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda.
The Bush White House believed that the problem with the Arabic-speaking Middle East was in the nature of repressive Arab regimes: In this view, Sept. 11 was the product of a political culture that had been strangled by its rulers, allowing their people no form of political expression except extremism. Deposing these regimes would unleash the native political energies of Arab peoples, went the argument, who would turn their attention away from anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments to the thoughtful participatory governance of their own societies. Accordingly, promoting democracy in the region was not only good for the Arabs, but also in America’s national interest. The first test for this Freedom Agenda was Iraq, followed by Lebanon and then the Palestinian Authority. Egypt is the fourth test – and the most consequential yet, for Cairo is the linchpin of Washington’s Middle East strategy.
Egypt was once commonly referred to as leader of the Arab world – an honorific denoting Egypt’s leadership in the arts, intellectual life, and media, as well as its enormous population of 80 million. And unlike other Arab states – Syria, say, or Saudi Arabia – Egypt has a real history and identity dating back thousands of years. Primarily, however, “leader of the Arab world” referred to Cairo’s political status, specifically its role in the wars against Israel.
When Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s second president, was in office, all his political capital rested on the fact that Egypt, unlike U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Jordan, clamored for war with the Zionist entity. When Anwar Sadat, his successor, brought Egypt from the Soviet to the American side after the 1973 war, it represented a Cold War victory for Washington that paid huge strategic dividends. However, it is one of the paradoxes of U.S. Middle East policy that by signing a peace treaty with Jerusalem, Sadat took Cairo out of the front-line camp and thereby weakened the regional prestige of a key American ally. Of course that treaty also put Sadat in the crosshairs of the Islamists, who killed him at Cairo stadium in 1981, with Mubarak beside him on the reviewing stand.
That peace has not only been good for the United States, securing our hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also of course for Israel. It is that treaty with Cairo that allows Israel the relative luxury to worry primarily about a Persian adversary far from its borders and two terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The prospect of Egypt, with a large U.S.-trained and equipped army, air force, and navy, once again becoming “leader of the Arab world” is a nightmare for Israel’s leaders.
The U.S.-backed order in the Middle East is founded entirely on Cairo’s position as an ally – and on keeping the peace, as Mubarak has. If Egypt moves out of the American fold, it might well align itself with Iran. Mubarak has known well enough to fear the Islamic Republic – a street in Tehran is named after Sadat’s assassin. Or perhaps it would challenge the Iranians, in the way regional competition has worked since 1948 – by seeing who can pose the greatest threat to Israel. Therefore, this fourth test of the freedom agenda could not be more important.
Unfortunately, after the first three runs, it’s hard to be optimistic this time. What we’ve seen so far is that the political energies unleashed by the Freedom Agenda are not democratic but tribal, sectarian, and violent. In Gaza, the Palestinian electorate voted for Hamas. In Lebanon, while the majority voted for the pro-democracy March 14 movement, Hezbollah still won power in government even as it embarked on a bloody campaign culminating last week in the party’s takeover of the state. After U.S. forces brought down Saddam Hussein, Iraqis turned on each other, fueled by more than a thousand years of a sectarian rage that was further aggravated by Saddam as Sunnis and Shiites shed blood at a clip typically associated with the grislier sectors of central Africa.
It is true that Egypt is not Iraq. And yet as many seem to have forgotten, only a month ago Islamist militants attacked a church in Alexandria, killing 23 Coptic Christians. To be sure, many Muslims rallied to defend their Christian neighbors, and today there are Christians in the street alongside the Muslim majority, but anyone who thinks sectarian tensions are simply the fault of “extremists,” or the Mubarak regime’s inability to protect Christians, is missing the point: The execution of minorities strongly suggests that a society might not be ready for democracy.
The relevant minority here are the liberals and democrats, for they do indeed exist and Egypt is the historical capital of Arab liberalism, from the novelist Taha Hussein to the journalist Farag Foda. Today there are a number of bloggers, intellectuals, and journalists, like the playwright Ali Salem and Hala Mustafa, editor of the political journal Dimoqratiya (Democracy), who keep the liberal flame alive. The former wrote a book about his trip to Israel and the latter met with the Israeli ambassador, and both were punished for it and ostracized by their colleagues. This is an indication not only of their lack of popularity but also the temperament of Egyptian intellectual culture: illiberal and populist – in other words, undemocratic.
There is some truth to the idea that Mubarak has choked off his liberal opposition, leaving only the Muslim Brotherhood to challenge him, but arguably the Egyptian liberal movement came to an end with the 1926 publication of Taha Hussein’s work on pre-Islamic poetry, which dealt with the historical and literary foundations of Islam. Under pressure from the religious authorities and death threats from Islamists, Hussein removed the passages deemed offensive, and the precedent was set: Men with guns make the rules, which liberals must abide by or be killed. Nonetheless, more than half a century later, Foda challenged the Islamists, and they reminded him how precarious liberalism is in Egypt by gunning him down in a Cairo street in 1992.
The Islamists, represented now by the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, are one of only two political institutions that would survive Mubarak’s downfall; the other is the military. Indeed, Egypt has been run by military rulers more often than not – from the Muslim conqueror of Egypt Amr ibn al-’As to the Albanian soldier Mohamed Ali, whose dynasty fell to Nasser’s Free Officers in a 1952 coup. Mubarak’s son Gamal’s presidency would have represented something like a coup d’etat against the military, which is why they got him out and chief of military intelligence Omar Suleiman was named vice president, making him Mubarak’s official successor. The awful irony is that Gamal and his gang of young financiers and businessmen probably represented Egypt’s best chance to move away from military rule. At least this is what much of the Washington policy establishment believed, with the hope of getting Gamal to pick up the pace of political reform to match the country’s notable economic reform. If Mubarak goes down, the security forces, the military and the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, will fight each other, or cut a deal, or both.
Consider the other options. The United States wants national dialogue, which seems to include Mohamed ElBaradei. By virtue of his name recognition alone, the former IAEA head has been hailed by the Western press as one of the leaders of the democratic opposition. However, at the IAEA this so-called reformer distorted his inspectors’ reports on Iran and effectively paved the way for the Islamic Republic’s march toward a nuclear bomb. Now the Muslim Brotherhood has named him as their interlocutor. In other words, ElBaradei is nothing other than a shill for Islamists.
There’s also Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) party, who finished third in the last presidential elections before he was jailed on trumped-up charges. Then there’s Saad Eddine Ibrahim, the Arab world’s most famous democratic-rights activist, who was also imprisoned by Mubarak and is now living abroad in the United States. During Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, Ibrahim came down on the side of the Lebanese militia. Ibrahim’s posture was hardly surprising given that his onetime jailer despised Hezbollah. But it is odd that a democratic advocate should applaud war with Israel, a country with whom Cairo has had a peace treaty for more than 30 years.
Maybe this should be one of the tests for Egypt’s democrats in the streets: Where do you stand on Israel? If they are really democrats, or just pragmatists, the young among them protesting for higher pay would answer that warmer relations with an advanced, European-style economy – like, say, Israel’s – would provide jobs for the millions of Egypt’s unemployed. Of course that is not the answer you’re going to get from the young men now filling the streets of Cairo. Or forget about Israel and ask them instead about Hezbollah. Do they support the Islamic resistance? Of course they do, because Egypt’s most famous democrat Saad Eddine Ibrahim supports Hezbollah, the outfit that has turned the remnants of Lebanese democracy on its head while killing its opponents.
No doubt there are real liberals and democrats in Egypt, and some may even be in the streets today, but they are not going to come out on top. In part that is because the United States is not going to help them. Indeed, Washington showed how seriously it takes Arab liberals and democrats two weeks ago when it watched silently from the sidelines as Hezbollah toppled Saad Hariri’s government. Plenty of Arabs hoping for a democratic Lebanon died over the last five years since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and it is important to note that the million-plus Lebanese who went to the streets on March 14, 2005 demonstrated peacefully, unlike the Egyptians, and all the destruction and violence was caused by Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies.
That the United States will not come to the aid of its liberal allies, or strengthen the moderate Muslims against the extremists, is one reason why the Freedom Agenda is not going to work, at least not right now. The underlying reason then is Arab political culture, where real democrats and genuine liberals do not stand a chance against the men with guns.
Lessons on Egypt from Carter and the Shah
The fate of Iran after the U.S. abandoned its ally shows where events this week could lead.
By Ronen Bergman
The Wall Street Journal
February 1, 2010
The White House’s reaction to the rioting in Egypt is shortsighted – and typical of what is wrong with the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. Only days ago, President Hosni Mubarak was a longstanding and valued ally of the U.S. His regime was the beneficiary of a $2 billion annual American aid package (the second largest after Israel). And the White House and the State Department tread carefully when broaching the issue of human rights with Mr. Mubarak.
But after not even a week of protests, official U.S. statements regarding Egypt have suddenly made human rights and democracy all the rage. There’s also been talk of terminating U.S. aid.
The U.S. has played this game with dictatorial regimes in the Middle East for decades. The dilemma it faces is difficult, but it certainly isn’t new: Support a distasteful regime because it is a strategic ally, or disavow the dictatorship because it betrays fundamental American values like freedom and democracy.
The first option gives the U.S. immediate practical benefits, not the least of which is increased regional stability. But there is a price for this pact with the devil: The U.S. image is tarnished by association, and the citizens who suffer under the dictator’s yoke are not likely to forget American support for the abuses.
With the second option, U.S. short-term interests will likely suffer as other players rush in to fill the void. Image-wise, the U.S. shines. And the hope is that in the long run, the country – and others – will remember this principled stand and the U.S. will gain some practical benefit from it.
The most difficult maneuver to execute is switching from one option to the other midstream. In fact, the U.S. has never accomplished this maneuver successfully in the Middle East, and all indications are that it is unlikely to succeed now.
The most obvious example of this failure was President Jimmy Carter’s catastrophic mishandling of the events in Iran in 1978-79. The Shah had flouted Iranians’ basic freedoms for decades, yet this hadn’t prevented the U.S. from striking oil and arms deals with him.
In New Year’s Eve 1977, President Carter called the Shah “an island of stability” in the region. Yet as Iranians protested the Shah’s reign beginning in the fall of 1978, Mr. Carter began to insist on democratic reform and human rights – to the exclusion of practically everything else. To the extent that this criticism contributed to the Shah’s downfall, it was spectacularly counterproductive.
It certainly did not satisfy the masses of protestors – a hodgepodge of left-wing and right-wing activists and religious extremists – who continued to fill the streets. As they did, the high command of the military (then 800,000 strong, the sixth-biggest in the world) waited impatiently for a visit from Mr. Carter’s emissary, the deputy commander of American forces in Europe, Gen. Robert E. Huyser, who came on Jan. 8, 1979. They wanted to know one thing: If they took over, would the U.S. prevent a Russian invasion of Iran? That is all. They could have handled everything else by themselves.
But the White House believed that a military intervention would be the worst move possible. Huyser came to Tehran in order to relay the message that President Carter had sent him to ensure a democratic Iran.
When Huyser left Tehran, ties between the generals and Ayatollah Khomeini, who had emerged as the leader of the opposition, had strengthened. The army interpreted Huyser’s message as a form of abandonment. Gen. Abbas Gharabaghi, chief of staff of the army, promised Khomeini, who returned from exile to cheering crowds on Feb. 1, that the army would not leave its bases. (Yesterday, the Egyptian army promised it would not open fire on the protestors.)
On Jan. 16, the Shah, ailing and debilitated, decided that without American backing he had best pack up and leave. He flew to Egypt with his wife and a handful of aides. There he was welcomed as a head of state by his friends, President Anwar Sadat and Vice President Hosni Mubarak.
We are all familiar with what happened next. First, a bloody campaign waged against all dissent against Iran’s new clerical rulers. Then the establishment of an Islamic regime in Tehran that has been no friend to the U.S. For the past 30 years, Iran has attempted to undermine the stability of the Middle East. It has been worse in terms of human rights abuses than the regime it replaced, and it now threatens the entire region with its nuclear program.
Also consider what happened in Gaza. In 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applied considerable pressure on the Israeli government to permit the participation of Hamas in the elections of the newly independent Gaza. This plan to create instant democracy was based on a heavy dose of wishful thinking, including the unfounded belief that Hamas would win only 30% of the vote and thus not pose a real threat. In the end, Hamas won 70% of the vote and ultimately gained total control of the Strip. Along the way, it killed many of its Fatah opponents, ending any hope of true democracy there for years to come.
Human rights and democracy are not causes that can be turned on and off at will, like a tap of water. To suddenly demand respect for human rights when the survival of the Egyptian regime is in the balance – a scenario that could soon be repeated in Jordan and elsewhere – is cheap, feel-good populism, and evidence of a short-sighted approach that risks creating a long-term human rights disaster zone.
Past experience suggests that if Mr. Mubarak’s regime is toppled, not only will American interests suffer, but the cause of freedom in Egypt could be set back dramatically. And the U.S. will have contributed to a Middle East that is less stable and more dangerous than it is today.