Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Netanyahu Showing (very) Cautious Optimism on Egypt

I have always maintained that Israel would love to collaborate with democracies in the Middle East. Unfortunately, true liberal democracies in the region do not exist beyond the borders of Israel. So Israel resorts to collaborating with moderate authoritarian regimes such as Mubarak's Egypt. This does not stem from any desire to keep the Egyptian people repressed, but rather out of fear that the alternative is far too bad. 'He is a bastard, but he is our bastard'.

For western viewers, the debate may be about abstract ideas about liberty and democracy. For Israelis, the debate is about life and death, because if Egypt becomes another Iran, well you can figure that one out. Remember: democracy does not equate to rule at the whims of the masses. Democracy should encode a deeper principle of an individual relationship with the state and the state's relationship with its neighbors.

Netanyahu, in what appears to be the first official government statement on the issue, is showing cautious optimism:
"It is inevitable that an Egypt which adopts the 21st century, which adopts such reforms, is a source of great hope for the world, the region, and us."
Netanyahu, who has previously voiced concern that the uprising would take on the characteristics of the Islamic revolution in Iran, spoke in a more positive tone on Wednesday.
"Democracy is dear to us, it is real, and it is obvious that a democratic Egypt will not endanger peace, just the opposite. If modern history teaches us anything it is that the stronger the democratic foundations, the stronger the foundations for peace," he said.
However, the prime minister reminded listeners that less optimistic scenarios could also transpire. "Tehran is waiting for the day in which darkness descends. They are not interested in the Egyptian citizens' aspirations for freedom, just as they were uninterested in such cries from the Iranian people," he warned.
Netanyahu also addressed concerns that the uprising would lead to the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group, which may object to the 1979 peace agreement with Israel.
"A peace agreement does not guarantee the existence of peace, so in order to protect it and ourselves, in cases in which the agreement disappears or is violated due to a regime change on the other side, we protect it with security arrangements on the ground," he said. 
Israel embraces all steps towards a true, modern and democratic Middle East. It is good to have a small flavour of optimism. It is more important however, to have a much larger dose of cautious realism.


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