For Israel, Tough Choices on Egypt

By | Feb 08, 2011
Latest, Religion

By Steven Philp

On Saturday Israeli President Shimon Peres offered a defense of beleaguered Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, on the grounds that his rule has been characterized by three decades of stability between their respective nations. According to Haaretz, Israeli officials are concerned that if Mubarak is forced to step down the 1979 peace deal between their respective nations could be compromised. Peres seemed particularly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that their participation in the opposition movement casts doubt over continuing peace with Israel. Addressing members of the European Parliament, Peres lauded Mubarak for maintaining accord with Israel, stating, “His contribution to peace, as far as I’m concerned, will never be forgotten.”

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei attempted to assuage these fears in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, stating that the peace established by the Camp David Accords – signed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – is “rock solid,” even as the desire to see the emergence of a Palestinian state is vocalized by anti-government protestors. Yet these wishes, he assured “have nothing to do with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel… which has been concluded.” It is his assumption that his nation will continue to respect the agreement. According to Haaretz, the Muslim Brotherhood – of which Peres expressed concern – has recently alluded to a tacit acceptance of the Camp David Accords, a possible reversal from their long-held opposition to peace with Israel.

Perhaps Peres’ fears will not be met. Yet – looking to his speech for members of the European Parliament – we are left to wonder if the maintenance of the Camp David Accords is reason enough for Israelis, or the wider Jewish community, to throw our hat in with Hosni Mubarak. Are we not similarly called by our heritage to oppose the tyranny of his authoritarian rule, which extends uncontested from his appointment to presidency on October 14, 1981 to the first demonstrations several weeks ago? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the Jewish hope for democracy in a speech made before the Knesset last Wednesday, saying, “All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.”

We walk a dangerous line when the security of Israel takes primacy over the Jewish value of human dignity. It is understandable that Israeli officials will support foreign leaders who honor stability in that region and peace with the Jewish state. Yet at what cost do we continue our allegiance? By speaking on behalf of Mubarak, Peres aligns his administration with an authoritarian leader who has stifled the voice of his people for three decades. Even as Netanyahu champions democracy, a resistance to the transition of power in Egypt belies this hope. For Jews living in the Diaspora, we can be torn between those politicians that support Israel and those who more accurately represent our ethical framework. It is troublesome when our identification with the Jewish community is more contingent on the former than the latter. In a perfect world they are not exclusive of one another. But as illustrated above, at times these issues will come in to conflict. The question is then to which Jewish value do we ascribe: allegiance to Israel, or human dignity? And does it matter if the dignity in question belongs to those outside the Jewish community?

3 thoughts on “For Israel, Tough Choices on Egypt

  1. ben yaacov says:

    Israel and by extension Jews have zero influence over current events in Egypt so why all the hand wringing? Egypt is never going to be more or less democratic because of Israel and Jews or conversely it won’t be any more or less autocratic because of Israel and Jews.

    The Mubarak regime is propped up by the Egyptian military and Egyptian security institutions. The Mubarak regime is not propped up by Israel!!!

    Nobody responsible is disputing the desirability of democracy in Egypt. The reality is that democracy is not an option in Egypt. There is no free press, well developed political parties, independent courts, rule of law or very importantly any history or culture of democracy. There are two powers in Egypt the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. Those are the only choices.

    The Islamists (Brotherhood) would win the first and last free elections with no concern for what the protesters wanted. Many protesters would no doubt even foolishly trust and vote for the Brotherhood. There won’t be any more chance for buyers remorse in Egypt than there was/is in Iran.

    The economic crisis has been exacerbated by the political oligarchy but it is not the cause. One of the biggest problems has been the uncontrolled population explosion. Even a well intentioned government cannot grow an economy fast enough to accommodate the population growth in Egypt or any of the Arab countries that lack exploitable natural resources (gas and oil).

    Democracy also by itself while better able to distribute wealth, the US being an exception here, can’t just make a productive economy on demand. China isn’t a democracy but probably offers a better if not equally valid model for quick economic development that would satisfy the protesters economic concerns.

    In any and all events there is no quick fix for Egypt either economically or politically.

    There are only 2 choices the military or the Islamists. The military offers the hope of making the necessary reforms that will make something resembling democracy possible. The Islamists reject Democracy. They want an Islamic or sharia state and that is in complete contradiction of all the standards, norms and values of Democracy.

    In Tunisia the protesters forced out the president but not the military, who are still in power. I would guess that is what will happen in Egypt as well, Mubarak will stand down but who ever takes over will do so with the Army’s blessing.

  2. ben yaacov says:

    PS Contrary to what the writer opines there is no choice for Israel to decide on.

    As I said there are 2 choices but it is Egypt that will make the choice. The USA can best help by supporting the army and generate good will so as to use it’s influence to make meaningful reform.

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