Tony Blair, with the blood of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine dripping from his fingers, says Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak is “immensely courageous and a force for good.” The opinion is based on working “with him on the Middle East peace process.” Mubarak’s record on the pacification process involves helping the Palestinian Authority transform itself into a (stateless) police state apparatus, obstructing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and constructing, in concert with US army engineers, a metal wall underneath the Gaza border.
Under Nasser’s police state Egypt had no popular sovereignty, but it did have national independence. This was lost at Camp David in 1979, when Sadat signed peace with Israel, retrieved the occupied Sinai peninsula, and received the promise of billions of dollars of annual American aid. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid. American funding of the military is the reason why top officers remain loyal to the regime despite all the humiliations (for Egypt lost its Arab leadership role long ago) and committed to the peace treaty, although Israel has reneged on its Camp David undertaking to provide a just solution to the Palestinian problem.
Blair claims to fear that democracy in Egypt will be stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood – an improbable outcome, to say the least. The Brotherhood is popular and deeply rooted, but so are secular nationalist and leftist currents. The Brothers are involved but not at the forefront of the revolution, and they recognise this quite plainly. Egyptian democracy would resemble Turkey more than Iran (though it would be poorer than both). And even if the Brothers were to win a majority in a powerful parliament, Egypt is in no position to take on Israel militarily. It’s entirely possible that the peace treaty would survive a Brotherhood government, which would be eager first to prove its worth by improving living standards in Egypt.
But no real democracy in Egypt, whether secular or Islamist, neo-liberal or leftist, would provide support for the colonisation of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the emasculation of Palestinian political forces, or assaults on Lebanon, Syria or Iran. This is what most immediately worries Blair and other Zionists.
In the longer term, Egypt would certainly work to undermine Israel, politically and culturally as much as militarily. In these respects, democracy and the rule of law would make Egypt a formidable opponent, a country containing millions of articulate voices, a nation worth listening to. To use Zionist language, a free Egypt would seek to ‘delegitimise’ Israel. Obviously it would, for Israel has no legitimacy amongst Arabs, not because Arab culture is inherently anti-Semitic but because the Arabs know Israel for what it is: an aggressive apartheid state founded on theft and ethnic cleansing. And a successful democracy in Egypt would provoke democratic changes elsewhere in the region, magnifying the challenge. Arab freedom equals a clock ticking towards the end of the Zionist project. Another way of putting it: for the sake of security for five million Israeli Jews, 300 million Arabs are not permitted to rule themselves.
The problem is Zionism, not Judaism. The Westerners who worry about democratic anti-Zionism in Egypt don’t worry about, or choose not to notice, the Mubarak regime’s anti-Semitism. Today regime media is blaming Mossad and ‘the Jews’ for anti-Mubarak protests. Announcements that Israeli spies are masquerading as journalists has led to the beating and entrapment of many foreigners. But the regime scapegoats widely – other explanations for the democracy movement include an Iranian-Hizbullah Shiite conspiracy.
Keeping client dictators in power does not help the long term survival of Jews or any other minority in the Arab world. Dictatorships which lack nationalist credibility employ sectarian propaganda when they can, and the cultural stagnation they bring produces desperate and nihilistic Islamist terrorists. Ayman az-Zawahiri, the brains behind al-Qa’ida, 9/11’s Muhammad Atta, and the massacre of tourists at Luxor – these are also products of Mubarak’s reign.
The most obvious answer to stagnation is movement. The answer to sectarian hatred is democracy. The answer to Arab hatred of Israel is for Israel to change itself from a violent ethnocracy to a multicultural democracy.
Robin Yassin-Kassab is a UK-based writer and journalist. This column originally appeared in his blog, Qunfuz. Reprinted with his kind permission.