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Who’s Afraid of Arab Democracy?

First and foremost, of course, the Arab dictators and their cronies who still rule, and ruin, the lives of their citizens with iron fists. But what began in Tunisia, when a fruit vendor burned himself to death after being humiliated by the police, swelled like a mighty wave into, in the words of another fellow Tunisian in the marketplace, the “Fabulous Tsunami.” The dictator fled with his tyrannical wife, a hairdresser before she married him; and the people of Tunisia are now free to establish a true and, hopefully, lasting democracy. It then spread to Egypt, where for thirty years Mubarak and his regime killed, arrested, tortured and strangled the Egyptian people, depriving them of all forms of liberty and self-expression. In scenes reminiscing of the French Revolution, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the people gathered in Tharir Square shouting, “we will not leave until you leave!” When they marched towards his palace, Mubarak finally fled, losing the support of his generals too. As in Tunisia, an act of a single individual – a geek, an executive of Google using a cellphone camera and the internet – may have sparked the revolution, following the death of another young man by the hands of the secret police, who beat him to death in the lobby of a residential building.

Old, established rulers everywhere in the Arab world are now hearing footsteps in the night, depriving them of sleep. The ripple effect of the big tsunami wave is threatening to sweep them away into the sea of history. In Iran this week, demonstrators scuffled with police and guards, and there are signs that the young people who fought so bravely two years ago, may yet rise again to unleash the final blow on Ahmadinejad and his Molas. In Yemen, the ruler declared that he won’t seek another term, and that his son – as Mubarak was planning on doing with his own son – won’t replace him as president either. King Abdullah of Jordan acted fast after the first signs of revolt in Egypt, and dismissed his entire cabinet, promising political and economic reforms. Similar occurrences are taking place in the West Bank with the Palestinian authorities, where the cabinet was dismissed this week, and new elections were announced for later this year. Voices of discontent, calling for change, are being voiced in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya and Algeria.

Surprisingly though, two other major players in the Middle East – not Arabs – are also afraid of the Arab revolution and democracy. They are, if you haven’t guessed it yet, Israel and America. Why, you ask yourself, both countries were so slow and hesitant at the beginning to come out loud and support the people of Egypt and their fight for freedom and democracy? Why, you ask yourself again, they tried to defend Mubarak and his regime in the first days of the revolution? Why, you may also wonder, the two countries with supposedly the best intelligence services and operations in the world have failed so miserably to foresee this people tsunami? And why, most of all, such two strong democracies would be so afraid – and let’s be honest here, also (initially) against – democracy in Egypt, in the Arab world and in the Middle East?

The answers, my friends, are in the pudding: first, they got too comfortable with Mubarak’s rule. It was easy to look the other way and ignore his atrocities, as long as he maintained and supported the peace with Israel. Second, as long as there was peace with Egypt, and with Jordan, it was easier on Israel – with America’s support – to avoid making peace with the Palestinians; even though this is the core issue facing Israel, and until solved, the main obstacle to achieving peace in the Middle East. Third, Israel – which originally supported and encouraged the people and forces that would later become Hamas – was afraid again that once there is a democracy in Egypt, the people will vote in favor of leaders which, in Israel and America’s view, are not so favorable to themselves, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. As indeed happened in Gaza with Hamas winning the elections. Fourth, because the military of both Israel and Egypt, as the nations themselves, enjoyed a tremendous amount of money from the Americans (via China, of course), and as long as they did not use it against each other, which of course was/is a good thing, it didn’t matter that it enabled both nations to avoid also fixing the real issues.

In Israel, it meant the refusal, and inability to control and stop the settlers and their movement – the real winners in Israel in the last thirty years! – and dealing seriously with the aspirations of the Palestinian people. In Egypt, it meant not dealing with the real issues facing a nation of eighty million people, mired in poverty, corruption and under education. Here’s hoping that, as sometimes is the case, the revolution won’t devour its children this time. It would be good not only for the Arab people, but for Israel and America as well.


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