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Between admiration and cynicism: Mixed opinions of the Egyptian revolution in Israel

While many Israeli media reports praise the crowds who led (to) the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, conservative writers continue to view the Arab Spring with skepticism | The common view is that the regional turmoil relieves some of the pressure on Israel over the Palestinian issue.

Anti Morsi protesters in Cairo, Egypt (photo: Mohamed Azazy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the morning following the overthrow of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, there isn’t a single unified voice coming from Israeli officials and the national media. While some pundits welcome the Muslim Brotherhood’s removal from power (pointing mainly to its very hostile rhetoric towards Israel) others think that Morsi ended up being surprisingly cooperative with Israel. The Egyptian army is widely recognized as the single most important institution in maintaining the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, but the chaos that the second Egyptian revolution will bring seems like the real danger.

In the left-leaning daily Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer points to four reasons “Israel would miss Morsi”: that he didn’t support Hamas and was efficient in bringing a ceasefire during November’s Pillar of Cloud operation in Gaza; that he operated decisively against the Gaza smuggling tunnels and militants in the Sinai Peninsula; and that he didn’t get close to Iran. The most interesting argument Pfeffer raises is one I didn’t see anywhere else:

Morsi’s tenure was the first in which a large and popular Egyptian party that was elected in a democratic process supported, even if begrudgingly, the peace treaty with Israel, and justified it to the Egyptian people.

I would add that this is was a precedent not only with Egypt, but with the entire Arab world.

Ynet’s military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai has a piece this morning on “the Revolution’s Hangover,” referring to the challenges the army is facing today. Ben-Yishai thinks that as far as Israel is concerned, it appears Morsi’s ouster will not have a direct effect on us, certainly not in the short term.”

Also in Ynet, an interesting op-ed by the chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies presents a much more admiring tone. “Egyptian society’s show of force proves that forecasts of ‘Islamic winter’ were detached from reality,” writes Yoram Meital in a piece titled, “Arab Spring still here.”

Cover of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in the morning following the removal of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi from power by the army. The headline is “Revolution”

The conservative pro-government daily Yisrael Hayom displays a much more cynical tone. The paper’s top pundit, Dan Margalit, attacks the Obama administration for aiding Morsi’s regime. The administration, writes Margalit, learned that there are no moderate Muslim Brothers. “Israel has no reason to be sorry [for Morsi’s departure],” concludes Margalit.

Also writing in Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser called  Egypt “a military democracy.” Zisser estimates that the army and the Brotherhood – “the only substantial organized forces in Egypt” – will continue their battle in the years to come, with the masses of protesters deciding who has the upper hand.

Also on the conservative side, The Jerusalem Post argues that “Jerusalem prefers the devil it knows to the unknown.” A report in Maariv cites unnamed sources who fear that “terror groups will take over the Sinai Peninsula.“ Maariv’s leading conservative pundit, Ben Dror Yemini, argues that despite the revolution, “the Egyptian pulic is getting more religious.” Yemini warns of “the illusion of the Facebook generation.”

On social media platforms I read some comments in Hebrew concluding that the “Arabs” cannot sustain a functioning democracy, while others admired the activism of Egyptian youth who took to the streets in such large numbers. It is worth remembering that some people argued in 2011 that the Arab Spring, and especially the Egyptian revolution, served as inspiration to Israel’s Tent Protests (in the largest Tel Aviv rallies there were signs specifically quoting slogans from the Egyptian revolution). Today, some lamented the fact that there is little hope of an Israeli protest movement re-emerging.

Perhaps most interesting is the way a clip of an Egyptian journalist and protester speaking in Hebrew with the Israeli Channel 10 went viral. Heba Abu Saif was positive and engaging, urging Israelis to take to the streets whenever their leaders bread their promises or compromised the public’s rights. You can watch the clip with English subtitles here.

A couple other issues I noticed in the past few days:

Reports on sexual assaults in Tahrir Square received a lot of attention in the Israeli media, and sometimes their coverage overshadowed the rest of the revolution, especially until yesterday evening when the attention went back to the fate of the presidency. At times, those reports were used by right-wing commentators for notes on “the real nature of the revolution” in a way that gave the impression it is not the fate of the women who were assaulted they were worried about, but rather some point they were trying to make about Arabs or Muslims in general.

There was also a feeling that the pressure on Israel “to do something” with regard to the status quo in the Occupied Territories would decrease again. With Syria torn by civil war and Egypt is descending into chaos again, many Israelis feel that the attention given to the Palestinian issue is absurd. While I obviously don’t share that view, I think that it is true that as long as the West Bank is “quiet,” some foreign powers will quietly welcome the stability provided by the occupation and the Palestinian Authority, and Israel will be free from pressure (or any other form of accountability), at least as long as it doesn’t take overly drastic measures on the ground.

The opposing view, according to which the Arab Spring presents an opportunity for Israel to resolve the Palestinian issue and find its place in the “new Middle East” – among other things, due to the collapse of any real threat against Israel – is held by a very small minority. There is very little, if any, domestic pressure for change.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      I don’t see a connection between a mass uprising overthrowing a corrupt, ineffecient regime and “democracy”. We saw all of this in 1917 in Russia, in Egypt in 1952 and in Argentina in 1955. All had autocratic regimes overthrown to great popular enthusiams and all lead to tragedy. I recall that here at 972 Lisa Goldman visited Egypt after Mubarak was ousted and interviewed someone ther who said that now that Mubarak was gone Dgypt was “the most deomcratic country in the Middle East, including Israel”. They apparently don’t understand that democracy consists of a civil society that is based on rule of law, constitutional government, respect for rights of the political minority, etc. Not simply having a free electio and a relatively free press. None of the countries in the Arab Middle East have much experiencg in these things. The assumption that I keep seeing among “progressives” here that democracy is the idefault condition of mankind and if only the existing autocratic regime is ousted then democracy will automatically sprout is sadly mistaken.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      “They apparently don’t understand that democracy consists of a civil society that is based on rule of law, constitutional government, respect for rights of the political minority, etc. Not simply having a free electio and a relatively free press.”

      By this impressive list, is Israel a true democracy then?

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Yes.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Some statistically insignificant idiots might think that Israel is not a democracy.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      No coups in Israel’s history.

      Chief Rabbi Metzger is under arrest and charged with bribery. Former President Katsav is in jail and Ehud Olmert’s appeal is before Israel’s High Court.

      Sounds like Israel has a strong vibrant democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        The military takeover of Palestine by the Zionists would be the equivalent of the coups in the Arab states. The Palestinians didn’t get to vote on the partition of their country and their forced exile. Israeli democracy exists only for the Zionist parties.

        If the Egyptian army split into several factions that resolved their differences through elections, that would be more or less what Israel has, and it would be misleading to call that democratic.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The Palestinians didn’t get to vote because their leadership rejected partition and any other possible arrangement that recognized the Jewish community and resorted to violence in an attempt to strangle and destroy the Jewish community. It would be like a civil war in an Arab state where the majority decided to slaughter the minority or entirely deprive them of any rights. Palestinian Jews beat the Palestinian Arabs (and their allies) in a war and created their own state. In Iraq such a state will be called Kurdistan. In Syria maybe Alawistan.

          If the Egyptian army split into several factions and resolved their differences through free and fair elections where all other parties could participate that would be more or less what Israel has and it would very much be a democracy. FYI, there are at least 3 non-Zionist parties represented in the Israeli Knesset – Hadash, Balad and UAL/Taal. I am pretty sure that most of the members of these parties would punch you in the face if you were to call them Zionists.

          Reply to Comment
          • mike panzone

            basically, it was Great Britain who took control and decided what kind of countries were going to be here. it also forced upon the indigenous arabs and jews an unwanted immigrant population of european zionists. if the residents of the area had not been denied the right to vote and form a country for themselves after WW1, then we would not ever have had the current jewish state and the world would have been spared this 90 year conflict.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            To put things a bit more didactic, Zionism, like all forms of racism, is anti-democratic by definition. The idea was to create a colonial-settler majority, so it was inevitable that the natives would be excluded by those who invaded Palestine (With Britain’s help). Israel can not be called a democracy until it restores the rights of those who would be citizens had their ancestors not been physically displaced and excluded from citizenship on a racial basis. And of course it won’t be a Jewish state anymore.

            Those three parties have never been represented in the cabinet, so they have no real power. And of course Bishara, Zoabi, Zahalka, and Tibi have been pointing out the same thing for years.

            Reply to Comment
          • mike panzone

            this is a good point and similar to the story of america. it has always been a democracy, but that didn’t help natives and blacks much prior to the 60′s because of their minority status and their lack of any real power. after 200+ years, the USA is growing up and is providing more freedom and equality to more and more people due to its secular constitution…israel needs to catch up.
            i’m amazed how many find a jewish state acceptable but rail against an islamic republic. sure, israel may give more rights to its minorities than iran, for instance, but neither country will truly be democratic until they lose the “jewish” and “muslim” in their names and become secular democracies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            To put things a bit more didactic, Zionism, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. The idea was to create a majority Jewish state with the status of the minorities left entirely open. Only by making the invalid assumptions you make do you derive your conclusions. Israel is very much a democracy right now and will continue to be one, including granting equal rights to its Arab citizens.

            The three parties are non-Zionist. Do you admit that? They run in elections, they sit in parliament, they participate in parliamentary committees, they have equal votes in the parliament. Given that it is a fact you now have to change your definitions since your initial claim that Israeli democracy does not exists only for Zionist parties has been demonstrated as nonsense.

            That they can’t bring themselves to sit in a government is a problem, but the blame rests as much with the Arab leadership that refuses to reconcile with the existence of Israel as it does with the Zionist parties that do not make sufficient efforts to integrate the Arab population. Yet Zoabi, Zahalka, and Tibi point all these things out from the podium of the Israeli Knesset, which to any rational person would suggest that they are full participants in a liberal democracy that grants them and their constituents the right to run for parliament, vote, speak their minds, participate in all votes, etc, etc, etc.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            “The idea was to create a majority Jewish state with the status of the minorities left entirely open.”

            This is an interesting mix of honesty and mendacity. The Palestinians were not a minority when the Zionists started arriving, and they aren’t now.

            And Israeli citizens who aren’t Jewish don’t have equal rights. Namely, they lack the right to lease government- or JNF-held land.

            “Given that it is a fact you now have to change your definitions”

            Ha ha, no, I’ve been sticking with the same definition from the start. Selective democracy is an oxymoron. Israel only allows those few Arab parties because they’re no threat to the segregated control of the land. In fact, even the Knesset is segregated. There’s not a single non-Jewish Israeli with a seat in the Zionist parties.

            “That they can’t bring themselves to sit in a government is a problem, but the blame rests as much with the Arab leadership that refuses to reconcile with the existence of Israel”

            Once you’ve deluded yourself into believing Israel has equal rights, the arrogance can only skyrocket from there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            “The Palestinians were not a minority when the Zionists started arriving, and they aren’t now.”

            Whether the ‘Palestinians’ were a majority or not at the time is pretty much irrelevant to whether Zionism sought to create a majority Jewish state in Israel through the immigration of the millions of Jews around the world to Israel. The comparative demographics in the 1920 would probably have twelve million Jews compared to half a million non-Jewish citizens of the Ottoman Empire residing in this territory who had not yet been trained to think of themselves as a national group. Whether the Palestinians are a majority now really depends on where you draw the borders. For example, I can’t see how a reasonable person would imagine Gaza being a part of Israel in any way, especially given the fact that most reasonable people have been arguing for the past 40+ years that Gaza is not a part of Israel.

            “And Israeli citizens who aren’t Jewish don’t have equal rights. Namely, they lack the right to lease government- or JNF-held land.”

            The have the full right to lease government and JNF-held lands. That they can lease government lands isn’t really in question here as I have seen not a single shred of evidence that at this moment there are any legal limitations. The JNF is also forced by Israeli law to lease land to Arabs. To ‘compensate’ it for violating its charter the JNF is given land elsewhere when they do so. This is an imperfect arrangement but one that very much ensures all the relevant bodies lease land to non-Jews.

            “Ha ha, no, I’ve been sticking with the same definition from the start. Selective democracy is an oxymoron. Israel only allows those few Arab parties because they’re no threat to the segregated control of the land. In fact, even the Knesset is segregated. There’s not a single non-Jewish Israeli with a seat in the Zionist parties.”

            So, Israel does then allow Arab non-Zionist parties to participate in free and fair elections and sit in the Knesset and participate in all its committees and workings? Well, that is mighty fine of you to admit that you were wrong. Now whether these parties are a threat or not is a matter of interpretation but your argument is sort of like the argument that European countries are not democracies because the parties you like don’t get enough votes to overturn the system. And as for the argument that the Arab parties don’t participate in governments.. Again, there are quite a few parties in Europe around which all the other parties have declared cordons sanitaires yet those countries remain democracies in the eyes of most people. You have no real argument do you?

            Now, it is also mighty fine of you to provide me with another easily debunked “factoid”. Hamad Amar is a member of Knesset from the Israel Beiteinu party. Now you can either argue that Hamad Amar is a Jew or you can argue that Avigdor Lieberman’s party is not a Zionist party. I am pretty sure you are not going to make a convincing case either way.

            “Once you’ve deluded yourself into believing Israel has equal rights, the arrogance can only skyrocket from there.”

            Israel does have equal rights for all its citizens. Given that within the course of this conversation I have caught you in 2 if not 3 blatant mistruths, I’ll let someone else decide which one of us is delusional.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            “I can’t see how a reasonable person would imagine Gaza being a part of Israel in any way,”

            Gaza is not part of Israel the Jewish state; it’s part of Palestine the country segregated by colonization into Israel and the occupied territories and is the refuge of people from Israel who are racially banned from returning there.

            “That they can lease government lands isn’t really in question”

            Let’s see: “Moreover, the operation of admissions committees contributes to the institutionalization of racially-segregated towns and villages throughout the state and unequal access to the land. The Israel Land Administration (ILA) instituted admissions committees to bypass the landmark 2000 Supreme Court decision in Qa’dan 105
            in which the court ruled that the Jewish Agency’s policy of excluding Arabs from state land constituted discrimination on the basis of nationality.”

            http://adalah.org/upfiles/2011/Adalah_The_Inequality_Report_March_2011.pdf

            The state has never allowed the construction of a new community for non-Jewish Israelis except for the purpose of resettling Bedouin.

            “The JNF is also forced by Israeli law to lease land to Arabs.”

            If you want to demonstrate that Israel has equality, you can certainly do a better job than highlight that JNF land has only been leased by non-Jews rarely and only after a ridiculously lengthy litigation. Adel and Iman Kaadan spent 10 years in court just to get a plot of land. And the ruling was not like Brown v. BoE in the US – it did not set a precedent that would open JNF land for unconditional lease to non-Jews.

            Thanks for pointing out that for every plot of land the JNF is forced to concede, it must be compensated with an equal amount of land that was originally confiscated from Palestinian refugees to begin with.

            “Again, there are quite a few parties in Europe around which all the other parties have declared cordons sanitaires yet those countries remain democracies in the eyes of most people”

            That’s because no European state has most of its rightful inhabitants in perpetual exile, unlike Israel with the Palestinian refugees. Now, any argument attempting to circumvent that reality is the real non-argument.

            “Now you can either argue that Hamad Amar is a Jew or you can argue that Avigdor Lieberman’s party is not a Zionist party.”

            He’s Druze, so I will go out on a limb and make this assumption: He’s not Jewish, but he’s not Arab enough to repulse Yvette the Bouncer. But I stand corrected: One Non-Jewish Zionist member.

            Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        By the way, Egypt has two former presidents in jail, one of whom was arrested while in office. If that’s not a vibrant democracy, I don’t know what is.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          By the way, both former presidents of Egypt were put in jail by the military, unlike in Israel where they would wind up in prison as a result of a fair trial.

          Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        No need for a military coup in a country that is already de facto governed by the defense establishment.

        Reply to Comment

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