What is happening in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen...is it good for the Jews?

All those are valid questions, and we need to look at them one by one and in the context of the changes accross the region. In 1979 the people of Iran deposed the Shah, whom they perceived to be a dictator, and replaced him with an Islamic Republic; in the 1980s the Islamists of the Taliban took over Afghanistan; in 2005 the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, also known as Hamas, took over Gaza ousting the pro-Palestinian Authority forces. In 2011, so far it looks like Hezbollah, another Islamist group, managed to take over Lebanon in a bloodless coup. But what is hapenning now feels different.

Earlier this year, the people of Tunizia took to the streets to oust their President and replace it with a Democratic regime. This movement can be said to be the first succesful facebook-twitter-text messaging organized revolution in the history of the world. The significance of it should not be overlooked; it is the dawn of a different kind of political activism and political organizing. Yet the fall of the Tunizian regime made little waves by itself. It was the example it set that is making a difference...

The Egyptian movement was inspired by the Tunizian one and also organized through the technological marvels of our time. The difference is that while in Tunizia the Islamists are relatively weak and the country has a strong pro-European tradition, Egypt is the cradle and the home of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was organized in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banah with the goal of establishing Shari'a (Muslim religious law) as the dominant law in Egypt and replacing the secular regime with an Islamist one. They oppose Modernity and everything it stands for, including the separation between Religion and Politics. It was from the Muslim Brotherhood that many of the Islamists and Jihadist groups now waging war against the West came from. While many of these groups, including Osama Bin Laden, despise the Brotherhood for their insistence on the use of political means to achieve their goals, their goals are one and the same. Moreover, the Brotherhood does not shy away from violence nor does Al-Qaida shy away from politics. Their difference is one of emphasis in one or another form of confrontation, not a difference in objectives. The difference is merely tactical.

The Egyptian revolution can indeed pave the way for the Brotherhood to come to power, mostly because in the 58 years since the Egyptian Revolution that brought Naguib (and later Nasser) to power, the government has discouraged and suppressed any form of alternative political party, including the Brotherhood (banned as such since 1954). But the Brotherhood, unlike secular political movements, is able to survive inside the mosques and continues to be a significant political force. If the resolution of the present political crisis takes long, the chances of the Brotherhood to take over get better. If an Islamist faction takes over Egypt, the most populated and the largest of the Arab countries, the probability of an all-out war against Israel will be in the horizon.

What's hapenning in Jordan is different. King Abdullah ibn Hussein is an Hashemite, and a descendant according to tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. His great-great grandfather was Hussayn, the Sharif (Holy Custodian) of Mecca who was expeled from the Arabian peninsula by the Wahabbi-Saudi Alliance that established Saudi Arabia. As a descendant of Muhammad, his status in the eyes of the common people and even the islamists, is different. In Jordan, the rebellion expresses itself against the Prime Minister and not the King. But Abdullah might have to invite the Islamists into a government coalition in order to save the Monarchy, and since most of the citizens of Jordan are either Palestinians or descendant of Palestinians, islamists mean Hamas or Hamas-allied forces.

As for Yemen, the situation there is also different. The Yemenite government never had complete control over its own territory, and many tribes in the countryside always saw themselves as semi-independent, leading every now and then uprising against the central government. It is in the uncontrolled areas of the Yemeni territory that Al-Qaida and Al-Qaida affiliates have been recruiting and training new generations of Jihadists, mostly because of the inability of the central government of exerting authority. US efforts against Al Qaida saw the reinforcement of government authority in Yemen as a central factor in defeating the Al Qaida network. The fall of the Western-allied Yemenite government can only spell a set back in the War against Terror.

But in the four cases (Tunizia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen) the people are reacting to decades of oppression by dictatorial regimes that abused and exploited its own population and were plagued by cronism and corruption. In a way, the emergence of Hamas in the 1980s as a force in the Palestinian territories can be tied to the very same factors, as well as the emergence of Hezbollah as the champion of the Shi'ites of Southern Lebanon.

The Arab leadership has been presented a bill by its people but they cannot pay. In the past, this meant that Israel paid the price of keeping them in power. Today, that seems unlikely; no Arab government is today in a position to rally the troops for a war against Israel; their successors, however, might be.

All of the above is why Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown great restrain in making any kind of comment about the Egyptian situation, and even commented that "Israel will have to deal with whoever comes on top at the end of the crisis in Egypt". He even asked his Ministers to refrain from making comments, and in a surprising way, his Ministers have been keeping their mouths shut!

Should a Democratic government take hold in Egypt, rather than an Islamist one, we can expect them to honor the agreements with Israel, but they will probably back off from maintaining the Gaza-Egypt border closed, thus enabling Hamas to rearm and prepare for an all out war against Israel and against Abu Mazen. It is because of this possibility that a window for an agreement has opened, but such window will remain open for very short while. To take advantage of the particular political situation that exist today to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, it is necessary to do it now, and fast. Yet the internal conditions both, in the Palestinian territories as well as Israel, do not allow for broad concessions by either side at this time.

In the long run, a Democratic Egypt will be able to conduct the cultural revolution necessary to empower the Arab people and create true Democracies throughout the region. In the short term, however, the spectre of Islamism looms big and Arab Democracy might need another war against Israel to consolidate itself.

Because of all of the above, it is important that we remember as Jews that the fate of Israel and the fate of the Jewish people are intertwined and interdependent; whatever happens to Israel today, will affect Jews all over the world. That is why today, more than ever, we need to rally in defense of Israel's right to exist as the Democratic Nation State of the Jewish People. We can express our disagreement with Israeli policies (indeed as Jews we MUST), but we also need to be more aware than ever of the distinction between criticism of Israeli policies and delegitimization of the State of Israel.


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