MUBARAK’S DEPARTURE OPENS THE WAY
TO A BIGGER CHALLENGE FOR EGYPT
National Post, February 11, 2011
Egyptians are celebrating the fall of Hosni Mubarak. But we are not Egyptians. We are entitled to ask: What does this event mean for us? For Western interests? For peace in the Middle East? For the security of energy supplies? Western governments hope for a transition to an Egypt that is more democratic while still Western-oriented. But such a transition will not be easy to achieve.
Mubarak fell because he could not deliver prosperity to his people. Half the population of Egypt lives on $2 a day or less. Millions of Egyptians depend on state-subsidized bread. When Hosni Mubarak took power in 1981, the average Egyptian was 2.5 times richer than the average Chinese citizen. Today, the average Chinese is 50% richer than the average Egyptian.
Egypt has the largest population of unemployed university graduates in the Middle East. It is the world’s largest importer of grain: Sixty percent of the grain eaten in Egypt is purchased abroad, and at prices that have risen sharply since 2005. Egypt has lost the ability to feed itself in large part because the population has doubled since Mubarak took power in 1981—and quadrupled since 1950. Displaced peasants move to urban slums: Cairo’s population is estimated at some 17 million.
Disappointed by meager opportunities, these new city-dwellers turn for consolation to more intense forms of religion, which promise that Islamic government can deliver social justice. If Egypt’s new government does not deliver quick results, that Islamic message will gain appeal.…
To hold power, Egypt’s new democratizing government must do what Mubarak did not do: deliver quick economic benefits while accelerating long-term growth. Unfortunately, those two goals radically conflict with each other. Egypt is a heavily state-directed economy, led by inefficient state-owned industries, overseen by a bloated bureaucracy. Long-term growth demands that bureaucracy shrink and that industry be privatized. In the short run, however, those two economic reforms imply higher unemployment, especially for the university-educated.
Unemployment will bring discontent—and in a more democratic Egypt, governments will be less able than Mubarak’s police state to survive the protests of the discontented. Those rejoicing over the changes in Egypt should remember that other revolutions have inspired similar hopes. And they should remember what became of those hopes within a very few short months and years.
Edmund Burke foresaw it all 220 years ago. He observed the overthrow of another authoritarian regime, the French monarchy, and reflected prophetically on what he saw: “When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose; but we ought to suspend our judgment…until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one.… The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints.”
If Egypt can move toward democracy while excluding from power the anti-democratic Islamic movements; if Egyptian defence and security services continue to co-operate with the United States; if Egypt honors the peace treaty with Israel; if Egypt protects and respects its Christian religious minority—then this revolution will truly be a liberation. But if an authoritarian government has given way to instability; if successor governments try to appease Islamism by breaking with the United States and persecuting Christians; if they connive with Hamas and abrogate the peace with Israel—then this revolution will show itself one of the great disasters in the history of the Middle East.
But the most likely course is also the most depressing: Egypt opens a little, then closes again. The regime tries to buy popularity by bloating the state sector. It emits nationalist noises against the United States and Israel, downgrading co-operation with former partners. Its foreign policy pivots away from the West and toward Turkey and Iran. In this scenario, Egypt’s future would resemble its Nasserist past: exploiting nationalism to justify authoritarianism. The new dawn will yield to the old twilight.
EGYPT’S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD?
GAZA’S HAMAS? LEBANON’S HEZBOLLAH?
DALAL MUGHRABI PROVES FATAH IS NO DIFFERENT!
NewsRealBlog, February 14, 2011
Much ink has been spilled over the last several weeks over questions about the Muslim Brotherhood. How powerful is it? How extreme is it? How dangerous is the group? Are they sponsors of terrorism? No doubt now that Mubarak has relinquished power these questions will continue to be debated. And let’s be clear, these are vitally important questions for Egypt, for the U.S. for Israel and for the entire Middle East.
But, the things being asked about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood must be asked about [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’] Fatah Party as well. They should have been asked a long time ago.
Fatah is the largest component of the PLO. It was led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004.… Fatah is the Palestinian entity that the U.S. State Department groomed for leadership of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) beginning in 1988 when Arafat supposedly renounced terrorism.
We are expected to believe that Fatah is different. We are told to believe that the PLO has changed. There are just a few problems with that—the big one being that they really have not changed. The Palestine National Covenant continues to call for the destruction of Israel and Zionism.…
When Mubarak’s predecessor Sadat forged ahead and negotiated with Israel, Fatah struggled to find a way to stop the negotiations. They chose violence. Violence against non-military Israeli targets.… Fatah sent a unit of its terrorists into the heart of Israel. On a quiet coastal road north of Tel Aviv they hijacked a bus full of civilians. On that terrible day of violence and terror 38 were murdered. Thirteen were children; 77 were injured. The first victim was an American citizen named Gail Rubin.
Dalal Mughrabi, the female leader of the terrorists, shot Rubin in the head at point blank range.… Rubin was a nature photographer from New York and she was taking pictures on the beach when [Mughrabi] found her. She was 39 years old.…
That was March 11, 1978. It was the deadliest attack against civilians in Israel’s history up to that time.… In the intervening decades, the attack was seldom mentioned in the world media. But Fatah never forgot it. They never forgot their hero Dalal. They turned her into a martyr.
In 2010 the Palestinian Authority government named a town square in El Bireh after this murderer. In Jericho, a summer program for students was named for her. Just last week the U.N. was exposed for supporting Fatah’s efforts to honor Mughrabi.
But no matter what Fatah does, Israel and the U.S. seek to keep them at the center of Arab-Israeli politics. Of course Fatah is very different than Hamas.… But that does not mean they don’t share many common goals. And the destruction of Israel is the most important one of those goals.…
This State Department game (that too many successive Israel governments have participated in) of pretending that Fatah will ever be a peace partner must end. Fatah remains what it has always been, a violent criminal organization with a Nazi-like hatred for Jews at its core. The United States undertook a policy of de-Nazification in Europe after World War II to insure that its victory would not be in vain.… It is past time for the de-Fatahification work to begin.
HARD TO TAKE PALESTINIAN ELECTION PLAN SERIOUSLY
Jonathan S. Tobin
Commentary Blog, February 13, 2011
Hard on the heels of the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak, another Arab authoritarian is trying to pretend to be a democratic leader. The Palestinian Authority announced on Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September. That sounds nice, but those expecting a flowering of Palestinian democracy shouldn’t hold their collective breath.
After all, it is the Palestinians who have proved as much as anyone that there is more to democracy than holding an election. Palestinian Authority elections in the past never meant much since the candidates—and the results—were controlled by the ruling Fatah Party. But when Hamas, a terrorist group that is just as anti-democratic and even more violent than Fatah, contested the 2006 parliamentary ballot, the result was a Hamas victory. For the next year, the two sides co-existed uneasily until Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup.
The reaction of Hamas to the PA’s announcement yesterday was a declaration that such a vote was illegitimate, since the PA government has been holding onto power for years after Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term expired. They’re right about that, but the PA’s rule in the West Bank is no more illegitimate than that of Hamas in Gaza.
It is anybody’s guess as to which of these two groups of terrorists is more popular in the West Bank, but the idea that any race that pitted them against each other would be in any way democratic is a joke. But whatever the outcome of such a vote (assuming one ever happens), a push for more voting is not what is needed if the long-term goal is the creation of a democratic and peaceful Palestinian Arab government.
As hard as it will be to create space for genuine democrats in Egypt between the military on the one side and the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, there is even less room for a Facebook/Twitter revolution among the Palestinians. Palestinian political culture remains stuck in an endless loop of anti-Israel hate and lust for terrorist violence. The only players that offer something really different, such as the economic development plans put forward by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are, like Fayyad, popular in the West but have no real following of their own. It is only the people with the guns who count in Palestinian politics.
Both the United States and Israel ought to encourage and, where possible, support the creation of democratic institutions in Palestinian society so as to lay the groundwork for a theoretical sea change in which peace could become possible. But yet another Palestinian election contested by terrorist gunmen and their fronts won’t bring them any closer to democracy.
FOR VALID ELECTIONS
Jerusalem Post, February 13, 2011
The ripple effects of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster over the weekend are being felt all over the region. The message being sent out from Tahrir Square is that Mideast leaders who want to stay in power must garner legitimacy through a fair, democratic election process.…
In response, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, anxious to shore up legitimacy for Fatah leadership, announced on Saturday, just one day after Mubarak stepped down, that the PA would hold presidential and parliamentary elections as early as September. Abbas hopes, apparently, to learn from Mubarak’s mistake and receive a new mandate from the people.
But that will be easier said than done. Hamas, which forcibly took away control of the Gaza Strip from the PA in 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, has announced that it will boycott such elections, already therefore robbing a Fatah victory of any real significance.
Dr. Nabil Kukali, director-general of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, says Hamas opposes elections right now because it is afraid of losing.… Still, it is not at all clear that Kukali’s assessment is up to date. In recent weeks the PA has suffered a drop in popularity. Though there was nothing terribly new in the “Palestine Papers,” this trove of classified documents was tendentiously leaked by Al-Jazeera as “proof” that the Palestinian negotiating team had “caved in” to Israeli demands by recognizing a few Jewish neighborhoods in parts of east Jerusalem or by showing some flexibility on the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. It is not at all clear, therefore, that Fatah would win elections against Hamas, particularly in the West Bank.
Regardless of which of the two is more popular, however, it would be a mistake to rush headlong into elections again right now anyway. Among the Palestinians, precisely as among the Egyptians, premature elections will not be sufficient to establish a stable democracy.
In the West Bank, Fatah thugs continue to arrest and intimidate Hamas-affiliated activists. Hamas is doing the same to Fatah members in Gaza. Neither in the West Bank nor in Gaza is there freedom of the press or freedom of assembly (when dozens of Palestinians tried to stage an anti-Mubarak rally in Ramallah last week, PA security forces used force to disperse them). The court systems in both areas are far from fair-handed, and the official education systems continue to incite against Israel. In both places, “fear societies” continue to exist, where voters will simply choose whichever of the two violent factions they think will protect them best.
Violently controlled by Hamas, Gaza appears to be a lost cause for the near future. But as in post-Mubarak Egypt, the Abbas-led PA has an opportunity to deepen the process of democratic institution building and to create the genuinely free climate, which are the prerequisites to a truly democratic election.
This should be the Palestinians’ lesson from the events that led to Mubarak’s ouster. Succeeding would send an invaluable message to the people of Gaza that there is an…alternative to Hamas.