We, Israelis, have been overtaken by fear: The fear of democracy. Not here, in neighboring countries. It’s as though we never prayed for our Arab neighbors to become liberal democracies. As though we never hoped to see free elections, multiparty systems, freedom of expression, and civil rights. Yet now that we see the flames of democracy engulfing the streets of Cairo, we are overcome by deep anxiety.
This fear stems from the perception that only oppressive regimes premised on a brutal secret police, dark apparatuses and the trampling of democracy can afford to make peace with Israel. Once dictatorship is gone, peace is gone too. Deep in our hearts we fear that the overwhelming majority of Arab citizens will not agree to live in peace with Israel.
Hence, peace must be forced upon them.
This attitude isn’t surprising. Since its inception, Israel had not experienced peace with any democratic Arab state, because none of the Arab and Muslim states in our region ever experienced genuine democracy.
The protestors in Egypt,
just like their predecessors in Tunisia, want a “regime change” – that is, the toppling of a dictatorial regime. This is a noble aspiration. Any civilized, moral person can identify with it. The Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Jordanians and Qataris deserve to live under a regime that respects civil and human rights, maintains individual freedoms, allows the existence of various political parties as an obvious element, and entrenches the independence of the judiciary through laws.
We do not fear democracy as a desirable system of government in the Arab world. We laud it. What we fear is democracy as a transition period to a new dictatorship premised on radical Islam. Nobody can gauge the power of the Muslim Brothers within Egypt’s young society, or the political views and makeup of an Egyptian parliament elected in free elections. Assuming it is ever elected that way.
Nonetheless, there is no room for early pessimism. Thus far, the Egyptian protest did not address Israel or the peace treaty with it. We want normal lives, protestors told the microphones. They clearly know what they are fighting against: They wish to get rid of the Mubarak dynasty’s rule once and for all – this objective had already been accomplished. Yet they are not sure what they’re fighting in favor of.
What lies in store beyond the wall that the tens of thousands of demonstrator wish to topple – a democratic regime? An Islamic regime? Military rule? Anarchy?
The Egyptian people are ready for democracy. The past two decades clearly proved that there are no nations that are not ripe for democracy. There are no peoples and no geographical regions whose culture, character and history is incommensurate with liberal, social democracy.
President Barack Obama said so openly in his famous Cairo speech. His predecessor, George W. Bush, also encouraged democratization of the Arab world. Back then, few people lauded him, and even fewer understood his message. Now, after so much blood had already been spilled on Egypt’s streets, they already understand.
If Poland and Brazil and India and Indonesia can today be democratic states that keep growing, quickly reduce poverty, and are willing to peacefully coexist with their neighbors, Egypt, Syria and Iran can do the same. This is at least what we Israelis, Jews and non-Jews alike, want to hope. The train of democracy is not a disaster, on condition that it doesn’t veer off its tracks.