Photo: Yariv Katz
The victory of Egypt’s ruling party and the independent candidates who belong to it, by a fantastic 95% majority, takes the Middle East years back. In the wake of the departure of the man perceived to be a menacing sheriff – President George W. Bush, who demanded democracy in our region – and in the face of a weak president like Barack Obama, leaders in our neighborhood are no longer scared of the United States or the West.
The brutality is back, and along with it the arrests, abuse of the opposition, and the secret police.
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After the Syrian president won the elections two years ago by a phenomenal 97.5% majority, and the Tunisian president won by an 89.9% majority a year ago, the implication is that the old regimes and their imaginary legitimacy are back. The fear that overwhelmed these regimes after seeing the downfall of their colleague, Saddam Hussein, has evaporated. Democracy, even for appearances’ sake, evaporated along with it.
Four years ago, some people argued that the Palestinian Authority is also showing buds of democracy. However, elections for the Ramallah parliament were supposed to be held almost a year ago and presidential elections were due almost two years ago – yet nothing happened. The brief “democracy” under Israel’s auspices evaporated, along with the legitimacy of the Salam Fayyad government and of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term in office expired a long time ago.
Democratization in the Arab world was forced and short-lived, despised and detached from the region’s heritage and religious traditions. It was democratization that feared a fateful outcome: Turning into chaos like in Iraq or into an Islamic state like in Gaza.
In Iran we saw a spark on the streets about a year and a half ago. However, President Obama, who sanctifies the status quo, allowed this spark to die off without offering any support. That was a clear signal to the regimes, including the Iranian one - Obama is on their side and won’t prompt their downfall.
Good news for Israel
The return of the Arab regimes’ brutality is a negative and regrettable process, yet it holds positive implications for Israel because the opponents of these regimes are much more hostile to Israel and are affiliated with radical Islam and the far Left. In the wake of democracy’s demise, stability had been restored in Arab states and the regimes there regained their pride.
Political Islam, which rose under the forced democratization, had been curbed again. In Egypt, not even one representatives belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood was elected. The Palestinian parliament is dominated by Hamas, which won the 2006 elections, but is not convened at all. Some of its members are in prison.
This is the case with the other Arab regimes: With brutality’s return, political Islam was pushed to a less threatening spot than the one it occupied in the past decades, with social stability seemingly restored as well.
Israel must not interfere in these domestic processes in neighboring states. If such states want democracy, they will go ahead with it. And if not, then just let them be. I still remember how during talks on elections in the territories Israel attempted to force democracy upon the Palestinians, and demanded that Yasser Arafat not be the sole presidential candidate. This is not our role, and we’re not supposed to show any interest in what the Arabs choose. It’s their fate, not ours.
At the same time, Israel is benefiting from the return of stable regimes. Everyone fears the Shiites and political Islam, and almost everyone maintains good ties with Israel, even if clandestinely.
The distant West may regret to see democracy evaporating in the Arab world, yet those who seek stability, responsibility, and quiet understandings in the Middle East can find encouragement in the return of the past, and in the 95% defeat suffered by President Mubarak’s rivals.
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