26 January 2012

Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business? Indeed?

I just finished reading an article with that intriguing headline: Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business. If you click on the link to read it (and I am certain that you could do much worse with your time than reading it), you shall see that it's written in the web magazine +972* by Lisa Goldman, an award-winning freelance journalist and blogger. An excellent reporter, and intrepid and courageous person, Lisa has done a lot during her illustrious journalistic career in and outside of Israel. Some of it, like her reporting from Beirut is widely known and deservedly admired, some of her tribulations during her years in Israel are still less famous (well, maybe one of these days with Lisa's permission...).

The article left me with some mixed feelings.  On the factual side of it it's an admirable job. It's difficult to argue with facts and with Lisa's opinion that revolution is a messy business and it will take quite a lot of time till the smoke disperses, SCAF (the Egyptian military) steps back and we'll be able to see what is what.

As for the main statement - the election results are none of our business - it demands some deconstruction. First of all, as far as meddling (of any kind, including verbal support for any side in the Egyptian power play) is concerned, I guess no one of a sane mind will disagree. Maybe it's worth mentioning here the fact that a few Israelis visiting Cairo, caught up with the events in the Tahrir square, enthusiastically took part in the demonstrations (at least before the Muslim Brotherhood gradual takeover) against Mubarak's regime, but this is neither here nor there.

However, Lisa then takes to task her colleague at +972, one Larry Derfner, who in his short (thanks deity) piece on Islamists' election achievement has the following to say:

I don’t regret siding with the protesters against Mubarak one bit; knowing what I knew then, I didn’t see that a democrat had any choice. But if I’d known then what I know today? I would have supported Mubarak.
Lisa, apparently, got irked by this expression of wisdom. Why, I can't even start guessing. Mr Derfner's quite pompous way of expressing his displeasure with the election results and of hinting (yeah, yeah, I know it was unwitting) about the possible withdrawal of his support from the revolution shouldn't be that strong an irritant. However, Lisa has chosen to go after Derfner in a rather original way:
Well. “We liberals” are citizens of the democratic state of Israel, which freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. The head of that party, Avigdor Lieberman, is now the foreign minister. He cozies up to Vladimir Putin and once said that Israel should bomb the Aswan Dam. In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the Nour party. So I don’t think we have all that much credibility when it comes to commenting on the election results of our neighbours.
No matter how true the above is (and much of it is true), what do the Zionist government's warts and blemishes have to do with Larry Derfner's foot being firmly lodged in his mouth? After the passage quoted above, Lisa has said something more to the point:
I am also pretty sure that the Egyptians don’t care whether Larry or any other non-Egyptian supports their revolution. They particularly don’t care whether or not Israeli liberals support or oppose their revolution. We Israelis can be quite vain, but really – this revolution is not about us. At all.
However,  there is no reasonable explanation of that previous tirade, not linked to anything Derfnerian.

This, however, is not all Lisa had to say about the potential Israeli involvement in Egyptian issues, there is more:
We [Israel] removed ourselves from the discussion by tacitly supporting oppressive dictators like Mubarak, who crushed civil society in his country over a period of thirty years, and by refusing to end the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Strange that. I would say we shouldn't be a part of the "discussion" for the simple reason of being foreigners with no right of being involved in any way. As for tacit (or not) support of the dictator: does Lisa mean that we should have been active in his removal or that we should have cut the diplomatic ties? And how is our military occupation of the Palestinian territories relevant to support (or the opposite of it) of Mubarak's regime that we shouldn't be involved in as foreigners to start with? Beats me.

Now we can move from the question of involvement to the question of having an opinion on the events in Egypt. In this respect I don't understand Lisa at all. Back to Derfner again. The question is simple: clumsy as Mr Derfner was in his piece quoted above: does he or doesn't he have a right to have and to express an opinion on goings-on in a largest Arab country and our neighbor to boot? In an indirect way Lisa answered this question:
When I was in Cairo last spring, I met a prominent Egyptian journalist – a liberal – who displayed an impressive knowledge of Israeli society and politics. He told me two things that I won’t forget. He said that there was not a single Israeli journalist who evidenced any true insight or deep knowledge of the Arab world. And he said that the Arab uprising was unstoppable.
With all due respect to unnamed Egyptian journalist, I tend to doubt that sweeping statement. That in the whole country, puny as it may be, there is not a single person (let's leave journos alone) with in-depth knowledge and understanding of our mighty neighbor? Not serious, no matter how unstoppable the uprising is. At best this saying reminds me of the "mysterious Russian soul" that no foreigner is supposed to understand...

Of course, besides the issue of having or expressing (or not) our opinion there is another issue, that of minding our own business. A good part of it, unfortunately, is monitoring and being prepared to any surprises our neighbors may have in store. Of course, Lisa has an unequivocal answer to that too:
But if we’re going to assess reasons to fear for the Middle East, we Israelis don’t have to look very far. The danger is not with the Islamist parties. They have no love for Israel, but they have neither the power nor the will to express their dislike by mobilizing for war. The danger is with the Israeli governing coalition, which is passing anti-democratic legislation at home and behaving increasingly like non-rational players in the diplomatic arena.
I am sure that our Chief of Staff will be glad to hear it, but let's leave him some wiggle room, at least for long range planning, could we possibly? As for our precious governing coalition, discombobulating as it may be, I could point out a few other sources of potential military danger in our corner of the world, but let's leave it alone for now, OK?

And now back to the title of Lisa's article, to remind you: "Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business". I have to disagree. Non-involvement issue and Larry Derfner issue being cleared and put aside, Egypt’s election results are very much our business. At least no less of our business than elections in US, UK, Uganda or Singapore. Maybe even more...

And, liberal or not, my personal thoughts are with Sandmonkey, Big Pharaoh and thousands of young and not so young good and intelligent people who went to Tahrir square hoping for better future and now are clearly despaired of seeing it anytime soon.

So, Lisa,  am I allowed to express this sentiment without fearing that it may be interpreted as an intervention in Egypt's revolution?

I certainly hope so.

P.S. The above mentioned Larry Derfner, trying to make a graceful about face after that poor show, while not quite succeeded, still made a few points similar to ones expressed here.

(*) I know that the mere thought about reading +972 could be an abomination for some right wing people, but I assure you that it's worth reading some of it, if not always with admiration.


Dick Stanley said...

Left to herself, Egypt's changes would be of no consequence to Israel---as Egypt would soon collapse economically from her own contradictions. And may yet. 

But, meanwhile, Obozo is sending still billions of dollars and weapons to them. True, most of the money will wind up financing the Paris and Monaco condos of the generals, but who knows what mischief the rest of it will finance? They're certainly not going to be buying food for the starving populace.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yes, at the moment the generals still hold the reins in Egypt. In a few years, though, who knows?