Editorial: Choosing Up Sides

The majority of American Jews have some sort of affinity for both Israel and democracy. What’s happening currently in Egypt is likely to tear those dual values asunder.

With the ferocious uprising in Egypt, following indirectly from a single man setting himself on fire in Tunisia, the three-decade presidency of Hosni Mubarak may soon end. This changing of the guard could spell significant change for the people of Egypt, and almost equally so for Israel.

The difficulty is in deciphering the future consequences of change. On the one hand, Mubarak’s government has been known for its heavy-handed approach to governance, imposing rigid anti-democratic principles on the populace.

On the other, the current Egyptian administration has had and honored a treaty with Israel since 1979, and has enforced the embargos against Gaza to keep arms away from Hamas and its accomplices.


Moreover, the Mubarak government has been an ally of the United States and a relatively stable force in the Middle East amidst the ascendancy of Islamism.

The U.S., however, faces the same dilemma it has seen in its nation-building exercises for the past half century. Does it take the pragmatic approach and help keep the “moderately fascistic” Mubarak regime in place, or does it encourage peaceful revolution, knowing full well that such an endgame could engender leadership less sympathetic to America and potentially lethal to Israel.

The U.S.’s crystal ball has very often been right in the extremely short run but quite murky in the long. America helped install the Shah in Iran in 1953, but his despotic behavior led to a revolution a quarter century later not made from the cloth of democracy, but instead headed by radical Muslim clerics. The toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has finally led to the creation of a government that is at least democratic in form, though how the religious and ethnic strife of that society will inform the future is anyone’s guess.

So now, Egyptians follow Tunisians’ lead and take to the streets to protest and attempt to topple Mubarak. The Egyptian military, long regarded as one of, if not the most, professional in the Middle East outside Israel, is acting with far more restraint than did the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which (literally) shot down the social unrest in that nation following rigged elections in 2009. Some speculate that Egypt’s armed forces, rather than attempt to overplay support for Mubarak or encourage a coup, will play it down the middle to retain its own professional stature within Egypt. But again, only time will tell.

Looking beyond the next several weeks and months, the broader and more compelling question is, what does a Mubarak-less society look like for its people, for Israel and for America. Unfortunately, the outcomes are likely to be significantly different for each constituency. For Egyptians, the short-term euphoria of dismantling the regime will be met with stress between those seeking a freer society and those desirous of a religiously dominated agenda. While in theory this self-determination seems appropriate, the potential negative effect on civil liberties in an Islamist-run government could be severe.

For Israel, in the short run the news could hardly be worse. The chaos of transition will give Hamas the ability to smuggle more arms across the border between Gaza and Egypt, and will mean less effective monitoring of and resistance to extreme elements. And if the government evolves to a radical Islamist one, the relative comfort Israel enjoyed on at least one of its borders for several decades will be eroded.

America is torn between three crucial interests – its desire to see democracy spread, support of Israel, and strategic resource considerations. But it is our opinion that in the short run, the U.S. must do whatever is necessary to preserve security for Israel, for several reasons. First, we are Jews and Zionists and we support the continued security, existence and prosperity of the State of Israel. Second, Israel is our long-lasting ally in the region. Third, it is an oasis of democracy in which Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, all have equal rights under the law.

We should not under any circumstances attempt to dissuade Egyptians from seeking to form a truly democratic leadership structure. But international support of a secular democracy to ward off radicalism is essential. Such support should come not solely from America, but from other world powers as well. It is in our collective interest to ensure that Egypt, and the broader Middle East, do not become a powderkeg that could spark global conflict.