The Second Season?

By Jewish Light Editorial

When the Arab Spring and Iran’s Green Revolution erupted in the Middle East, many Israel loyalists (including us) were concerned about the short-term conflagrations that would make things worse and more unsettled. Ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and brutal clampdowns in Iran, both followed by civil unrest and ultimately horrific exterminations in Syria, made a more promising future seem like a pipe dream at best.

Now, however, we seem to be entering a new phase of the process; call it Arab Summer. The United States has chosen to intervene gingerly on behalf of Syrian rebel factions, believing finally that limited involvement is more likely to make things better than worse. The cleric Hassan Rowhani, the most moderate of the presidential candidates in Iran, garnered more than 50 percent of the vote and an easy victory. And the Muslim Brotherhood is struggling mightily in Egypt to oversee a flailing government and economy, with civil unrest continuing to escalate in a direction leading away from the Islamist leadership.

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We should not in any way take these incidents as reflecting or resulting in heightened respect for Israel within the countries named. Yet the repudiation of savage dictators and religious extremists could in each nation engender constructive steps resulting in less saber-rattling and a greater focus on economic development and civic improvement.

Rowhani’s election ends the odious administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an avowed enemy of the West who repeatedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” And while Rowhani is hardly a maverick, he does favor more personal freedoms and a moderated stance toward the West.

Though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini still oversees national policy, the huge number of Iranians that voted for Rowhani and the next-most moderate candidate shows that the Green Revolution Generation is quite alive and well, and morphing from street movement to political power.

Jonah Goldberg, the perceptive Middle East reporter for The Atlantic magazine, doesn’t see it that way. He appeared on Sunday talk shows and called Iran’s election a “sham” event in a “sham democracy.” Indeed, all candidates for the Iranian presidency, including Rowhani, continued to support Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, and all of them reiterated Iran’s hatred of the State of Israel. The Syrian strongman Bashar Assad congratulated Rowhani and no doubt expects to continue receiving support from Khameini and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Looked at from the perspective of the leadership structure, Goldberg is right, of course. But transformation is relative. The young adults that protested en masse just a couple years ago are now choosing to express their sentiments through the limited choices available to them at the ballot box. Thousands of  “jubilant supporters poured into the streets of Tehran, dancing, blowing car horns and waving placards and ribbons of purple, Mr. Rowhani’s campaign colors,” reported the New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink from Iran’s capital.

Egyptians are at the same time losing patience with President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. Jobs are scarce, environmental and climate conditions are horrid and Ethiopia’s major dam project threatens the drinking water supply for millions of Egyptians. Morsi has many things other than Israel about which to worry.

Moreover, Egypt has landed in the “enemy of the enemy” category lately, with Morsi and his minions strongly condemning the Assad/Iran/Hezbollah triangle that is murdering dissident Syrians by the thousands. By supporting a no-fly zone across Syria, Morsi is coincidentally aligned with the interests of the U.S., Israel and those wanting to end the Assad regime and prevent further slaughter.

The point isn’t whether the populations of Iran, Syria and Egypt are becoming Israel’s best friends. Clearly, they’re not. In some small way, though, the evolution of Arab Spring may reflect governing powers in the Middle East being less about Israel and more about their own domestic management, and their civic problems and unrest.

For decades, rulers in the region conveniently used hatred of Israel, and in more recent times Palestinian politics, as a distraction, a hate magnet to avoid focus on the shortcomings of their own dictatorial regimes. Now the peoples of these nations, even if not disposed kindly to Israel, are calling their own leaders to domestic account. The times seem to be a’ changin’ – yet again.