We are currently witnessing an unprecedented shift in Arab politics that has caught the whole world, even the Egyptians themselves by surprise. The uprising and it’s epi-center Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) is the Arab world’s version of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For many decades, the general Arab political discourse was defined by the West as the need to strengthen pro-Western dictatorships because of the fear of the alternative which is Iranian style Islamist regimes. Now, the Tahrir Square movement has clearly forced the West to rethink this perspective by showing that there is a third way – the rise of broad based democratic movements that reject totalitarianism and Islamic extremism. We should not fear this change because its uncertain outcome, but rather embrace it and take an active role in encouraging democratic change throughout the Arab world.
Democratic change in Egypt matters greatly to the Arab world because it has historically set the regional pattern of Arab politics. The Islamic Brotherhood which was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt eventually led to the establishment of numerous splinter groups throughout the Middle East. And in 1952, Gemal Abdel Nasser helped replace the monarchy with a pan-Arabist socialist system that also spread to different parts of the Arab world. Gemal Abdul Nasser is regarded as one of the most important figures in Arab history. Then came Anwar Al-Sadat who signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. This treaty had strategic repercussions throughout the Arab world and in fact had weakened it by removing the most populous and powerful Arab country from the Arab resistance camp. Finally, after Sadat’s assassination on October 6, 1981, President Mubarak ascended to the Presidency where he immediately established a police state by implementing “Emergency Rule” which to this day has not been lifted. All these political patterns — from Political Islam, to Pan-Arabism, to the Arab-Israeli peace process, and authoritarianism, have all failed. The Arab people have finally figured it out – it’s People Power.
Supporting democracy in Egypt is good for America as it serves our national interest for a number of reasons. First, dictatorships are mortal — they come and go, and we cannot always guarantee that a pro-US dictator who will eventually die will be replaced with another pro-US dictator. A democratic Egypt where its people share our values of individual political freedoms, tolerance, plurality, and respect for the rule of law will help build a broad based support for the United States by the Egyptian people that will be long enduring. Second, the establishment of a democratic Egypt that opens the political system to a wide range of Egypt’s political-ideological continuum including the Islamic Brotherhood will ensure the functioning of a viable and stable democracy. Incorporating the Islamic Brotherhood into the political system, would further marginalize extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and its network of splinter groups. Indeed, the Al-Qaeda leadership has been very critical of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood for disavowing violence as a form of resistance and for the Brotherhood’s adherence to a future Egyptian democratic state that is based on pluralism.
Third, a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East away from Israel will serve our national interest by making Israel realize that its security is directly tied to making a strategic decision of achieving a just peace with the Palestinians. For too long, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created tremendous anger and frustration amongst the Arab masses for their inability to help their Palestinian brethren. This deep sense of hopelessness, is the most important source of recruiting efforts of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups who may not care much about the Palestinian cause but nonetheless, use its emotional intensity to recruit Islamic Radicals. Indeed, captured Al-Qaeda recruiting and training videos often included video clips of Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression. In fact, in May 2010, , U.S. General David Petraeus stated in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fomenting anti-American sentiment due to the perception of U.S. favoritism towards Israel.” There is no doubt that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely vital to our national interests.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Arabs have been very forthcoming in peace efforts with Israel. In 2002, the Arab league, consisting of 22 Arab countries offered for the very first time since Israel’s founding, a full and comprehensive peace settlement that would normalize relations with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal to the pre 1967 borders as stipulated in UN Resolution 242. Israel rejected it outright without even considering some of its elements. More recently, the Palestinian version of Wikileaks where over 1000 pages on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were leaked to the press did show that the Palestinians were far more willing to compromise than even the 2002 Arab League peace initiative. One such leaked document showed that the Palestinians would accept Israel’s annexation of all settlement blocs in East Jerusalem except one, and this peace offering was also rejected by the Israelis. Israel rejected President Obama’s call to extend the settlement freeze in the interest of the peace process as it rejected every call from every president since 1967 to stop building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Even President Ronald Reagan stated in September 1982 that “further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” Israel’s No, No, No policy is clearly harming our interests in the region.
The intransigence of Israel is because no US government official, including the President of the United States can put effective pressure on Israel because no politician wants to experience the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby. Moreover,President Mubarak, the head of the most powerful Arab country has been the hired sheriff for Israel for three decades. Israel is so powerful that it sees no strategic interest in making peace with the weak and isolated essence, the current status quo is Israel’s modus operandi. By replacing Mubarak’s dictatorship regime with a democracy that truly represents the will of the Egyptian people will cause a change in the balance of power calculus vis-a-vis Israel in a manner that should convince Israel’s leaders that making the necessary concessions for a final peace with the Palestinians is now a strategic necessity for Israel’s long term security.
Finally, we should engage other dictators and monarchs in the Arab world and convince them that supporting genuine democratic reforms is the right path for long term stability. We should not send our troops to invade countries but we should send our technocrats to help these countries politically engineer republics that truly represent the will of the masses. The Arab people will support us and embrace us if they know that we have made a clear choice — supporting their will to empower themselves rather than supporting arrogant and outdated oppressive regimes that are doomed to fail.