In my last article, I mentioned that I have warned of this
uprising. A gracious lady in Lahore, Pakistan, who seems to
remember by heart every word I have written in recent years
(in the English translation) sent me some excerps.
UNTIL THE very last moment, the Israeli leadership tried to
keep Hosni Mubarak in power.
It was hopeless. Even the mighty United States was impotent
when faced with this tsunami of popular outrage.
In the end it settled for second best: a pro-Western
military dictatorship. But will this really be the outcome?
WHEN CONFRONTED with a new situation, Obama`s first
response is generally admirable.
Then, it seems, second thoughts set in. And third. And
fourth. The end result is a 180 degree turn.
When the masses started to gather in Tahrir Square, he
reacted exactly like most decent people in the US and,
indeed, throughout the world. There was unbounded
admiration for those brave young men and women who faced
the dreaded Mukhabarat secret police, demanding democracy
and human rights.
How could one not admire them? They were non-violent, their
demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous,
they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority
of the people. Without any organization to speak of,
without leadership, they said and did all the right things.
Such a sight is rare in history. No sansculottes screaming
for blood, no cold-minded Bolsheviks lurking in the
shadows, no Ayatollahs dictating their actions in the name
So Obama loved it. He did not hide his feelings. He
practically called on the dictator to give up and go away.
If Obama had stayed this course, the result would have been
historic. From being the most hated power in the Arab
world, the US would have electrified the Arab masses, the
Muslim region, indeed much of the Third World. It could
have been the beginning of a completely new era.
I believe that Obama sensed this. His first instincts are
always right. In such a situation, a real leader - that
rarest of all animals - stands out.
BUT THEN came the second thoughts. Small people started to
work on him. Politicians, generals, `security experts`,
diplomats, pundits, lobbyists, business leaders, all the
`experienced` people - experienced in routine affairs -
started to weigh in. And, of course, the hugely powerful
`Are you crazy?` - they admonished him. To forsake a
dictator who happens to be our son-of-a-bitch? To tell all
our client dictators around the world that we shall forsake
them in their hour of need?
How na?ve can you get? Democracy in an Arab country? Don`t
make us laugh! We know the Arabs! You show them democracy
on a platter and they would not know it from baked beans!
They always need a dictator to keep them in shape!
Especially these Egyptians! Ask the British!
The whole thing is really a conspiracy of the Muslim
Brotherhood. Look them up on Google! They are the only
alternative. It`s either Mubarak or them. They are the
Egyptian Taliban, worse, the Egyptian al-Qaeda. Help the
well-meaning democrats to overthrow the regime, and before
you know it you will have a second Iran, with an Egyptian
Ahmadinejad on Israel`s Southern border, hooking up with
Hezbollah and Hamas. The dominos will begin to fall,
starting with Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Faced with all these experts, Obama caved in. Again.
OF COURSE, every single one of these arguments can easily
Let`s start with Iran. The na?ve Americans, so the story
goes, forsook the Shah and his dreaded Israeli-trained
secret police in order to promote democracy, but the
revolution was taken over by the Ayatollahs. A cruel
dictatorship was replaced by an even crueler one. This is
what Binyamin Netanyahu said this week, warning that the
same is inevitably bound to happen in Egypt.
But the true Iranian story is quite different.
In 1951, a patriotic politician named Mohammad Mossadegh
was elected in democratic elections - the first of their
kind in Iran. Mossadegh, neither a communist nor even a
socialist, instituted sweeping social reforms, freed the
peasants and worked mightily to turn backward Iran into a
modern, democratic, secular state. In order to make this
possible, he nationalized the oil industry, which was owned
by a rapacious British company which paid Iran miniscule
royalties. Huge demonstrations in Tehran supported
The British reaction was swift and decisive. Winston
Churchill convinced President Dwight Eisenhower that
Mossadegh`s course would lead to Communism. In 1953 the CIA
engineered a coup, Mossadegh was arrested and kept in
isolation until his death 14 years later, the British got
the oil back. The Shah, who had fled, was put back on his
throne again. His reign of terror lasted until the Khomeini
revolution, 26 years later.
Without this American intervention, Iran would probably
have developed into a secular, liberal democracy. No
Khomeini. No Ahmadinejad. No talk about nuclear bombs.
NETANYAHU`S WARNINGS of the inevitable takeover of Egypt by
the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, if democratic elections
were held, sound logical, but they are similarly based on
Would the Muslim Brothers take over? Are they Taliban-like
The Brotherhood was founded 80 years ago, long before Obama
and Netanyahu were born. They have settled down and
matured, with a strong moderate wing, much like the
moderate, democratic Islamic party that is governing Turkey
so well, and which they are trying to emulate. In a
democratic Egypt, they would constitute a legitimate party
playing its part in the democratic process.
(This, by the way, would have happened in Palestine, too,
when Hamas was elected - if the Americans, under Israeli
guidance, had not toppled the unity government and set
Hamas on a different course.)
The majority of Egyptians are religious, but their Islam is
far removed from the radical kind. There are no indications
that the bulk of the people, represented by the youngsters
in Tahrir Square, would tolerate a radical regime. The
Islamic bogeyman is just that - a bogeyman.
SO WHAT did Obama do? His moves were pathetic, to say the
After turning against Mubarak, he suddenly opined that he
must stay in power, in order to carry out democratic
reforms. As his representative he sent to Egypt a retired
diplomat whose current employer is a law firm that
represents the Mubarak family (much as Bill Clinton used to
send committed Jewish Zionists to `mediate` between Israel
and the Palestinians.)
So the detested dictator was supposed to institute
democracy, enact a new liberal constitution, work together
with the very people he had thrown into prison and
Mubarak`s pathetic speech on Thursday was the straw that
broke the back of the Egyptian camel. It showed that he had
lost contact with reality or, worse, is mentally deranged.
But even an unbalanced dictator would not have made such an
atrocious speech had he not believed that America was still
on his side. The howls of outrage in the square while
Mubarak`s recorded speech was still being aired was Egypt`s
answer. That needed no interpreters.
BUT AMERICA had already moved. Its main instrument in Egypt
is the army. It is the army that holds the key to the
immediate future. When the `Supreme Military Council`
convened on Thursday, just before that scandalous speech,
and issued a `Communique No. 1`, hope was mingled with
`Communique No. 1` is a term well known in history. It
generally means that a military junta has assumed power,
promising democracy, early elections, prosperity and heaven
on earth. In very rare instances, the officers indeed
fulfill these promises. Generally, what ensues is a
military dictatorship of the worst kind.
This time, the communique said nothing at all. It just
showed on live TV that they were there - all the leading
generals, minus Mubarak and his stooge, Omar Suleiman.
Now they have assumed power. Quietly, without bloodshed.
For the second time within 60 years.
IT IS worthwhile recalling the first time. After a period
of turmoil against the British occupiers, a group of young
officers, veterans of the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, hiding
behind an elderly general, carried out a coup. The despised
ruler, King Farouk, was literally sent packing. He put to
sea on his yacht from Alexandria. Not a drop of blood was
The people were jubilant. They loved the army and the coup.
But it was a revolution from above. No crowds in Tahrir
The army tried first to govern through civilian
politicians. They soon lost patience with that. A
charismatic young lieutenant-colonel, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser,
emerged as the leader, instituted wide-ranging reforms,
restored the honor of Egypt and the entire Arab world - and
founded the dictatorship which expired yesterday.
Will the army follow this example, or will it do what the
Turkish army has done several times: assume power and turn
it over to an elected civilian government?
Much will depend on Obama. Will he support the move to
democracy, as his inclination will undoubtedly suggest, or
will he listen to the `experts`, Israelis included, who
will urge him to rely on a military dictatorship, as
American presidents have done for so long?
But the chance of the United States of America, and of
Barack Obama personally, leading the world by shining
statesmanship at a historic moment 19 days ago has been
wasted. The beautiful words have evaporated.
For Israel there is another lesson. When the Free Officers
made their revolution in 1952, in the whole of Israel only
one single voice was raised (that of Haolam Hazeh, the news
magazine I was editing) calling upon the Israeli government
to come out in support. The government did the opposite,
and a historic chance to show solidarity with the Egyptian
people was lost.
Now, I am afraid, this mistake will be repeated. The
tsunami is being viewed in Israel as a terrifying natural
catastrophe, not as the wonderful opportunity it is.
`But there is another thing that is being imprinted on the
minds of these millions: the picture of the miserable,
corrupt, passive Arab regimes. As seen by Arabs, one fact
stands out above all others: the wall of shame.
For the million and a half Arabs in Gaza, who are suffering
so terribly, the only opening to the world that is not
dominated by Israel is the border with Egypt. Only from
there can food arrive to sustain life and medicament to
save the injured. This border remains closed at the height
of the horror. The Egyptian army has blocked the only way
for food and medicines to enter, while surgeons operate on
the wounded without anesthetics.
Avnery, January 3, 2009.
`Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and
the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel in
carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian
The security services of the Arab regimes are registering a
dangerous ferment among the peoples. Hosni Mubarak, the
most exposed Arab leader because of his closing of the
Rafah crossing in the face of terrified refugees, started
to pressure the decision-makers in Washington, who until
that time had blocked all calls for a cease-fire. These
began to understand the menace to vital American interests
in the Arab world and suddenly changed their attitude, `
causing consternation among the complacent Israeli
Avnery, January 10, 1009
HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still invisible
and will make themselves felt only in years to come Even
worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around
us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes
of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own
regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt
The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the
fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent
of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by
Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall
of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new
generation of leaders.
Avnery, January 17, 2009