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Analysis: Even democracy can be scary
Nidal Alayasa
Ma`an News Agency

As the face of the Arab world changed, and still changes, before our eyes, it is inevitable that observers get caught up in the most recent revolution.

As noble and important as the revolutions against the antiquated Arab regimes have been, none comes close to the magnitude and significance of the regime change in Egypt. And while the obvious changes to the everyday life of Egyptians should, naturally, take center stage, the most historically significant change will be in Egypt`s regional policies.

It takes little political cunning for one to realize that Egypt`s new rulers have not spared any efforts to distance themselves from the previous regime`s tarnished legacy on the international scene. It is even less challenging to identify Israel as the target of most of these changes.

The revolution has exposed every crack in the unity of the Egyptian society for all to see. Religious conflicts, political disagreement, crime and even a pure (hopefully short-lived) dictatorship of the military have emerged. In order for any new Egyptian regime to emerge, it must unify the divisions in this heterogeneous society, while gathering enough political influence to eliminate the influence of the military institution.

Egypt is not unique in its position. Historically, and like many democratization movements have taught us, rapid transition from autocratic dictatorship (an understatement of the Egyptian regime) to transitional democracy result in instability. Russia`s emergence from under the Soviet blanket led to the war in Chechnya much like the more democratic French Republic fought most of Europe after the French revolution.

The lack of developed democratic institutions, as well as the low levels of income, general health, literacy and other measures of social prosperity, only magnifies this instability. The new elites that emerge from such revolutions traditionally aim to strengthen their position through advocating nationalism sometimes destructively (Napoleon comes to mind). Egypt seems to be following on this path and the enemy seems to be rapidly taking shape, namely Israel.

Israel is now on the verge of becoming the target for Egypt`s political nationalistic auctioning. Obviously, every political fraction will focus its domestic agenda on improving the economic situation that led to the revolution in the first place. However, as agendas vary so do methods to these ends. Demonizing Israel is the only national consistency throughout the Arab world. Not only would it allow the new elites to distance themselves from the Mubarak regime, but also it will allow these same elites to unify the masses behind a cause (and against a common enemy) that supports but a very narrow spectrum of view points.

The obvious approach here is to wonder what this change in attitude toward Israel would mean. The obvious answer would be hostilities. Perhaps they will never lead to full-out war, but the relations, if popular elections were held in Egypt, would deteriorate. Egypt has already unilaterally opened the Rafah entrance to Gaza, facilitated and hosted negotiations between Fatah and Hamas that ended in the Cairo Accords in May and announced that it will revisit the terms of its natural gas deal with Israel. This happened in the span of only four months since the February revolution. All these are 180-degree changes from the pre-revolution Egyptian stance.

It is only a matter of time till Israel reacts. It is only a matter of time for one side to invoke the other enough for the unfortunate, and perhaps inevitable, to happen.

The US is in the middle of this all. The Obama administration obviously cannot anger a very powerful Jewish and pro-Israel lobby at this time in the election calendar (or at any other for that matter) by seeming, even if for a second, unserious about Israel`s wellbeing. At the same time, the administration risks a humanitarian crisis in Egypt, which depends unequivocally on American aid, if it decides to withhold its carrot and use its stick.

The situation is not boiling between Israel and Egypt. It is not even near boiling. However, the pieces are in motion, perhaps, and hopefully, reversible motion. Unless Egypt`s transition into democracy is monitored, eased and most importantly true and structural, the new regime might be a threat to stability. On the other hand, as long as Israel`s policies present it as the obvious enemy to the Arab populace, it will always be a threat to this very fragile stability.

Nidal Alayasa is a co-founder of Swarthmore College`s Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine.

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