If Egypt and, indeed, the whole Arab world need a role model for how to conduct their governments in the ways of democracy, they should look no further than to one of their closest neighbors.
Sounds crazy. It’s not.
To do this young Arabs must rewire the tangles put in their minds by decades of hateful rhetoric and bloody confrontations that have led them into a kind of intellectual and political oblivion and crippled their capacity to make rational decisions on behalf of themselves. It is time they started to learn from their neighbor and stopped demonizing it. It has brought them nothing but death and despair.
Israel is a true democracy, albeit messy, unruly, argumentative and fractious but somehow miraculously workable. Every point of view has its passionate representation including religious orthodoxy and its Arab citizens. They have an excellent military under civilian oversight.
Indeed, there are religious parties in Israel with similarly rigid ideas as some Muslim sects. They debate their secular opponents. They are loud, raucous and insistent that they represent the true path to salvation and can, through religious doctrine, lead the country into the future. The Israelis have made them inclusive and they have influence but not enough to compromise the bedrock idea of a secular state with a Jewish identity.
Israel’s secular parties, which dominate the political culture, represent every spectrum of political life, left, right and center. They are perpetually ranged against each other like contentious gladiators. They draw blood, but it’s more like Hollywood blood, hardly the real thing. Nevertheless, with all this Tower of Babel cacophony they manage to move the country’s agenda in the path of freedom and prosperity.
However far apart they are on the issues they do not kill each other and somehow they advance what they deem the common good. The case of the Rabin assassination was an aberration and filled almost all Israelis with disgust and anger.
Considering how Israel has been treated by their neighbors since their founding, and the blood they have shed maintaining their sovereignty, one can understand why they have often been reluctantly forced into making draconian decisions to ensure their survival.
Despite this, they have managed to function and grow and have built the most viable, prosperous and creative democratic state in their geographical neighborhood while their cousins, the Arabs, are lost in dysfunction, corruption, fantasies and antagonisms that have kept their people in a state of stasis for centuries.
Many of these Arab countries are swimming in oil and wealth, but other than a handful of autocrats and exploiters most citizens of these states share none of its largesse. They have allowed themselves, quite literarily, to be oppressed, manipulated, abused and largely impoverished by a small group of greedy and corrupt overseers.
In the case of the Iranians who are not Arabs, a dictatorial extremist Muslim theocracy rules by oppression of its people and poses a frightening danger to the entire world. One hopes that their young people begin to awake with the same zeal, commitment and courage as the Egyptian youth.
The educated cadre of young people who sparked the Egyptian protests were fed up with the lack of opportunity offered them. They are sick to death of the doors to employment and prosperity being slammed in their faces. They have good reason to protest.
It is about time they started to wake up. Now that they have made their voices heard, they must be alert and vigilant so that their hopes and dreams are not crushed by ambitious theocrats or a repressive military dictatorship.
They represent the best and the brightest of their country, young people who have demonstrated that they believe in freedom, civil liberties, honest government free from corruption, a fair justice system, free speech, free elections, and all the other benefits of a free and open society. It won’t be easy to undo the damage caused by years of oppression and brainwashing.
The Israelis are far from perfect. They have been made tough by adversity, suspicion, persecution, bigotry and a ceaseless drumbeat of hateful propaganda by their Arab neighbors. They yearn for peace and security and have managed to rise above their anxieties to exploit the possibilities that exist under a really free and democratic government.
Arab youths have good reasons to break the chains of oppression and it is time now to find the best path for what comes next. It is really not as far-fetched as it sounds to look to Israel for inspiration and practical knowledge on the real benefits of living in a free and open society, however messy and contentious. Perhaps the Egyptians can build upon their cold peace with Israel and persuade their people that greater cooperation will be advantageous to both countries.
Instead of wanting to destroy the Jewish state, those Arab countries still in a state of war with Israel, can save themselves from drowning by seeking a helping hand from those who have been falsely accused of being their enemies.
All that is required is the courage to change as the young citizens of Egypt have just demonstrated.