While Arab demonstrators in places like Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Oman, Tunisia and Yemen are protesting against their oppressive governments – it’s quite ironic that Israeli citizens are the only people in that geographical sphere who actually enjoy the full fruits of true freedom and democracy. And if Arabs truly seek a democratic model to emulate, they needn’t look any farther than the Jewish state.
Israel, the lone free and democratic outpost in the turbulent Arab world region (Middle East and North Africa), sits in the most precarious positions of all free nations. Since the Jewish state was internationally recognized in 1948 by the United Nations, it has continually faced the wrath of Arab/Muslim nations who refuse to acknowledge its right to exist. Several wars initiated by Arab neighbors and countless terrorist attacks later, not much has changed.
Israel is dwarfed in terms of land and population by the Arab world. It has 8,000 square miles of land and is populated with 7.4 million people. The Arab world land mass encompasses 5.2 million square miles and has about 350 million predominantly Sunni Muslim occupants.
Eager to exploit current Arab world turmoil, sworn Israel enemies like Iran’s Persian Islamic regime and transnational Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabi al Qaeda movements are immersing themselves into the Arab Street revolution. They seek a caliphate ruled by Sharia law, nullification of Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel and elimination of the Jewish state.
Enemies view the Jewish state as an illegal, Western imposition on Muslim soil and their hatred extends to the United States because, among other things, it is viewed by most as the ultimate guarantor of Israel’s survival. They would like to eliminate or greatly diminish U.S. regional presence and influence.
Unlike its enemies, Israel is rooted in democratic principles and liberal ideals and is governed by the rule of law. It has free and open elections to freely choose and replace leaders, as well as an independent press. The Arab world is governed by the “rule of men” consisting of an assortment of monarchs, authoritarians, dictators, and terrorists. According to Freedom House, not one of the Arab states or territories have a truly free government or truly free press.
In Israel, men and women are equal under the law. In the Arab world, many Muslims adhere to sharia law which totally subordinates women and mandates many other human rights violations, including death for adultery and amputations for stealing.
Israeli average annual income is $29,500. Arab world citizens, on average, earn less than $8,000 per year. Arab wealth is spread disproportionately among rich nations like Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and poor nations like Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and disproportionately among ruling classes and the public in rich and poor nations.
Over 97 percent of Israel’s residents over the age of 15 can read and write. The Arab literacy rate is only 68 percent, with men being much more literate than women.
Israel is the most modern and technically-advanced state in the entire region. It’s ranked as the 24th most competitive nation by the World Economic Forum, and first in the quality of its scientific institutions. Only Qatar and Saudi Arabia among Arab nations have a better competitive WEF ranking, and those two countries lag behind Israel in the latter category.
The Israeli military abides by international laws and customs of war. Its troops wear uniforms, carry weapons openly, and take unprecedented actions to avoid injuring innocent civilians during operations. Israel’s Arab world enemies use terrorism to achieve political objectives. The U.S. State Department has designated 19 groups as foreign terrorist organizations that have gestated and operate in Arab land. Although they operate in clear violation of Geneva conventions and protocols, their Arab hosts, the UN, and others often refer to these groups as “resistance fighters.”
A great danger facing Israel is the prospect of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood gaining control of strategically important Arab countries like Egypt. The Islamists are well-posited to do so because they are organized, radical and ruthless – priceless qualifications for achieving power in that region. They also use a dangerous mix of politics and religion to recruit the Arab world’s abused, misinformed, impoverished, under-educated, and unskilled as well as university students and professionals like al Qaeda’s Zawahiri to become participants in various jihad movements.
For decades, statesmen and diplomats have incessantly and unsuccessfully sought to forge binding peace agreements between Arabs and Jews, even to the point of compromising democratic values by cutting deals with dictators and terrorists. The main impediment is that most Arabs have an intractable view that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist on what Arabs claim is Muslim land. And what many fail to grasp is that the clash is really between Western and Islamic civilizations, with Israel cast as an extension of the West.
The United States and other free nations could best help Israel and themselves by remaining true to core democratic values, criticizing oppressive regimes, condemning extremist violence whenever and wherever it occurs, and supporting legitimate freedom movements and the creation of true democratic institutions in the Arab world and elsewhere. That pathway offers the best chance for peace.
Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst and served in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. He has traveled extensively in the Arab world and Israel on official assignments.