As of Friday morning, it was expected in Cairo that, later in the day, up to a million people would be confronting the Egyptian army in the Tahrir Square area. It had earlier been reported that the target of such a gathering would be the “Judaization” of Jerusalem. By now, though, it appears clear that if the event occurs, the fury will be directed mainly at Egypt’s own military regime that has tried to hold things together since President Hosni Mubarak was thrown out of office last winter.
Tens of thousands of anti-regime protesters have been swarming in the Tahrir Square area for about a week. Police have killed about 40 and wounded hundreds. A ceasefire was attempted on Thursday morning, with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi’s regime going so far as to apologize for the deaths and promising to prosecute the perpetrators. But by Thursday afternoon it had already broken down with fresh outbreaks of violence.
Unlike those of Qaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria, the regime is not bent on staying in power at any price and indeed appears desperate to try and appease the protesters. Parliamentary elections are set for Monday, and the regime moved presidential elections up from 2013 to next spring. But the protesters out in the streets—some of them—appear driven by a blind fury and keep demanding that the regime step down immediately.
Boaz Bismuth, special correspondent in Cairo for Israel Hayom, reported on Thursday that
Tahrir Square, the symbol of the original uprising, is no longer the home of the revolution…. the battlefront is now on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, the street that leads from the square to the Interior Ministry. That is where protesters and police officers violently clash, where the battle is waged. That is where people are wounded and killed.
But while these protesters have mostly been secular youths impelled more by hatred of the regime than by any coherent notion of what’s supposed to replace it or how Egypt is supposed to be run, Bismuth noted that: “Some protesters are organized: the bearded ones. And they come in groups. The women, covered in black from head to toe, also take part in the demonstration….”
In today’s Egypt, the khaki uniforms of the army that were so highly revered during that 18-day revolution back in January-February have been replaced by beards. Lots of beards. Muslim Brotherhood beards but also many Salafist beards. Beards that have joined forces to ensure that not only deposed President Hosni Mubarak is gone, but that any memory of his legacy is gone too. Beards that promise that everything will be alright only because “Allahu akbar” (God is great).
In other words: the shabab or violent, youthful protesters basically don’t know what they’re doing, probably are not keen on an Islamist regime, but are helping pave the way for one while the Islamists observe with satisfaction.
Observing the upheaval in Egypt with a lot more trepidation than satisfaction is Israel, where views are divided as to the implications but most are negative.
Some believe that, even when the Islamists take over as appears all but inevitable, Egypt’s dire economic straits will force it to uphold its peace treaty with Israel so as to keep the aid spigots—particularly those of the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid—turned on. But another view, voiced by a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, is that when
the radical elements in Egypt are sitting strong in government, they will remove the “abomination”…of the Israeli flag in central Cairo…. They will be willing to pay the economic price of (rupturing) relations with Israel and the United States to promote their ideological, political, Islamist agenda—as occurs in other places like Iran.
Among the skeptics is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Against the background of the turmoil in Cairo, he told the Knesset on Wednesday:
In February of this year, I stood on this stage as millions of people flocked to the streets in Cairo. Commentators and even some friends of mine here from the opposition explained to me then that we are entering a new era of liberalism and progress that will sweep away the old world order….
When I said, despite all hopes, that it is more likely that an Islamist, anti-West, anti-liberal, anti-Israel, and anti-democratic wave will come instead, they told me I am trying to scare the public, that we are on the wrong side of history, that I do not understand the direction in which things are heading.
Things are heading somewhere, but they are going backwards, not forwards….
Israel is reacting accordingly, both building a fence along the increasingly lawless, terror-infested Sinai—nominally part of Egypt—and beefing up its forces there. The lessons—that “peace treaties” are fragile entities in the Middle East, that lands given up for “peace” become bases for terror, that Israel’s real value to the West lies in being an island of stability and progress instead of a fawning supplicant for “peace”—are not lost on most Israelis.
At an academic conference in Israel on Wednesday, Efraim Karsh said it well:
Islam remains the strongest identity framework in Egyptian society in particular, and in Arab society generally. The Arab national dictatorships that were layered over this basic Islamic identity for the past 80 years were but a thin veneer of repression. With the fall of these dictatorships, what remains is the core Islamic underpinnings of society, and these will now come to the fore. Consequently, no democratic structures, processes or values are likely to emerge in the Arab world for many generations.
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