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RD: Democratic Egypt Tests a Divided Israel

Author: Shaul Magid
February 1, 2011

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Shaul Magid discusses why Israel may be nervous about the Egyptian revolution.

Most of us are watching the historic events in Egypt with awe, hoping its citizens will nonviolently replace a repressive and dictatorial regime with a democracy. But those of us with ties to Israel tend to see a more complicated picture, with Israel tracking the unfolding events and viewing a potentially democratic Egypt simultaneously as a victory for freedom and a political liability.

For more than 40 years, one of the most salient reasons given for the unfailing US support of Israel was that it was “the only democracy in the Middle East.” One can, of course, argue with the absolutist tenor of this claim, but it remains true nonetheless. Things have changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, with fledgling forms of democratic rule slowly taking root in the Middle East, and as it becomes more apparent that American-style liberal democracy is not what really exists in the State of Israel (which is an ethnic democracy), Israel does have open elections, a free press and an independent judiciary. When the smoke clears, Israel is still the only democracy in the Middle East, and the Arab street knows it. We may not be able to say that too much longer, however, and the Jewish Israeli street knows that. The question many are asking then is whether it's “good” or “bad” for the Jews.

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