from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Israel and Egypt

February 01, 2011

Blog Post

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in this handout picture provided by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) during their meeting in Sharm El Sheikh January 6, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

The end of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt has occasioned approval and excitement in most democratic countries, but not in Israel. Why not?

Fear is the main answer: fear that Mubarak will be followed by the Muslim Brotherhood immediately or after a few months or years. This fear is reasonable, for none of us can possibly know what the future holds for Egypt. The cold peace that Mubarak supported with Israel is certainly far better than war.

But Mubarak has ruled Egypt for thirty years and has failed totally to crush the Brotherhood. In fact as he leaves the stage it is united and powerful, while the moderate and centrist forces are in disarray. Why? Hosni Mubarak, who has for all those years crushed the moderate opposition. He prevented the formation of moderate (including moderate Islamic) parties, jailed moderate opponents (like Ayman Nour), and allowed the Brotherhood to thrive underground. The Israelis apparently do not see the irony that they are mourning the departure of the man who created the very situation they now fear.

Mubarak is eighty-two and would soon have left the stage anyway. His insistence on staying, his theft of last November’s elections, and his flirting with the idea of setting his son upon the throne have led Egypt to its present crisis. Now he has said that he won’t run in Egypt’s scheduled presidential elections in September. Too late. Had he done that even a month ago Egypt would have been spared this uprising and a smooth transition would have been possible. Now the crowds demand that he leave instantly, and the idea that this man will preside over the transition to free elections will strike them as grotesque—which it is.

It’s a sad ending to Mubarak’s long career. It could have been avoided. But the Israeli reaction of wishing he would stay on—thirty-five years? forty?—shows a deep misunderstanding of the situation in Egypt.