Recent events in Egypt

Jerusalem,January 30th, 2011Dear ICCJ members,I have recently written a letter to you, but recent events in my part of the world have moved me to write another. Beginning in December with the demonstrations for democratic reform in Tunisia, and, even more pointedly, with the recent unrest in Egypt, we in Israel have been watching the situation very apprehensively.

There are 4 elements worth noting:

 1) The developments caught us all by surprise. This shows not only a worrying failure of intelligence agencies both in Israel and the West, but also a lack of understanding of the implications of the Mubarak regime. Egypt has been long overdue for democratization.

2) Democratization in general is a good thing, often bringing human rights and social justice. But in the West, it took most countries many years to reach it. When it happens overnight, it can be worrisome. Democratic elections in the Middle East or in the Arab/Muslim world have sometimes brought the rise of Islamic states, in which there have been problems with human rights in general and in particular, danger to the non-Muslim minorities. The non-Muslims in Tunisia are about 2% of the population, but in Egypt they may be as high as 10%. After the unfortunate, violent Christmas season in both Egypt and Iraq, I am fearful for the welfare of the Christian communities in those countries.

3) Israelis, frankly, are very afraid of an Islamic state on our border. I hope that this isn’t a particular case of Islamophobia, which I see as a very negative phenomenon in our world. Unfortunately, the Islamic states we have seen in our region have an unimpressive record with regard to democracy and human rights. I personally believe that it is possible tio reconcile devout Muslim belief and practice with a commitment to democracy, and I know Muslims who have successfully done that. But so far, the Islamic states have not.

 4) We are also very fearful for the future of the almost 32-year-old Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, which we consider to have been one of the more positive and stabilizing factors in the Middle East.

I want to bring two more hopeful voices: a young person in the Egyptian Diaspora has written me:“ We may be young and in the Diaspora, but the most powerful tool to stand in solidarity that we have is a voice, something that the government attempted to take away yesterday. Many have been skeptical and fearful of the fall of the regime for fear of who may take over but reading and following yesterday, this was something the whole country has been crying for. From the poorest to the most educated. We don't deny that there's fear of what might come but we hope for a better future, integrity and freedom... for all.”
And an Israeli-based Christian has written: “I am sure though that we are all praying that what emerges from the Egypt turmoil will be a democratic regime based on respect for all citizens... even if the chances of that right now are very slim...”

My response to both is a hearty: ”Insh’allah…”

Dr. Deborah Weissman, Jerusalem
ICCJ President