Hard Choices for the US and Israel Loom In A New Middle East

All of us writers, analysts, bloggers and Mideast observers, across the political spectrum are in agreement about one thing: the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, and the smaller ones in other Arab countries mean that there is going to a new Middle East soon.

The shape of that new Mideast is open to prediction, which is also going to give all of us a lot to write and talk about for a long while to come. But one thing we can look at today is how other actors are preparing for what we know will be new, but in an unknown form. In particular, what seems to be a massive rise in demands toward democracy in the Arab world presents unprecedented challenges to the regional policies of the United States and Israel, jointly and in ways that threaten to drive those

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a relaxed conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

policies in separate directions for the first time in decades.

Like much of the rest of the world, the statements that have come from the US and Israel have been oddly divided between the support they must show for people fighting to free themselves from a dictator and a more coldly pragmatic concern for whether Egypt will maintain its role in working with the West in Middle East with a new government.

Former Israeli Defense Minister and Likud stalwart Moshe Arens laid out one prominent Israeli view in stark terms: “Israeli governments have never insisted that they would negotiate only with a democratically elected Arab government. The implicit assumption probably was that it would be easier for a dictatorship to meet Israel’s fundamental conditions, but this would be a near-impossible task for a democratically elected Arab government.”

Why would it be “near-impossible?” Arens is referring to the fact that Arab citizens, on the whole, are opposed to cooperation with Israel. Much of the rhetoric, especially that which is often selectively reported in the US and Israel, speaks in fiery words about confronting the “Zionist regime” and toppling it. The opposing contention, which I make as well, is that an end to the occupation and freedom for the Palestinians will blunt a great deal of the popular rage on this issue and people will focus elsewhere and accept the potential benefits of dealing with Israel. Continue reading

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: A Realistic View Is Needed

As Egypt moves closer to democracy, we are hearing the ritual expressions of terror that “Islamists” may be poised to take over Egypt. Religious parties are hardly unknown in the world. While many countries have some form of separation of church and state, many do not and few interpret that separation as broadly as the United States does. Israel, for instance, has prominent religious parties that play key roles in policy formation. And even here in the US, religion plays a powerful role in forming policy, both domestic and foreign.

But if a religious party is Muslim, images of al-Qaeda immediately rise up to be exploited for various purposes. It’s hard for Americans, Israelis, and others to hold a more nuanced view of political Islam because extremist (and usually ignorant of Islam in many ways) groups get the spotlight. But we can no longer afford that luxury.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been suppressed in Egypt for decades. There is no doubt that they would play a significant role in a democratized Egypt, but because of the suppression, it is impossible to know how significant it would be. But in any case, it behooves us to have a deeper understanding of the MB, because the fearmongers are already coming out in force. Continue reading