Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Israel and Egypt

by Elliott Abrams
February 1, 2011

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.

6 Comments

  • Posted by Justin D Martin

    What a stale commentary. Either you want democracy for Egypt, or you don’t. Democracy in Israel has yielded some aggressive leaders, like Ariel Sharon, and this is one of the transaction costs of free elections. Deal with it. Does Israel determine the head of state in Cairo, or do the people?

  • Posted by Bill Baker

    Why is there a fear of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining control in Egypt if the “Muslim Religion is SO PEACE LOVING

    Or do you think they are wolves is sheeps clothing?

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Quick reply to Mr. Baker: the Brotherhood has not committed any acts of violence in about 30 years, but their beliefs are anathema to any American. Check out http://www.memri.org special dispatch 3556, a compilation of the Brotherhood’s greatest hits.

  • Posted by Dabr

    The Israeli strong reaction was to Obama’s dismissal of Mubarak on TV as if he did not help them them over the years. If this president continues, the same back stabbing might happen to Israel one day

  • Posted by ben slip

    I was just looking for this information for a while. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that do not rank this kind of informative web sites in top of the list. Generally the top websites are full of garbage.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks. Your guess about Google is as good as mine.