Apropos the “big question” about whether the historic changes in Egypt (“Israel and Egyptian Democracy,” Feb. 18) will engender a tidal wave that will also bring about meaningful, rather than merely cosmetic, changes in the entire region — including Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated regimes in the Persian Gulf — we ought not overlook a critical systemic difference. Namely, the fact that in most of these authoritarian regimes the pent-up hopes and aspirations of the silenced masses are suppressed not only by the brutal force at the end of the barrel of the gun; those hopes are also silenced by the ascendant might of the barrel of oil and the imperious, powerful influence of state-sponsored religious pulpits and madrasas propagating jihad, martyrdom and virulent hatred towards Israel.
Nevertheless, the fact that the new generation of well-informed and self-empowered Egyptians, representing all spheres of life, was able to shed the shackles of fear and oppression, ought to serve as a teaching moment for us all. For whereas the last decades of the 20th century were epitomized by expectations of top-down changes, the first years of the new century appear to signify a radical transformation. These bottom-up, self-initiated changes are being brought about by a well-informed, technologically savvy and impatient generation of young men and women. They are intent on initiating meaningful changes not only in the political and socioeconomic spheres but also in other important areas such as equal rights, education, religion, etc. In the meantime as we hold our breath and hope and pray for their success, in the words of the Psalmist, we are rejoicing with trembling (Psalms 2:11).
The writer is also professor emeritus of Jewish law and comparative legal studies at CCNY of the City University of New York.