This week marks the first 100 days of what has come to be known as the Arab Uprising or Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia and soon spread to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya and beyond. It is too soon to tell what the region will look like even a year from now, but it is clear that it will never be quite the same, and some benchmarks are emerging.
Watching the throngs of protesters day after day in Cairo expressing themselves in public for the first time in their lives filled us with hope. We joined with all who welcome freedom and democracy in seeing how peaceful mass demonstrations can unseat autocratic leaders more readily than large armies. But we have also expressed caution and concern, since history has shown that too many encounters with revolutionary change result in replacing one form of tyranny with another. One need only look at Iran, circa 1979, as an example, when the haughty Shah fell and soon was succeeded by the Ayatollah Khomeini, ushering in an era of Islamic fundamentalism whose threat against Western values in general, and Israel in particular, continues to grow throughout the region.
There are increasing indications that the Arab Spring is leading to a summer of discontent, with the reality of frustration and chaos emerging. Some leaders have been replaced, others are holding on, determined to use whatever means necessary to maintain power, and survival. The lesson of Egypt for Libya’s Col. Muammar Kaddafy and Syria’s President Bashar Assad was not to mollify their people with concessions but to open fire on them.
Israel’s fears that Egypt may become increasingly hostile to the Jewish state appear increasingly possible. Thousands of demonstrators marched outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo recently, the Muslim Brotherhood stands to gain most by having elections as soon as September, the current military government appears to be moving closer to Iran and more politicians are speaking out against Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the European Union ambassadors meeting in Jerusalem last week that he was “very concerned over some of the voices we’ve been hearing in Egypt lately,” and particularly statements from leading Egyptian officials referring to Israel as “the enemy.”
That is not to say that the emerging Egypt will be quick to snub its nose at several billion dollars in U.S. aid. But it does indicate that Arab governments undergoing dramatic change are likely to use anti-Israel sentiments as a rallying cry to keep the masses from focusing on them, and things may get worse before they get better.