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The Middle East – is it a Revolution?

The “revolution” in Egypt is still only an uprising, but even so it can be considered a political and strategic earthquake.

Israel sees with great apprehension the events developing in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and beyond. Not that the Israeli leaders and people would not be happy to acclaim democratic regimes in these countries. The problem is we live in this dangerous neighborhood and are aware of its recent and more distant history.

“Revolutions” in this area have turned in military authoritarian or dictatorial regimes – see Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Sudan. The revolutionary Islamic Party in Iran has assassinated and in the best case imprisoned its moderate Islamists, liberal and communist partners and imposed a repressive theocratic regime. Free elections in the Palestinian Authority brought to power Hamas which killed its Fatah comrades in a bloody coup. Where is Lebanon today, after the popular uprising of 2005 against the Syrian occupation and the victory of 14 March forces in the 2009 elections? Even the slow Islamization of Turkey under AKP does not bode well for the future of the region.

In Egypt there are roughly three possible scenarios: the best one would be if the military stabilize the situation and lead a slow democratization process; the second is quick free elections leading to a secular/liberal coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood but in the end the Islamists grab power by their sheer organizational skills and pitiless determination; the worst scenario would be a period of chaos and internal strife of the kind happening in Pakistan, including growing activity of salafist radicals.

In the two last cases Hamas in Gaza will be strengthened and the balance in the West Bank, and possibly in Jordan, could also turn in favor of the Islamists.

Those in the West which are sure “this is not 1979, and Egypt’s Facebook-adept youth are not lining up behind the Muslim Brotherhood, itself scarcely a band of fanatics,”* are not aware how effectively the same modern tools are used by the Islamists and the al-Qaeda networks.

The Middle East is in turmoil and will change immensely even if the uprising fails in Egypt.

Israel will for sure pay a price. The official Egyptian TV already accuses “Jews” to have trained “insurgents” and it is known that the liberal, nationalist and leftist opponents to the regime are fiercely anti-Israeli, not to mention the Islamists.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in Syria in the next days and weeks and if there the opposition will dare rebel against Assad’s dictatorial regime.

A positive development could be if events in Egypt provoke a revitalization of the reformist uprising in Iran, where the economic situation is appalling and the hatred to the regime growing after the bloody repression.

Obama’s administration’s handling of the crisis and its abrupt rebuke of President Mubarak, America’s most important Middle Eastern ally, while in June 2009 Obama didn’t support the Iranian masses which rose against the theocratic regime, projects a very negative US image to other Arab leaders and raises serious concerns in Israel too.

Only the future will say if a real democratization process is possible in the Middle East, as it happened in Eastern Europe and South America, and if peace and stability will accompany it.

* Roger Cohen, “Hosni Mubarak Agonistes,” The New York Times, February 3, 2011.