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February 16, 2011

Will democracy in Egypt benefit the Palestinians?

For decades and despite much rhetoric to the contrary, American-led Western policy has been to prefer Arab dictatorship (authoritarianism in various forms) to Arab democracy. This preference was determined by two main assessments.

One was that corrupt and repressive Arab regimes were the best possible guarantee that oil would continue to flow at prices acceptable to the West, and, that there would be almost no limits to the amount of weapons that could be sold to the most wealthy Arab states. (The design, production, testing and selling of weapons is one of the biggest creators of jobs and wealth in America, Britain and some other Western nations. Were it not for Saudi Arabia’s purchases, Britain’s arms manufacturing industry might have gone bust by now).

The other main policy-driving assessment was that only corrupt and repressive Arab regimes could be relied upon to provide the necessary security assistance for identifying, locating, hunting down and liquidating “Islamic terrorists.” This consideration became the priority after 9/11.

In addition there was great comfort for Western policy makers in their knowledge that a corrupt and repressive Arab Order was not going to fight Israel to liberate Palestine. (As I have noted in previous posts and documented in detail in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, after Israel closed the Palestine file with its victory on the battlefield in 1948, the Arab regimes secretly shared the same hope as the all the major powers and Zionism - that the file would remain closed. There was not supposed to have been a re-generation of Palestinian nationalism).

There was also comfort for Western policy makers in the belief that their relationship with corrupt and repressive Arab regimes would mean that the Western powers would not be seriously challenged on their support for Israel right or wrong.

Put another way, Western governments, the one in Washington D.C. especially, knew they would not be required by the Arab regimes to pay a price for doing the bidding of the Zionist lobby and its stooges in Congress and the mainstream media.

No wonder then that while Tunisian-inspired people power was manifesting itself in Egypt, President Obama often seemed unclear about whether he wanted Mubarak to stay or go.

With Mubarak gone - I imagine the generals finally said to him something like, “We’ve either got to shoot our people or insist that you go now” - the first question is this: Will the High Council of Egypt’s armed forces really be prepared to preside over the dismantling of a corrupt and cruel system and give democracy a green light?

The problem for some of Egypt’s top generals is not only letting go of their own grip on the levers of political power. They are also locked into the business and financial corruption Mubarak presided over. I imagine he believed that allowing them to make loads of money would guarantee they would not make trouble for him as he assisted Israel to impose its will on the Palestinians, not least by effectively cancelling the results of the Palestinian elections which gave Hamas victory in the Gaza Strip.

That said, I am inclined to the view that the High Council will honour its promise to hand over to a civilian government and that we will see something approaching real democracy in Egypt. But what then?

The High Council has said, not surprisingly, that it will respect all of Egypt’s international obligations including the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. (My own view is that this separate peace was a disaster for the whole world. Why? With Egypt out of the military equation, Israel had complete freedom to be even more aggressive in seeking to impose its will on the region, with Lebanon its prime target. At a stroke Sadat’s separate peace with Israel also destroyed the prospects for a comprehensive peace).

Key question: Would a democratically elected civilian government have to be bound by the High Council’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel?

The answer, surely, has to be “No!” If, for example, the will of the people who elected the new government was for the peace treaty with Israel to be reviewed, the government would have to set a review process in motion.

That would create a very tricky situation for the government with Israel and the U.S. but it could be managed by the government saying that it would submit the treaty to a referendum.

If there was a referendum, much would depend on how the question was framed. If it was a simple “Yes” or “No” to Egypt remaining committed to the peace treaty with Israel, probably an easy majority of Egyptians would vote “No”. But that would not be good politics.

Best politics would be for the government of Egypt to frame the referendum question to give it the authority to say to Israel something like: “We wish to remain committed to our peace treaty with you, but we will be unable to do so without a commitment from you to end your occupation of all Arab land taken in 1967.”

Unless a majority of Israelis are beyond reason, that could be a game changer which would benefit the region and the whole world, not only the Palestinians.

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M. Elmasry

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