Out of Egypt



We are watching the dramatic events unfold in Egypt with a mind-boggling mixture of fascination, empathy, awe and fear.

It's not the first time that a people has risen up against an Egyptian ruler; we've been there and done that. And as a community that values democratic ideals, we can empathize with the passionate yearning for political liberty and economic opportunity emanating from Egyptians across all walks of life.

And yet.

Just as the status of our biblical ancestors turned on a dime, plunging us into slavery when a new pharaoh rose "who knew not Joseph," we are filled with trepidation about what a post- Hosni Mubarak regime in Cairo could mean for Israel.

Israeli President Shimon Peres summed up official Israeli thinking in a nutshell when he said this week: "Not everything Mubarak did was right. But he did one thing for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. He kept the peace in the Middle East."

Both Jerusalem and Washington understandably have been caught between supporting the spread of democracy and fearing what new elections could portend. After all, President George W. Bush's push for elections in Gaza didn't turn out so well, heralding the ascent of Hamas and the emergence of a radical, Iranian-backed regime on Israel's doorstep.

Part of the fear comes from knowing that Egypt's 30-year peace with Israel, while critically important in preventing war and easing Israel's military burden, has been a cold peace not widely supported by the masses in Egypt.

So what happens if, as promised, Mubarak steps aside for new elections? Who will replace him? One possibility is Omar Suleiman, a close Mubarak associate and head of intelligence who has been a key player in Israeli-Egyptian ties. But while he may be a reassuring prospect for Israel and the United States, he is unlikely to garner much support among ordinary Egyptians.

The real unknown — and fear — is how successful the Muslim Brotherhood would be in ratcheting up its leverage after years of being officially banned in the Egyptian state. Its pro-Iranian, anti-Western, anti-Israel stance poses the greatest threat to the future of Egyptian-Israeli peace.

One Israeli government official wryly noted that while much of the world was looking at the Egyptian revolution and remembering the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Israeli officials were looking at the events and seeing the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979.

For the sake of Israel — and the Egyptians themselves — let's hope that Cairo's future resembles Berlin more than Tehran. Either way, what transpires along the ancient Nile is certain to make much more than a ripple when it comes to the next stage of relations with the Jewish nation.


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