The Egyptian events have been received with great interest in capitals around the world. The most prominent interest came from the United States – where the situation has received unusual attention in the press, and unusual interest with regards to government stances.
In the past, Washington has dealt with many popular uprisings [around the world], particularly in Eastern Europe, where regimes were completely hostile towards American politics, and where American interests came together with the mass movements calling for change. Thus, the U.S. was desperate for the masses to succeed in bringing down such regimes, whereby the inevitable result would be an extension of American influence in those countries.
Yet regarding the recent Egyptian events, conditions were to the contrary. The Egyptian regime is a strong ally of the United States, and a decline or change in that regime would mean a loss of U.S. influence in the country. This would be a strategic loss because of Egypt’s strategic position not only in the Arab region, but also in the entire geographical region surrounding it. Therefore, to deal with the situation, the U.S. appears to have adopted an odd approach on the surface, but upon closer inspection, it is a perfectly natural American tactic.
On the surface, America has initiated a policy of pressurizing the Egyptian regime, rather than supporting it. This was done in a crude and blatant manner; it seemed as if America was ordering the regime to do this and that, and to do it quickly as well. On the surface, it seemed as if the American policy was sympathizing with the demands of the Egyptian masses.
In reality, these American orders were an expression of significant U.S. concern, concern for the fall of the Egyptian regime, and concern for the subsequent loss of American influence in Egypt. The Americans felt the need to resort to a new tactic, in short: call upon the Egyptian regime to change its key figures, large and small, and call upon the Egyptian government to positively address some of the people’s democratic demands, in order to find a quick solution to the situation. As a result, the Egyptian regime would remain in place and intact, albeit with a change of faces, because it had responded to some of the demands of the people. All this would put an end to the popular rebellion, and ensure that matters did not reach a point of complete rupture, with the downfall of the regime, having lost the ability to govern, and a change in the country’s political outlook.
As America attempted to adopt this tactic, two obstacles emerged: Firstly, the masses are not concerned with America’s motives, but rather they have announced and demanded fundamental changes in the regime, people, attitudes and policies. Secondly, the Egyptian President rejected America’s suggestion to stand down quickly, or even flee the country. President Mubarak told Obama: “you do not understand Egyptian culture”. Instead, he announced a policy to conduct some reforms, announcing that he will leave office in accordance with a set deadline, and with that some faces will change, whilst the regime remains unchanged. Although ultimately this is the same goal as the Americans desire, they still have grave concerns.
The Egyptian regime applied its method [of dealing with the crisis] in two notable situations:
The first situation: organize a movement in the streets saying that there are in fact two different opinions in Egypt, those with President Mubarak, and those against him. This movement was secretly implemented by the security services (under the pretext of relinquishing violence and wearing civilian clothes). However, organized violence took place, and along with the appearance of horses and camels on the scene, this immediately showed that the movement in support of the regime was not a popular one. Rather, it was a movement led by the security forces, and this represents the repressive policies that were a fundamental cause of the outburst of public anger in Egypt.
Regarding the second situation: Vice President Omar Suleiman intervened, to portray matters as follows: The government is here and it is stable, it has listened to the demands of the protestors, and now they must return to their homes, in order for the government to address the conditions required for stability. With this depiction, the Egyptian popular revolution was portrayed as a series of demonstrations calling for demands, rather than a popular revolution calling for change. Such a portrayal corresponds with the desires of the United States. However, this tactic failed, as after Omar Suleiman announced this, by chance, on a Thursday [3rd February], his words were followed another day of protests on the Friday. Whereas the first Friday demonstrations were known as the “Day of Rage” [Friday 28th January], the following Friday was termed as the “Day of Departure” [Friday 4th February]. Thus, the rebellious masses indicated that they would continue their activities. They also announced that they would not be fooled by the government’s calls, and that the crisis would continue, and widen. They claimed that matters could only be alleviated if the radical changes they demanded were to happen, and this has caused deep fears for the United States.
Here we must look at the position of Israel in this scene as a whole.
The cornerstone of the U.S. relationship with Egypt, and the foundation upon which its success is built on, ever since the Camp David agreement 30 years ago, lies in Egypt’s removal from the Arab-Israeli conflict, and establishing a solid, peaceful relationship between the Israeli and Egyptian governments. If America is interested in what is happening in Egypt, in order to preserve its influence there, then it is also interested in enhancing the status of Israel. How does Israel perceive the Egyptian events, and how does it perceive America’s role, and its future [in the region]?
With regards to the official Israeli position, we can examine the stance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has manipulated America’s tense disposition, and warned that the fall of the Egyptian government would mean the emergence of an Islamic regime, like Iran. Then he explicitly called upon the need to pressurize any new Egyptian regime to announce its continuous, effective commitment to the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.
As for Israeli public opinion, this has been more explicit in terms of visions and analysis, as expressed by two prominent Israeli writers:
Aluf Benn, a well-known political writer, wrote explicitly saying: “Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse”. According to Benn, this would mean that Israel’s isolation in the region would increase. He even went so far as to say that the weakness of the United States in the region has now become apparent, and Israel will have to search for a way out, and begin courting new allies. Aluf Benn then touched upon the Palestinian situation, saying: “It’s hard to tell how…the Palestinian Authority could fill the role that Egypt has played for Israel”.
This was followed by the Israeli writer Ari Shavit, who went even further by saying: “Two huge processes are happening right before our eyes. One is the Arab liberation revolution [in Egypt and Tunisia]… The second process is the acceleration of the decline of the West”. According to Shavit, there has been a decline in the West’s capacity to act as a deterrent, and this will lead to global changes. He went on to say that “the overall outcome will be the collapse of North Atlantic political hegemony not in decades, but in years”, adding that the era of Western dominance is diminishing.
Shavit did not forget to mention the Palestinian scene, saying: “The scenes [in Tunisia and Egypt] are similar to the Palestinian intifada of 1987”.
This analysis reflects deep Israeli concerns, exceeding beyond the current events, and extending towards the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, consider this Israeli analysis with regards to the Palestinian situation, and what direction it will move in the coming days. The Egyptian regime was the primary supporter of the negotiation approach, which has ultimately reached an impasse.