The late Arab-American scholar Edward Said appears to have been right. We’re all suffering from Orientalism, not to say racism, if the sight of an entire people throwing off the yoke of tyranny and courageously demanding free elections fills us with fear rather than uplifting us, just because they’re Arabs.
The Muslim Brotherhood will certainly play an important role in any political democratic structure that emerges in Egypt, and that has to be dealt with. But then, we also have religious fundamentalists in the government. That is the price of a parliamentary democracy. And the previous U.S. administration was intimately linked to fundamentalists, but that’s okay too, because evangelical Christians love Israel.
And what about the peace treaty? Hundred of Egyptians who were asked about that this week on the streets of Cairo said that they support continued diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt. Even among supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was difficult to find someone calling for the Israeli Embassy to get out of the country, though there were a few.
The 1978 Camp David Accords survived the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was not exactly a great democrat himself, and there is no reason to believe they will not survive even after Mubarak steps down from the presidency. Israeli journalists looked through some of the tens of thousands of pictures coming from Cairo, searching for protesters carrying a poster of Mubarak with a Star of David. In the end they found a single one. And among the thousands of Egyptians who called on Mubarak to “Go to Saudi Arabia,” there were indeed two or three who shouted, “Go to Tel Aviv.”
But even if it is difficult for us to accept it, Israel was simply not a factor in the whole Egyptian saga of the past week. And there is no reason that it should be. True, they don’t like us, and why should they? They are Arabs and Muslims, and rightfully or not, they see Israel as an occupying country, and they want an Egyptian government to do more to right the wrong.
Maybe our real fear is quite similar to that of the ruling classes of our neighboring states. What if the next Arab nation that rises up to the same extent will not be the Jordanians or the Yemenis, but the Palestinians? How will the Israel Defense Forces respond when thousands march with bare hands toward the fences of the settlements, and demand a free country of their own?