Democracy (with a side of Anti-Semitism?) in Egypt
It seems that the entire world (including many journalists) has been voicing a non-stop stream of effusive and unqualified praise and support for events taking place in Egypt, and now that President Mubarak has announced he is stepping down, that chorus of voices has only grown louder and more enthusiastic. I have written before that I agree that the removal from power of this brutal dictator would be a positive move for Egypt, but I have also been careful to note that one can never predict the outcome of any given historical event (let alone a revolution) and given the political and ideological history of the region, we should be cautious when it comes to supporting a political platform of “anyone but Mubarak.”
We do not yet know what sort of political structure or regime will emerge from what is essentially chaos at the moment, and we do not know how that government will view Israel or the treaty with that country. This is an issue that many commentators have glossed over or only touched upon very briefly, but it is hugely important. In a similar vein we should also be cautious about viewing all of those who have taken to the streets of Egyptian cities as liberal democrats who have suddenly appeared ex-nihilo, to serve as the political saviors of the Egyptian people. Yes, there are genuine democratic activists among their number, as well as potential reformers and leaders from across the class and political spectrum, but there are also people who appear to genuinely hate not only Israel, but Jews. Because this movement has been so strongly grass-roots, it has been difficult to discern exactly how many of these revolutionaries are interested in building a better future for Egypt and how many represent a threat to peace and stability with their Jewish neighbor to the east. This last question is one that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, and when I noticed a link to an article on this very topic, posted on Facebook by the American Jewish Committee, I decided to take a look. The piece, which was written by AJC terrorism expert Yehudit Barsky, notes, in part, in depicting the crowds of protestors that, “One viciously anti-Semitic poster depicts Mubarak as a blood-sucking devil. Both Mubarak and Egypt’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, were depicted in effigy, with Stars of David drawn on their ties prior to their symbolic hangings.”
Now Ms. Barsky does not quantify the extent to which such sentiments are being expressed in the streets of Egypt, so it is hard to gauge how wide-spread this sort of imagery and emotion may be, but the use of Anti-Semitic tropes and imagery as part of protest and propaganda in the Muslim Middle East is sadly, nothing new.
For both reasons of morality and real politick, those of us who live in democracies should support the push for democratic reform in Egypt, but we should also not be blind to the level of hate and Anti-Semitism which exists, often quite openly, in the Arab world. Both of these ideas – democracy and Anti-Semitism - have proven powerful forces for change in the world, and it remains to be seen which one will triumph on the heels of this revolution. There is no question we should hope it is the former, but sadly we cannot ignore the possibility that it will be the latter, and if this is the case, we will find ourselves facing an even more dangerous and uncertain situation in the Middle East, something very few observers in the US or Israel are keen to see.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2011. This piece originally appeared on the New Vilna Review website.