The End of the Beginning

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Now this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
— Sir Winston Churchill

This has been a dramatic month. It is difficult to catch one’s breath over the sweeping changes that have rocked the Middle East. Over the past 30 days, the routine harassment of a Tunisian fruit vendor by a government official, which sparked his self-immolation, resulted in a tsunami that has sent shock waves throughout the capitals in that highly volatile region.

The first wave led to the resignation of Tunisian President Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali on January 14; rippled immediately to the streets of Amman, leading King Abdullah II of Jordan to dissolve his government on February 1; and the next day led President Ali Abdullah Salleh of Yemen to promise not to run for re-election when his term expires in 2013 — a pledge wholly insufficient to the restive population there, because thousands of protestors remain in the streets.

But the tsunami’s world-shaking impact truly was realized with last Friday’s resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of his government. No one who has followed Mubarak’s brutal regime, especially lovers of human rights and democracy, could shed a tear as we watched him make his long-delayed departure from the world stage.

This tsunami shows no signs of abating. Throngs of protestors are bravely defying their brutal and repressive governments and rocking the streets of Algiers and even Iraq. The protestors have all taken note of their Egyptian cousins’ having manifested the deep well of discontent over their government’s historical denial of human rights, cronyism and corruption. Even the Palestinian Authority’s Cabinet announced
Sunday its intention to hold presidential and legislative elections, which have been delayed for years.

We, who care desperately not only about human rights and democracy, but about Israel — the sole, stable island of democracy in that highly volatile region of the world — cannot help but be concerned. One reason is that, although much of the ongoing revolution has been spurred by the young, intellectual elite, only 49 per cent of Egypt’s 82 million people, and only 38 percent of its women, are literate.  We are concerned that a Pew poll in December showed that 82 percent of Egyptian Muslims favor the stoning of female adulterers, 84 percent seek the death penalty for apostates and 77 percent believe that the hands of thieves should be amputated.

We are concerned, too, by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s statement in a congressional hearing last week that the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest organizational infrastructure within Egypt, is “mostly secular.” His statement clashes alarmingly with the reality of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose motto is “Allah is our objective. The Koran is our law. The Prophet is our leader. Jihad is our way. And death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

The restive Egyptian street will not allow a military dictatorship to rule for the length of time necessary to develop democratic institutions, such as a free and independent judiciary, a free press, freedom of assemblage and freedom of religion for all. We are concerned that the anticipated six-months to a year prelude to elections are far from adequate.

Yesterday, a prominent opposition figure, Aymoun Nour,  told an Egyptian radio station that the country’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel is no longer relevant. That position is worrisome, to say the least. Since the treaty was signed, American taxpayers have built up and modernized Egypt’s military, including F-16 fighter jets, M1 Abrams tanks (with a factory to produce and upgrade them), 700 M60A-1 tanks and 500 Hellfire anti-tank guided missiles.

EMET has constantly warned that in the rapidly shifting sands of the Middle East, today’s friends can easily become tomorrow’s enemies. Israel — our eastern outpost of Western democratic values of pluralism, democracy and the rule of law — might someday, even in the distant future, come under attack from American taxpayer-funded arsenal of weaponry, such as that owned by Egypt. For years, we have been the sole voice on Capitol Hill to caution that these weapons, along with the training provided by the American government, will eventually be turned against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

The same can be said about the Palestinians. The American government has provided weapons and training to Fatah’s “police force” since the signing of the Oslo accord in 1993. The U.S. taxpayer also has provided weapons and training to Jordan since its peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

We are concerned that in this increasingly radicalized region, Islamist terrorist groups get succor and gratification from the decline of any Western democracy. We in the West might make fine distinctions between Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizballah. Our enemies don’t. Anything that hastens the demise of Western civilization increases their joy and faith in the eventual triumph of Islam. As Islamists always say, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.”

We are concerned that America’s foreign policy approach tackles today, not tomorrow. We armed Iran before the fall of the shah, we armed Saddam Hussein after Iran’s Khomeini revolution of 1979 and armed jihadists against the Russians during the Cold War who would eventually become the Taliban.

By now, we should realize that America has only one true, reliable ally in the Middle East: the stable and democratic State of Israel.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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