The mighty tower of power occupied by Hosni Mubarak may have crumbled, however, the question remains, would a new edifice based on the people’s will be erected on the ruins of the old order or just a faÃ§ade wall will be raised to cover the former. Would the U.S., a de facto power player in the region, allow fair and transparent elections that could replace the subservient regime with the independent minded democratic forces that on the popular demand may re-evaluate the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty?
As the spectacular victory of 1967 displayed the superior military prowess of Israeli war machinery, the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty shows the fine strategic thinking and calculating skills of the Israeli diplomats. They negotiated effectively and efficiently to secure an agreement that achieved several critical and vital points for Israel. First and foremost, Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize and give legitimacy to the Jewish state. The moment Egypt, the largest and the most powerful Arab country, signed the peace treaty Israel became secured from an attack from the other neighboring Arab countries. While Israel returned the captured Sinai with the condition that Egypt does not deploy its soldiers in the peninsula, it shrewdly excluded the fates of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the treaty completely betrayed the Palestinian cause – the core of the Israeli Arab conflict. The treaty is seen as win-win situation for Israel, and lose-lose for Arabs and it is for this reason it remains to this day hugely unpopular in Egypt and elsewhere in Arab countries.
It is hard to exaggerate the political windfall the peace treaty with Egypt brought to Israel. It castrated Egypt, neutralized the neighboring Arab states, and left Palestinians without any support and leverage. It gave Israel carte blanche to do as it pleases with the West Bank, Gaza, and free hand to repress the occupied Palestinians. It opened the door for trade and other friendly contacts between Israel and the Persian Gulf countries: Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE. It is greatly the blessing of the peace agreement with Egypt that Israel with complete impunity carried out the military offensive against Lebanon and bombed the besieged population of Gaza, committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre, launched bombing raids against Syria and Iraq, and executed high-profile assassinations in Jordan and the UAE.
Michael Scheuer was not too off the mark when he said on Fox News, "The security of Israel depends on Arab tyranny". Washington and Tel Aviv know too well that their hegemony over the region could only be made possible by the Arab despots; true representative democracy would be difficult to tame and made servile to do their bidding.
It is to this end that the U.S.A has consistently embraced and supported despots and tyrants in the Middle East while paying only lip service to democracy. For Israel, the illegitimate Arab leaders are lynchpins for its regional power, and to the U.S.A, they are the key to America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Hezbollah and Hamas, both, with their charity and social services, enjoy huge popularity among their people. They fairly and squarely won by a landslide in parliament elections. However, since they are not pliant to the U.S. and Israel, decline to relinquish the national rights of their people, and refuse to impose dictated solution, they are, as a matter of political convenience, declared terrorists organizations. U.S., Israel, and Europe refused to work with the Palestinian Authority that included Hamas – democratically elected and a legitimate representative of the Palestinian majority. In contrast, the west never showed any qualm dealing and working with dictatorial regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and PLO that not only lack legitimacy but also oppress and torture their own citizens.
It is not the freedom and democracy or respect for human rights or aspirations for true and just peace that has made the kings, royals, and dictators of the Arab world the strategic partners to the USA. Rather, it is the America’s insatiable thirst for oil and fawning over Israel, and for Arab Kings and dictators, it is the protection and security of their kingly and dictatorial rule that brought them together in an unholy alliance. Recall the famous meeting between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1945 aboard the USS Quincy. In that meeting, President Roosevelt made a pact with the Saudi King that continues to reverberate today with the force of its piercing truth: the United States will provide military protection for Saudi Kingdom (read royal rule of al-Saud family) in exchange for American access to Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves. In case of Jordan and Egypt where there is no or little oil, recognition and support for Israel and muffling of Palestinian cause was the price set for the American blessing.
The Egyptians who came out of their homes and braved the bullets of the security forces did not do for mere want of a piece of bread. The blood was not shed and lives were not sacrificed just to bring a new government to power. After the news of Mubarak’s resignation reached the Tahrir Square, the crowd raised the cry, “Egypt is free, Egypt is free”. It was not only a cry for freedom from oppression and the desire for democracy; it was also a cry for freedom from sycophantic fawning around the U.S. and Israel. For eighteen day Egyptian sentiment can be seen with the slogan, “"No, Obama, not Mubarak," and posters with Star of David superimposed over Mubarak’s face.
The Egyptian public feel insulted by the fact that Egyptian foreign policy decisions are made in Washington and Tel Aviv, not Cairo. Egyptians see their country as a linchpin of America’s strategy in the Middle East, and their President as a chief collaborator with Washington and Jerusalem who put the American and Israeli interests and concerns over and above the interests and concerns of Egyptians and Arabs. The Egyptian people never approved Mubarak’s servile cooperation with Israel in imposing the economic blockade and siege of Gaza. The Egyptians never accepted Mubarak regime joining the American and Israeli chorus that the destruction of Hamas is the most important requirement for peace between Israel and Palestine. Mubarak’s unstinted cooperation with George Bush in his infamous “war on terror” that saw transfer of prisoners from the U.S. to Egypt to be tortured by the rented Egyptian security was seen by the men and women of Egypt as a national disgrace.
Understandably, both the U.S. and Israel did not want Mubarak, a partner and political ally, to fall. The two countries tacitly and overtly extended their support for the Mubarak regime during the bloody uprising. Secretary Clinton, at the risk of insulting the protesting Egyptians, on January 25 told reporters: “… and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence … “But our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Vice President Biden was more forthcoming, in his interview with Jim Lehrer on PBS NewsHour he said, “Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible … the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
The U.S. and Israel do not look at the successful removal of Mubarak from power as a hope for Egypt’s new beginning, a harbinger for democracy, and the end of oppression. They see exit of Mubarak as a loss of an indispensible ally whose collaboration was central in maintaining the status quo in Palestine with the choking siege in the Hamas controlled Gaza. A former Israeli envoy to Cairo put it bluntly, “As long as we had Mubarak, there was no void in our relations with the region. Now we’re in big trouble".
The trouble is the fear of democracy in Egypt. Israel made peace with one man – Mubarak. Mubarak alone was the guarantor of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. With Mubarak gone, hopefully, one-man and one-party dictatorial rule that has been the fate of Egypt for decades will soon be ended. The treaty if put to vote in a democratically elected parliament or through fair and transparent popular referendum it will most certainly not survive in its present form; most Egyptians regard the treaty as a surrender to Israel. If the Egyptian Parliament votes to abrogate or modify the treaty to include a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arabs, it will spell an endgame for Israel’s free hand in the region. It will never be the same for Israel.
In the words of an American diplomat, “The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is the pillar of the structure in the Middle East …. If the ’79 agreement goes asunder, everything falls apart. Everything falls apart.” Here I may add that the treaty is the pillar of the structure that has, for the last thirty years, provided lopsided security and comfort to Israel and made things only worse for Arabs, especially Palestinians. If the Israel-Egypt peace agreement goes asunder things may fall apart for Israel, not for Arabs; Arabs stand to lose very little as they had very little to gain.
Israel and the U.S. may have grudgingly accepted the humiliating departure of Mubarak, their staunch ally of three decades. However, rest assured, they will leave no stone unturned in their attempt to ensure that regime continues –” “Mubarak-style government without Mubarak”.
Egypt never had a true civilian government. From the first President Muhammad Naguib to Gemal Nasser to Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak were all career military officers. The present Vice President Omar Suleiman is a former army general and head of the military intelligence services. Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has strong military background. The decision making power in Egypt rests with its armed forces. The military calls the shot over the civilians on all the important concerns, especially the foreign affairs, and defense matters.
The U.S., with its $2 billion annual aid for the last three decades, has a direct leverage and special link with the Egyptian military establishment; the bond between the two militaries is mutual. It is unlikely that the Egyptian military will allow a civilian government that in any significant way directly impacts the American and Israeli interests in the region. If it does so, then it is essentially agreeing to the erosion of its authority and ultimate collapse of oligarchy. Would the Egyptian military agree to give up its elite status, it is doubtful.
The Egyptian revolution will not achieve its ends, it will not be a complete and successful revolution until the military power to dictate and rule over civilian government is defanged. “Don’t let anyone steal this revolution from you –” those hypocrites who will put on a new face that suits them,” Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi warned the protestors at the Tahreer Square, “The revolution isn’t over. It has just started to build Egypt … guard your revolution.”
With the power in the hands of The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to define and shape the new Egypt, the young Egyptian revolutionaries have their work cut out. The Egyptian revolution is not over yet, it just begun.