This Newsweek article is by Fania Oz-Salzberger, an Israeli writer and historian, professor at the University of Haifa, and Leon Liberman chair in Modern Israel Studies at Monash University.
Pharaoh, Let My People Go
Are Egyptians the new Israelites?
by Fania Oz-Salzberger
Newsweek, Feb. 6, 2011
No one, save the Egyptians themselves, would like to see a truly democratic Egypt more than Israel.
A real democracy in the greatest Arab nation would be a dream come true. It would safeguard the calm coexistence of Egypt’s many parts: Muslims, academics, traditionalists, Facebook surfers. A real democracy would adhere to a modern constitution, sustain an independent judiciary, protect the Christian minority’s rights, respect dissidents, and stop persecuting homosexuals. It would combat widespread corruption, work to resuscitate Egypt’s crumbling economy, and find ways to feed and educate its poor. A real Egyptian democracy would never scrap peace with Israel in favor of renewed war.
But no one should be more concerned than the Israelis if a less-than-democratic Egypt emerges from the present turbulence.
There is a gut feeling in Israel that the protesters are enviably brave, and that their outrage is just. Ancient memories are stirring: did not biblical Israelites also defy a cruel Egyptian ruler in the first call for national freedom in human history? Aren’t present-day Egyptians echoing the timeless cry to a heartless leader, “Let my people go”? As a once oppressed people, Israelis are—or would like to be—as touched as all other global citizens by the human drama unfolding across the border.
So then why are many Israelis, from pundits to taxi drivers, so concerned about the situation? Are they so committed to Egypt’s aging autocrat, who kept a cold peace with Israel while oppressing his own nation? Why not side with the angels?
Because, tragically, the call for freedom might turn into a regional disaster. Already Iran’s spiritual leader is hailing Egypt’s fervor as an Islamic revolution and telling the Egyptian Army to turn its guns from Tahrir toward Israel. Anti-Mubarak posters show a Star of David on the president’s face. On the margins of the march for freedom, hatred may be brewing.