Israel’s leaders earned some harsh reviews for their, shall we say, restrained reaction to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. Perhaps no review was harsher than that of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: “The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh — right to the very end.”
Even in acknowledging Israel’s strategic concerns and its people’s deep worries about the convulsions in Egypt, Friedman and others urged Israeli leaders to celebrate the end of Mubarak’s stifling rule and the potential for a stable Egypt based not on a dictator’s clenched fist but a voter’s folded ballot.
Fair enough. Except for the stability Mubarak brought to relations with Israel, it is impossible to defend a kleptocracy that left Egypt an economic and educational backwater. But even those celebrating what Friedman calls the “first ever, largely bloodless…, Facebook-driven, youth-led democracy uprising in an Arab country” would be wise to proceed cautiously. As David Frum pointed out, whether the subject is the Muslim Brotherhood, the mass appeal of democracy, or the true feelings of Egyptians beyond Tahrir Square, “we are talking about things about which nobody knows very much and probably nobody can know very much.”
It is this uncertainty that has tempered Israel’s reaction, as well as those of its supporters around the world. They pray for stable, peaceful democracies on Israel’s borders. But as Knesset member Dalia Itzik told one of our reporters this week, “It is natural to identify with the students who want freedom and democracy. But I worry that the Islamic Brotherhood already may kidnap the revolution. I hope there will be a democracy. That will be a really good surprise.”