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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Friedman: End of Mideast Wholesale

Thomas Friedman writes in The New York Times:

If you look into the different “shop” windows across the Middle East, it is increasingly apparent that the Arab uprisings are bringing to a close the era of “Middle East Wholesale” and ushering in the era of “Middle East Retail.” Everyone is going to have to pay more for their stability.

Let’s start with Israel. For the last 30 years, Israel enjoyed peace with Egypt wholesale — by having peace with just one man, Hosni Mubarak. That sale is over. Today, post-Mubarak, to sustain the peace treaty with Egypt in any kind of stable manner, Israel is going to have to pay retail. It is going to have to make peace with 85 million Egyptians. The days in which one phone call by Israel to Mubarak could shut down any crisis in relations are over.

Amr Moussa, the outgoing head of the Arab League and the front-runner in polls to succeed Mubarak as president when Egypt holds elections in November, just made that clear in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Regarding Israel, Moussa said: “Mubarak had a certain policy. It was his own policy, and I don’t think we have to follow this. We want to be a friend of Israel, but it has to have two parties. It is not on Egypt to be a friend. Israel has to be a friend, too.”

Moussa owes a great deal of his popularity in Egypt to his tough approach to Israel. I hope he has a broader vision. It is noteworthy that in the decade he led the Arab League, he spent a great deal of time jousting with Israel and did virtually nothing to either highlight or deal with the conclusions of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report — produced by a group of Arab scholars led by an Egyptian — that said the Arab people are suffering from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom, a deficit of knowledge and deficit of women’s empowerment.

The current Israeli government, however, shows little sign of being prepared for peace retail. I can’t say with any certainty that Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure peace so that Israel can end its occupation of the West Bank. But I can say with 100 percent certainty that Israel has a huge interest in going out of its way to test that possibility. The Arab world is going through a tumultuous transition to a still uncertain destination. Israel needs to do all it can to get out of their story, because it is going to be a wild ride.

Alas, though, the main strategy of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas will be to drag Israel into the Arab story — as a way of deflecting attention away from how these anti-democratic regimes are repressing their own people and to further delegitimize Israel, by making sure it remains a permanent occupier of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Have no illusions: The main goal of the rejectionists today is to lock Israel into the West Bank — so the world would denounce it as some kind of Jewish apartheid state, with a Jewish minority permanently ruling a Palestinian majority, when you combine Israel’s Arabs and the West Bank Arabs. With a more democratic Arab world, where everyone can vote, that would be a disaster for Israel. It may be unavoidable, but it would be insane for Israel to make it so by failing to aggressively pursue a secure withdrawal option.

The second group that will have to pay retail for stability is the Arab monarchies — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco. These governments have for decades bought stability with reform wholesale — by offering faux reforms, like reshuffling cabinets, that never amounted to real power sharing — and by distracting their people with shiny objects. But these monarchies totally underestimate the depth of what has erupted in their region: a profound quest for personal dignity, justice and freedom that is not going away. They will have to share more power.

The third group I hope will have to pay retail is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Under Mubarak, in an odd way, the Brotherhood had it easy. Mubarak made sure that no authentic, legitimate, progressive, modern Egyptian party could emerge between himself and the Muslim Brotherhood. That way, Mubarak could come to Washington once a year and tell the president: “Look, it’s either me or the Muslim Brotherhood. We have no independent, secular moderates.”

Therefore, to get its votes, all the Muslim Brotherhood had to say was that “Mubarak is a Zionist” and “Islam is the answer.” It didn’t have to think hard about jobs, economics or globalization. It got its support wholesale — by simply being the only authentic vehicle for protest against the regime. Now the Muslim Brotherhood is going to have to get its votes retail — I hope.

This is the key question: Will a united, legitimate, authentic, progressive, modern, nationalist alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood get its act together and challenge the Islamists in the Egyptian elections, and then rule effectively? Woody Allen famously pointed out that 80 percent of life is showing up. Wrong. Eighty percent of life is getting stuff done. The Egyptian centrists from Tahrir Square now need to show that they can form parties to get good stuff done. Nobody pays wholesale anymore.

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