There are contrasting op-ed pieces in the Telegraph and the Times today by, respectively, David Horovitz (editor of the Jerusalem Post) and Danny Finkelstein. They concern what Israel has to fear and to hope for from events currently unfolding in Egypt. Horovitz focuses on what it has to fear, and Finkelstein on what it has to hope for. These two 'roads' were already signposted in the quotations I drew attention to yesterday. Horovitz emphasizes the Israeli worry about Egypt now taking the path of Iran, the overthrow of the dictatorship ushering in rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the country becoming again a force hostile to Israel, so jeopardizing the prospects of normalization and peace. For Finkelstein, by contrast, the sole prospect of genuine normalization and peace is attached (£) to the spread of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. This is because 'war and hatred is the policy of autocrats and tyrants for controlling their own people and maintaining national purpose where they are unable to provide much else'; whereas '[d]emocracies don't go to war with each other. Their leaders don't want it and their people won't allow it.' Danny concludes:
Whatever may now happen in Egypt, however much relations with Israel now deteriorate, real peace can only come once liberty and democracy are enjoyed by Egyptians. What we are seeing in Egypt isn't something with consequences for the Middle East peace process. What we are seeing in Egypt is the Middle East peace process.
This may be intended as a rhetorical flourish but it is too quick. In my post yesterday I said that, whatever worries we may have about things going wrong, democrats have to support the efforts of Egyptians to win democratic rights and liberties for themselves. We have to, because that is the only principled view, especially if (like Horovitz) you point to 'the uniqueness of Israel, that embattled sliver of enlightened land in a largely dictatorial region'; but also because there is no practical alternative by way of turning back the clock. To that extent, the emphases in Danny's article are on the right side: whatever the fears and dangers, steps towards democracy in the Middle East are to be welcomed, encouraged and supported.
His conclusion is, however, too quick because, unusually for him, it smacks of utopianism. Democracies don't go to war with each other just up to the point in time when it happens that two or more of them do. Since peace in the region is the ideal outcome of the establishment of democracy and liberty, we are urged by Danny to treat the first possible step towards democracy and liberty as itself the peace process. What, even despite other less welcome possible outcomes? Would the days of thousands upon thousands gathering in Tahrir Square be the peace process if things in Egypt take a turn for the worse and don't in fact open the road to a comprehensive peace? I don't buy this. People may hope; we should do that; but there are certain worries as well that can't be spirited away. It is a situation, if ever there was one, of unknowns which are known.