World Citizen: Is Arab Democracy Good for the West — and Israel?

World Citizen: Is Arab Democracy Good for the West — and Israel?

The uprising in Egypt has framed a dilemma in the starkest of terms: Does the West want true democracy in the Middle East, even if it brings the possibility of some rather frightening scenarios? A democratic Egypt could blossom into an open, pluralistic society, with equality for all religions and between men and women, continuing good relations with the West and enduring peace with Israel. But it could also follow a path similar to Iran's after the overthrow of the shah, with the popular movement hijacked by a well-organized militant religious movement, leading to decades of oppression and strife -- in other words, a regime that works to create a solidly anti-Western, anti-Israel Middle East.

The dilemma is most acute inside Israel, where each Egyptian scenario has an almost immediate impact. It is impossible to exaggerate the degree to which Israel will feel the shockwaves of this Arab revolution. But it is unclear just what that impact will be. That's why Israelis have used tectonic metaphors to describe the situation. Many have called it "an earthquake," while others have said that Israel is now "living on a volcano."

Like observers in the U.S. and Europe, Israelis have felt mixed emotions when watching the images of spontaneous revolt against the three-decade-long dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak. Israel is home to some of the most ardent advocates of democracy, people like Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who spent a part of his life in the Siberian gulag. Sharansky has argued that Israel should not make deals with dictators, even if they offer peace, saying nobody -- not Israel, not the U.S. -- should trust a dictator who mistreats his own people.

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