Barack Obama has a lot of faults, but sometimes at critical junctures he gets things pitch perfect. So was his speech tonight on the situation in Egypt, in which he all but told Mubarak his time is up. What was amazing about the speech that the words he delivered were subtle, the message couched in diplomacy-speak. He didn’t direct, he didn’t command. That wasn’t his place. But anyone with any sense could tell what the real meaning was: neither your people nor the world will settle for anything less than you going, and going now (note the last word in the passage below):
…We have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments…
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Also pitch-perfect (and doubtless causing much heartache in Tel Aviv and Aipac headquarters) was this reference to the players who should be part of Egypt’s future government:
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
For those who can’t tell the players without a scorecard, this was surely an implicit reference to the Islamic Brotherhood. For an American president to even implicitly say that an Islamist party belongs in an Arab government is close to revolutionary. Now, maybe Bibi wishes he’d extended that settlement freeze a few months ago! This is what you get when you cross an American president.
What will be interesting is to see how Egypt negotiates the next few months and the transition to its next government. What type of role with the Brotherhood and Islamists play in the next phase? Will there be a way to integrate them successfully into electoral life, into a new democratic system? If there is, then this could be a serious blow to Iran. Thus far, the most prominent model of Islamist rule the world has seen is the Iranian republic. Not a very persuasive or appealing one. If Egypt and the world can midwife a new regime that incorporates many of the disparate interests of the Egyptian population, then it would give Iran a real run for its money. It would say there is an alternative. There is a way for Islamists to be in government, while not having a state that tortures and torments its non-Islamist foes.
Such a government would probably honor its past treaty commitments into the Sinai peace agreement. But it would also no longer be Israel pawn or patsy. It might actually refuse to act as backup to Israel’s Gaza siege. It might press Israel as hard as Turkey has. In fact, I hope to high heaven that the Turkish Islamists can reach out to their Egyptian brothers and sisters and advise them about the best way to pursue their new political agenda. It seems to me that if Egypt could be governed as Turkey has been, that this would be the most powerful Islamic rejoinder to the Iranian mullahs. Two Muslim countries that listen to the people, acknowledge their Muslim identity, but show respect for secular and non-Muslim citizens. I realize that the Turkish model isn’t perfect especially regarding the Kurds, but the record of the current Turkish government is far better than Iran’s overall.
The responses from Israel and her more strident supporters continue to be out of synch with both the reality in Egypt and the way its revolution is being viewed by the rest of the world. Haaretz’s headline is:
Israel clearly is of the opinion that everyone in the world should be devoting 90% of their time to obsessing about its interests in the world. It may come as a shock to the Israelis that Egypt right about now has far more important things to worry about than its peace treaty with Israel. There will be time to devote to this issue once there is a new government in place. But to shrei about that now is simply tone-deaf. For another dose of cluelessness there’s always Yossi Klein Halevi, ex-JDL leader, who graces the op-ed page of, what else, the NY Times, Israel: Alone, Again?. Can’t you just hear those mournful violins keening for poor little Israel whose Egyptian sugar-daddy is about to give up the ghost. Where will poor Israel turn, alone and friendless in a cold, barren Middle East?
Give us a break, would ya? For starters, Israel can cultivate relationships with its neighbors just like any other normal country in the world. Instead of using its military to impose Israeli will, it might try looking for common interests as other nations do who have peaceful, secure relations with their neighbors.