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How It All Shakes Out

February 17, 2011
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A new day is dawning in Egypt -- and perhaps the whole Middle East. But where the sun will ultimately rise is still a huge and worrisome question mark.

It was hard not to be transfixed by the euphoria in the streets of Cairo following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak -- and by the prospect that democracy might take root in an area of the world where rulers have for so long oppressed their people, and stifled economic and political development.

That Israel is not a factor in any of the revolutionary fervor rocking the region only confirms what we've known all along, but has long fed a pernicious myth that the Israeli-Arab conflict is at the root of all unrest in the Middle East.

There is no doubt that how this all shakes out will have a profound effect on the Jewish state.

Indeed, several Jewish organizations were quick to hail the peaceful uprising in Egypt as inspiring, even as they sounded a cautionary note.

As the Anti-Defamation League put it: "The people of Egypt must now channel their passion for change into the more difficult task of building the foundations for a true open, inclusive and stable democracy."

The real concern is what role the Muslim Brotherhood will play in the transition and beyond. The group has already announced that it will form a new political party, but will not run a candidate for president.

But as many analysts have noted in recent days, we cannot forget that the Iranian revolution of 1979 began with statements of moderation and acts that appeared to embrace true democracy. But within a very short time, the chief architect of that revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, had installed clerics into key government ministries, poised to take over when the time was ripe.

The Muslim Brotherhood aside, signals coming from Cairo are already mixed. A leading opposition figure who plans to run for president has already declared that his country's three-decades-old peace treaty with Israel is over, and that Egypt should renegotiate the terms of the 1978 Camp David Accords that led to the peace.

Yet a statement from the Egyptian military issued over the weekend said it would honor all its international treaties, presumably including its peace with Israel.

The United States has a key role to play in the coming months. In a rapidly changing region, where U.S. influence is somewhat shaky, the Obama administration must employ a mixture of carrots and sticks as it seeks to protect U.S. interests, even as it embraces democratic change. One of those interests must continue to be the security of Israel.

It is up to the administration to find a way to engage in what will most certainly be a difficult balancing act. Much is at stake.

We -- and the world -- will be watching closely.


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