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Springtime in Egypt?

February 16, 2012
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Egypt files criminal charges against Americans for promoting democracy. Syria intensifies its brutal offensive against its own citizens. And a unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions threatens to shut the door on relations with Israel for the foreseeable future.

One year after uprisings in the Arab world inspired a mix of awe and fear, it's not a pretty picture.

The situation in post-Mubarak Egypt poses the greatest immediate challenge to the United States and Israel. The pro-democracy forces that launched their revolution on Facebook have lost out to the military, which, in turn, is under pressure from the Islamist parties that have triumphed in parliamentary elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas and other extremist movements in the region, in concert with a party representing the religiously hard-line Salafis, won some 70 percent of the seats in the Egyptian parliament.

The detention and intended prosecution of the Americans, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and other foreign nationals working for pro-democracy groups, is particularly ironic. It raises many questions about the military leaders' intentions to cede control, as well as their intentions regarding future relations with the United States and Israel.

Members of Congress are rightly questioning whether U.S. aid to Egypt -- about $1.5 billion each year -- should continue under the current situation.

At the same time, the aid, first instituted in the aftermath of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty, has served as leverage for U.S. influence, and, by extension, an important tool in maintaining the "cold peace" which has existed between Israel and Egypt for more than 30 years.

In Syria, however, U.S. influence has long been negligible, and relations with Israel are strained. There's much less room for maneuvering, so the United States is left doing what it can: pushing for movement in the U.N. Security Council and taking a back seat to Arab League efforts to oust Bashar al-Assad.

As for the deal between the rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, it could still unravel, with Hamas leaders in Gaza apparently irked by their man in exile brokering a unity government headed by Mahmoud Abbas in advance of new elections.

The Palestinians were among the first to go to the polls among their Arab brethren, and we all know how that turned out. Instead of opting for peace and prosperity, they chose rejectionism and terrorism in the name of Hamas.

Now, the fears that Israel and its supporters expressed -- and were vilified for -- when the so-called Arab Spring erupted across the region last year are more than justified. As Israel prepares to face possible renewed aggression, let's do what we must to help the Arabs make smarter choices in the future.

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