1. The Egyptian military released a statement that it will maintain the country’s peace treaty with Israel. That’s definitely a smart move, since the international community (at least those of us in the West) don’t look too kindly upon broken peace treaties. The White House especially. So now Netanyahu and Obama can sleep easier tonight.
2. Palestinian elections will be held before September. It’s definitely a proactive move, an attempt to prevent any sort of popular Palestinian uprising in the Territories. And who knows, maybe we’ll get a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation out of all this. It’s also, by the way, a response to the Palestine Papers, which must mean that most of what’s in them is fact. On the other hand, Hamas has said that they will not allow elections to happen in the Gaza Strip. In an ideal world, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran would team up to pressure Hamas to allow elections. Yeah, not happening.
3. Saeb Erekat is resigning as chief negotiator, also a result of the Palestine Papers. This is great, because both the Israelis and Palestinians need new blood when it comes to actually negotiating.
4. Yemen and Algeria are getting a taste of “revolution.” In Algeria at least, the government is beating protesters, arresting them, maybe releasing them, and there are a substantial number of female participants. Al Jazeera is having problems bypassing Algerian authorities, and I read that the government is using policewomen as its front line of defense. Tweeters are already using a #feb25 hashtag, so you know things are getting really intense there. Good thing I can read French and understand Le Monde’s live multimedia stream.
5. Lots of Algerian protesters are students, like in Tunisia and Egypt. This is great news because it shows that this North African earthquake cuts across religious and ethnic divisions. As an Iranian philosopher told me a couple of weeks ago, it’s a big party and everyone wants to join it.
Marc Lynch, the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, recently posted a blog about today’s historic events in Egypt. Focusing on the Obama administration’s role, he said the White House “deserves a great deal of credit, which it probably won’t receive.” First, “it understood immediately and intuitively that it should not attempt to lead a protest movement which had mobilized itself without American guidance, and consistently deferred to the Egyptian people.” Second, the administration’s “steadily mounting pressure on the Mubarak regime took time to succeed, causing enormous heartburn along the way.” And third, they “understood from the start, and has consistently said, that removing Mubarak would not be enough. It has rejected ‘faux democracy,’ and pushed hard for fundamental systemic reforms.”
I was not a believer at first, at least not during the first week and a half of the Tahrir protests. To me, the Obama administration was too reluctant to butt heads with Mubarak, and yet I knew that intervention and polarizing statements of any sort would be absolutely disastrous. Today, Obama proved that there is an alternative to George W. Bush’s Freedom Doctrine. Nonviolent demonstrations can result in peaceful, democratic change. Of course, we must wait and see with Egypt, since the military is now in charge, and military coups are never smooth processes.
As always, the situation in Israel is much different. It is intractable and unparalleled. However, I do think that one aspect of the Obama administration’s policy towards Egypt during the protests can be applied to how it deals with the Israelis and Palestinians. The next time a violent conflict erupts between the two parties, perhaps the U.S. should just take a step back and let things play out. A policy of nonintervention and a reluctance to act as a manipulative third-party mediator might be the way to go. However the Obama administration decides to revamp its Mideast policies after February 11, it should not exclude Israel from that revision. It’s time for a comprehensive overhaul of regional diplomacy, and I can only hope that someday Obama will live up to that Nobel Peace Prize.