Israeli Scholars on the Middle East Situation

23 March 2011
Fall of Arab autocracies does not automatically mean advent of democracy, Israeli scholars caution

At a symposium of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem, which operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress, experts discussed the current Middle East maelstrom and the uprisings in the Arab world. "The automatic outcome of the fall of autocracy is not democracy," cautioned Shlomo Avineri (pictured on the left), the doyen of Israeli political science and former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Democracy is an outcome of decades of civil society. The French Revolution did not immediately lead to democracy and our evaluation cannot be influenced by the fact demonstrators on Tahrir Square all say they want democracy," Avineri said. On the other hand, he noted that although many observers maintain that Islam and democracy are incompatible, in the 19th century the Catholic Church saw democracy as the “work of Satan”. Today, the mainly Catholic Christian Democratic Parties in Europe are pillar of democracy.

Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, David Sultan, stressed that "the regime headed by Mubarak did not collapse, but it simply sacrificed Mubarak in order to ensure its continuity. In its essence, it is a regime based on the support of the army and the security forces with no real civil legitimacy.” Still, the Cairo-born Israeli diplomat was optimistic about endurance of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. "The cold peace may get colder, but it will still be peace. The reasons that Egypt made peace with Israel are still relevant,” he said.

The last member of the panel, Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy Center for Strategy at IDC Herzliya, was the least sanguine about the long-term situation which has witnessed a decline in American power and resolve, and which could witness both the disintegration of several states in the region and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. "Instead of a thousand flowers blooming, it could be a thousand mushrooms," he declared.

The event was held in memory of the late David Kimche, who founded the ICFR and died last year, and it was chaired by the ICFR president and former Israeli ambassador Avi Primor (pictured on the right). The Israel Council on Foreign Relations is a strictly non-partisan forum for the study and debate of foreign policy. The council aspires to stimulate public awareness of world events and insightful discussion of foreign policy issues, particularly regarding Israel, the Middle East, and Jewish affairs. It publishes the thrice-annual ‘Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs’.

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