Two Mideast Democracies, Side by Side

Egypt's Freedom Brings New Opportunities for Israel

Lining Up for Change: Egypt now has a democracy. That’s good for Israel, even if there are bumps in the road.
getty images
Lining Up for Change: Egypt now has a democracy. That’s good for Israel, even if there are bumps in the road.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 09, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Advocates of democracy in the Middle East have been deeply alarmed since December 29, when Egyptian security forces staged lightning raids on the offices of three American nonprofits that work to promote democracy and fair elections overseas. Egyptian officials say they seized the organizations’ books and computers because they suspect them of fomenting the unrest that led to the overthrow of the Mubarak dictatorship last year and the imposing of Egypt’s first open, democratic election, which the army has pledged to support after it’s done arresting the people who started it.

In defense of the three organizations, sources in Washington point out that they’re not that good. If Washington had wanted to bring democracy to Egypt, it would have done so the old-fashioned way, by sending the 101st Airborne.

Egypt’s Justice Ministry said it needs to determine where the organizations receive their funding, since political meddling by foreign governments is illegal. According to their websites, two of the three organizations, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, receive their funding from Congress. The third, Freedom House, receives only part of its funding from the federal government. The rest comes from private donations and grants from the Irish, Dutch, Norwegian and British governments as well as from the European Union and the United Nations.

The events point to the stark difference between Egypt, which lacks any tradition of democracy, and Israel, the Middle East’s only functioning democracy. In Israel, non-profits suspected of receiving foreign government funding are asked politely to hand over their books, rather than having them seized in police raids.

More important, Israeli officials are working to restrict foreign government funding of nonprofits that operate under the banner of human rights but actually work toward “influencing political debates” or the “policies of the state of Israel,” in the words of the NGO legislation’s original author, Likud lawmaker Ophir Akunis.

By contrast, Egypt is stifling NGOs that are perfectly open about their goals. The National Democratic Institute, the largest of the congressionally funded groups, said in a statement quoted by Fox News on January 2 that it has been operating in Egypt since 2005, “in an open and transparent manner, working to assist the efforts of political parties and civic organizations.”

It should be pointed out, too, that some Israeli NGOs have been receiving money from France. I don’t think I need to explain what that means.

Democracy in the Arab Middle East has been on an uncertain trajectory since the so-called Arab Spring began one year ago. On February 2, the day after Egypt’s Mubarak announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that a democratic Egypt “would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.