Arab Spring unleashes extremist Arab street

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, July 21, 2011
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For years, Europe's liberal and progressive left derided American neoconservatives. Their advocacy for a US policy devoted to the spread of democracy in the Middle East was depicted as a ploy to change the subject in the region in order to get Israel off the hook. Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al Assad and all the other autocrats represented an order Israel and the West should reckon with. Talking about democracy had only one purpose, the critics said: to put Palestinian independence on hold indefinitely.

Fast forward to 2011 and people power has turned European progressive defenders of the Arab order into enthusiastic supporters of Arab democracy. The liberal left is now busily criticising Israel for having dared to get cosy with the Arab autocrats.

Yet, if their goal remains to secure independence for the Palestinians, they should stick to their guns and decry the fall of the rulers.

Everywhere one looks in the Middle East today, revolutionaries do not appear to share the kind of moderation required to advance peace. The rhetoric of even the most moderate of emerging forces in Egypt, when it comes to peace with Israel, is not promising. And the moderates are unlikely to carry the day when elections come. In Tunisia, a republican pact meant to pave the way for a new constitution stipulates that Tunisia will not seek normalisation with Israel.

Peacenik left should decry the fall of the autocrats

That Israel remains deeply hated across the Arab world is no secret.

We were periodically warned about the "Arab street", whose radicalism was fed, for decades, by a state-controlled information reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. In countries like Syria and Egypt, state propaganda in the 1950s and 1960s was run by Nazi fugitives. Denied information by a system that sought support from America to stay in power but incited hatred against Jews, Israel and America to placate the masses, Arab societies today are still intoxicated by the same lies, with one crucial difference: while the autocrats promoted this kind of hatred, they privately recognised that national interest required normalisation with Israel and good relations with the West.

Paradoxically, the democratic wave sweeping the region may empower those who are convinced that reversing their governments' moderation vis-à-vis Israel is one of the first crimes that revolutions will have to rectify.

Whether the Arab spring begets democracy remains to be seen. What is clear is that many of its driving forces have rejected peace.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 1:43pm, July 21 2011