Middle East Calls ‘Change’ as Democracy

The recent wave sweeping the Middle East has been overwhelmingly non-violent. As if an invisible force, visible only to corrupt or autocratic heads of state, has been advancing and bringing down decades-long regimes within a matter of days. It seems that almost no one is immune to this force, except those that outwardly and actively fight democracy like Syria and Iran.

The public has cried “Democracy,” and the youth has repeated and reiterated the call, over and over again: “Democracy,” they chant, “Democracy,” something we know nothing about, have never experienced (other than what we see in movies-made-in-Hollywood) but we want it nonetheless. They cried and waved, twitted and blogged while the world held its breath and whispered then shouted: D E M O C R A C Y !

Democracy is the hallmark of the two most despised countries for any Middle Eastern: the United States of America, otherwise known as the Big Satan, and Israel, also known as the Small Satan. Why would the masses want to be more like what they hate?

The real problems throughout the Middle East can be characterized not by the autocratic dictatorships, rather by a very high birth rate, a huge segment of the population under the age of 30, predominantly unemployed and uneducated, and surging food prices.

Thus, when the masses go out to the streets and demand an improvement of their living conditions, we join the choir: DEMOCRACY, we chant, the miracle medicine that will make poverty go away with the swipe of a wand.

In Egypt, about one out of three is on the Government (military) payroll. In Gaza, Hamas hands out the money the European Union and others generously donate and the UN maintains a whole structure just to support the eternal “refugees.”

Those of us in the United States are discovering there is a cost to things, and not all of us can be on the Government payroll. In fact, our President tried to do just that and discovered that even his administration cannot handle the mounting US Debt.

What will we be shouting in the streets when the economy deteriorates once again, like in late 2008, but this time around the Government would be unable to borrow anymore for no one, China included, will lend us more money?

America already has a democracy. What will the masses in our streets be chanting when they are faced with the real cost of Obama’s plans?

Although the situation is seemingly better in the United States than in the Middle East, as the Government becomes unable to provide services and continue paying Social Security, the elderly will go out to the streets chanting “Away with Obama!” It is the reverse of the “youth revolution,” although the very same path may be followed.

The other contributing factor for the unrest is the rising cost of food (e.g. corn and wheat) and other commodities (e.g. cotton). When there is not enough to eat, or when one cannot afford basic necessities, the masses are galvanized to demand change.

In the Middle East “Change” was called “Democracy,” although there was no intention for our kind of Democracy. It was simply the opposite of the status quo, so the masses used the word, soon they will replace it.

There is a beacon of light in the Middle East, touted as “the only Democracy in the Middle East,” Israel. But even in Israel there was almost a general strike due to the rapidly rising costs of water, gasoline and food. The Government was on the verge on a non-confidence vote, averted at the last minute by Netanyahu stepping in and overriding his Finance Minister’s actions.

Essentially, the very same process of people going to the street, voicing their deep discontent with a life becoming more and more difficult, almost unbearable, while a very thin crust of society lives in unfathomable wealth. In Egypt people called for the removal of the President while in Israel people were ready to topple the coalition government.

Is there much a difference between President Mubarak’s rule and Netanyahu’s rule, both the final decision makers? Or that of a former general Barak, now the Minister of Defense, who clings to his Ministerial seat at all costs (including his party and their ideology) while having amassed millions? For Mubarak it is billions, in Israel millions, but they are equally despised.

There are demands being voiced now to investigate corruption at the highest levels of the Egyptian governing elites, starting with the billions that Mubarak had in Switzerland, transferred over the last few days to Saudi Arabia. Apparently, there are those in Israel who may be somewhat uncomfortable with the results of such investigations.

In Gaza, where democratically-elected Hamas just announced a boycott of Israeli products, a worrisome news item for there is no counter response by Israel, the following element was elegantly weaved:

Documents revealed by WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website, showed that as early as 2006, US officials had complained of “widespread corruption at Karni crossing,” including demands for bribes.

“The deeply problematic procedures and allegations of endemic corruption at Karni terminal constitute a major non-tariff barrier to trade,” a US diplomatic cable read.

The cable said Coca Cola distributor Joerg Hartmann informed embassy officials that trucks were stalled at the crossing if firms did not pay bribes, in a scheme largely run by a high-level Israeli official with the help of others, including two soldiers.

Gaza’s ministry of economy said the bans would be in place “until further notice.”

Note that the corruption pointed out is by Israelis, not Hamas. Not only is it outrageous, it is deeply disappointing and saddening. Apparently, Democracy is neither the remedy for corruption nor a fulfillment of the needs of the masses.

In Israel, corruption starts at the President’s level, via the Prime Minister, Ministers and on down the hierarchy. It has become more and more pronounced in recent years: “Ein Din ve’ein Dayan,” there is no law and no one judging or enforcing it. Democracy is not a cure. The grass just around the border may seem greener, but it is as infested as in the rest of the entire Middle East.

In Israel one still finds values, integrity, honor, responsibility and accountability within a very small segment of the population. If one wanted to generalize this sliver of hope, one would use the label “religious Zionists,” “modern Orthodox” otherwise known as “knitted yarmulkes” or the dreaded “Settlers” (those living in Judea and Samaria).

There is no intention by them to influence others to change their habits, no attempt to control or establish their ideology and belief. Theirs is leading and living by example. Theirs is a belief in God and Country. Theirs is goodness in a cocoon, emanating light and energy from the inside.

In Lebanon, Gaza and soon in Egypt, those who represent hope for the masses are Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. They provide social and medical services, schools for the young (where they are brainwashed with hatred for the Jews) and care for the elderly. No one goes hungry. But it comes with a cost: the Islamization of society to the point of no return.

Theirs is a long-term control and the use of hatred as a galvanizing force. Their aim is one: Destroy the Jewish State. There is not even an iota of goodness to be found, unless it is outwardly self-serving. There is nothing beyond the day of destruction, just an all-absorbing focus on getting there and doing everything possible to eliminate the Jews.

This is the main difference between the Israelis cultivating their garden to be green, to bear fruit and provide shade and to allow children to play and enjoy, and the Gazans and other Middle Eastern fanatics who crave one thing, and one thing only: destroy the enemy, crush their skulls, rape their women, conquer their land.

Yes, a small difference indeed.

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.