Breaking: Mubarak steps down.
Egypt is what Etel Solingen calls a “nationalist-confessional regime” as opposed to an economically liberal regime. On her model, every state in this era consists of a collection of competing factions which are defined primarily in terms of their relationship to free trade. When the faction hostile to free trade is dominant, protectionism is the order of the day, and the state serves in the first instance to protect various domestic interests from international competition. One of the factions which benefits is the military, whose funding is likely to be enhanced if the position of the state as a whole towards its neighbors is adversarial. When such a state finds itself facing its mirror image in a neighbor, the result is likely to be war. Such states benefit from an ideology that demonizes other states and celebrates its own national and confessional community, portraying it as embattled and in need of strong defense. By contrast, when the faction that benefits from trade controls the state, and it faces a mirror image in a neighbor, the dominant faction in the neighbor represents a trading partner and political ally. Such a state gains nothing by encouraging xenophobia and conflict, and as a result tends to promote an ideology of democracy, capitalism, multilateralism and peace. A region dominated by the first kind of state is a region plagued with violence. A region dominated by the second kind of state isn’t. For examples, see the Middle East and Europe, respectively.
The current cold peace between Egypt and Israel is the result of encouraging a regime which, under natural conditions for the kind of regime it is (protectionist, nationalist, belligerent) would be the worst imaginable for Israel, and then bribing it to not act in accordance with its nature. Israel falsely believes that if this “friendly” regime falls, its security will be threatened, but such a peace is a false peace. The only true security for Israel is from a regime which stands to gain nothing by stoking xenophobia, and such a regime would be precisely not the regime whose primary object is in serving the interests of the military, its economic dependents, and ideological rationalizers. In the absence of the three billion dollars a year from the U.S. the regime in place in Egypt would be prone to promote, if not war, at least hostile relations, and such a regime is what the People are protesting against.
It is a misunderstanding to think that the democratic forces being suppressed are essentially hostile to Israel because Islamic. It is a secular regime whose only justification has always been to wage war with it, and only refrains from doing so out of fear and greed, that is the more deeply rooted threat. As we learned from watching the evolution of Iraq before the occupation, such a regime can easily choose to supplement its nationalist propaganda with confessional propaganda as needed. Furthermore, there is nothing in Islam’s “DNA” which requires hostility to Israel, for religion itself is so protean and open to interpretation, that it will be shaped to serve whatever interests are the prevailing ones. Witness the emergence of the suicide bomber as a primary mode of religious expression in a religion which actually prohibits suicide, or (ultimately, German-inspired) anti-Semitism in a religion which actually commands philo-Semitic tolerance. Islam will be what it has to be, given the environment it finds itself in; our concern should be with that environment. In any case, the most dangerous form of interpretation of Islam flourishes most when the People are denied self-government.
Only if Egypt liberalizes, economically and politically, will Egypt become a place which truly benefits from friendly interdependence with Israel. And right now, the principal obstacle to such an outcome is the regime the People are protesting against and want removed. They may yet fail: there are powerful forces within and without that are threatened by them, or wrongly believe themselves to be. But a lasting peace cannot be based on arm-twisting and bribery. It can only flourish on the basis of true friendship and conviviality. The road from here to there is a dangerous one, to be sure, but that is where the Middle East must ultimately go, if it is to cease to be the region defined by violence, intolerance and poverty that it has long been. The People have to be free first.