[email protected]

December 02, 2012, Sunday

Unpredictables: Morsi and Netanyahu

The pace is faster as the timetables get tighter. With the end of conflict in Gaza for the time being and the historic UN vote giving Palestine non-member observer state status, all eyes are now on two key players in the region, and their current patterns only pave the way for further concern.

Having emerged as a strong influencer of events around Gaza, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi set out on a path that only promises turmoil in his country, which, at the moment, needs it the least. In a matter of days, Morsi managed to decree immunity for himself, guaranteeing himself free room to maneuver until a new constitution is voted through (which he hopes will happen in a couple of weeks); he contrived to install his own public prosecutor and sped up the work on a draft constitution by utilizing all his alliances within the Islamic movement. He has hijacked the delicate process of creating a new constitution in a socially complex, uncertain, infuriated and divided country in an old-fashioned attempt to seize control over the political transition.

The country's secular, liberal and non-Muslim sections are not only alienated but will soon be pushed to consolidate in a front against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which, in an undue manner, insists on setting the rules and conditions of what Egypt will look like. Far worse, many of those who had hoped that this key country would finally break free from dictatorship and tutelage, have been forced to refresh their memories of how power grabs happened in the Arab world in the past. This sensation may lead to nastier turmoil.

What Morsi has probably not accounted for is the fact that the same type of “rush-to-own-the-process” could stir up an already tense Tunisia. In the eyes of observers -- in Turkey and elsewhere -- these two countries are the key laboratories whose experiments are hoped to result in democratically approved products to be exported to other parts of the region.

As Beirut-based analyst Rami Khouri commented in Lebanon's Daily Star, “… as we are witnessing these days, any attempt by one part of Egyptian society to monopolize power will be fiercely challenged by others in society, whether through established institutions (parliament, courts, media) or on the street through peaceful protests. If Tunisia and Egypt in the coming few months promulgate new constitutions that are credibly ratified by a strong majority of citizens, and launch political governance systems that are at once pluralistic, accountable and transparent, the Arab world will have achieved important steps forward toward sensible statehood. Other Arab countries will draw the appropriate lessons.”

These may still be early stages of a long process of transformation, one which may demand a generational change. But the less popular and less of a true “national leader” Morsi becomes (if he insists on his unilateral ways, sidelining all democratic opposition), the more difficult it will be for him and for Egypt to help contribute a new regional order.

The one player that will gain the most from that is certainly Israel. Its defiant and aggressive political right knows that with Morsi emerging as the new authoritarian figure, Salafis and jihadists will also gain strength. This will work as a counter dynamic against Hamas moving to the center. The language of war will remain close at hand, as the Israeli right hopes for more legitimacy to maintain the status quo.

If Morsi is seen as challenging the domestic diversity and stability in a risky manner, then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will follow a similar pattern, defying the legitimate vote at the UN and planning to implement 3,000 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The intent is serious, and therefore met with worry in France, the UK, Turkey and other countries, and displays the level of infantilism in Netanyahu's government.

Israel's political class, at least large segments of it, risks falling into a new kind of denial as well, but the hope is that, like former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, others realize the genuine significance of the entire European Union -- the Czechs aside -- not saying no to Palestinian statehood, albeit in a weakened form. As elections approach, when meeting voters, responsible Israeli politicians must tell them about the new realities and the simple facts of the new times. It is time to be “really” pro-solution, otherwise a total isolation and the label “rogue state” is at the doorstep.

Previous articles of the columnist