Death to America! Death to Israel! Those are the placards and chants many Americans associate with popular demonstrations in the Muslim world.
I spent the end of last week home sick and got to watch Egypt's extraordinary democratic revolution unfold in the streets of Cairo via satellite TV on CNN, MSNBC and Al Jazeera English. There were plenty of placards and chants calling for democracy and justice in Egypt -- the most popular "Mubarak, Go, Go". But there was not a single placard or chant of "Death to America!" or "Death to Israel".
I watched courageous journalists like Richard Engel and Anderson Cooper interview numerous demonstrators and not once did the issue of Israel ever come up. Nor did the demonstrators denounce America, although some expressed frustration at the ambiguity of the Obama administration's support for their movement. Friday night, when Mubarak finally resigned, crowds mobbed American reporters, desperate to speak into their mics and tell America how happy they were.
It seems clear that for the young revolutionaries in the streets of Cairo, America and Israel are some of the last things on their minds. This is an indigenous Egyptian movement. It's about lifting 30 years of political repression and creating economic opportunity for a new generation.
Whether Mubarak's departure leads quickly to a robust Egyptian democracy or whether the upper echelons of the military reproduce Mubarakism without Mubarak remains to be seen. The next few weeks will tell whether the military and Mubarak's last cabinet try to maintain complete control of the transition. Or whether the opposition -- including the newly constituted opposition of young people who organized the street demonstrations and not just the old official opposition -- is allowed to share power in the transition and participate in writing a new constitution. I suspect, having tasted the sweet honey of freedom for the first time in their lives, the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who turned out in Tahrir Square will not accept a military coup and minor reforms and will insist on a meaningful democratic transition, taking to the streets again if it doesn't happened. But there's a lot that's still unknown.
In any case, while this is an indigenous Egyptian movement with little to do with America and Israel on the part of the demonstrators, it doesn't mean it won't have an impact on America and Israel. America will have to reevaluate its strategy of support for Middle East autocrats in exchange for an illusory "stability". Rather than turning further inward, Israel would do well to see this as an opportunity to renew a serious commitment to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
As for the Palestinians, having seen the power of mass non-violent resistance to bring about fundamental change, they might do well to back away from an ideology of armed struggle and take up a strategy of massive non-violent resistance of their own which is more likely to force concessions from Israel than rockets and suicide bombs. (More on this in an upcoming blog.)
In the meantime, I salute the courageous Egyptian people in achieving the first stage of their democratic revolution.