By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Tom Friedman recently wrote a sharp op-ed on "The Arab Awakening and Israel" in which he quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before the Knesset in late November. Netanyahu said the Arab awakening was moving the Arab world "backward" and turning into an "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave."
I agree with Tom Friedman that Netanyahu's view of the Arab Spring is wrong - in fact it is bizarre given recent events. In Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, the moderate Islamic groups that are assuming power have made it clear that they intend to respect minority rights, work within the system, maintain and enhance democracy and strengthen the rule of law. In the Egyptian case, a more fundamentalist party is, in fact, outflanking the Muslim Brotherhood on the right because the Brotherhood ended up being so moderate. Now, there may well be reversals in some areas as these parties try to impose their social conservatism on the societies, but that does not make them necessarily undemocratic.
For decades, political Islam was the language through which people resisted dictatorial regimes. That gave these parties a special status, a kind of halo effect, which has helped them once the dictators fell. But is it likely that these forces will have staying power? Will they generate coherent governing philosophies that people buy into? The answer is: Only if they are competent at governing. And to be competent at governing and to stay in power, these groups have to moderate themselves. The history of countries from Indonesia to Pakistan suggests that over time, the more radical political elements lose their popular appeal because their mystical attraction was tied up in their opposition to the dictatorships. Once the dictatorships go, their appeal dwindles.
So far, nothing justifies Netanyahu's extreme pessimism about the Arab Spring. Sure, Egypt has taken a harder line on Israel and demonstrated stronger support for the Palestinians, but we always knew that was going to happen because the publics in these countries have long felt this way. Washington either bullied or bribed the dictators to suppress popular views on foreign policy. This shift is an example of democracy in action not anti-democratic forces!
Despite the shift, there is no indication that Egypt or Tunisia now wants to wage war on Israel. The broader change in these countries is that they are now much more concerned about themselves – about good governance, social justice and economic growth. When you go to Egypt today, the vast majority of people talk about their own domestic politics. Yes, people have very tough views on Israel, but mostly what they're concerned about is what's going on at home. As Tip O'Neill said, all politics is local.