How do Israel’s protests look from where you are in Egypt?
These protests have raised some interest in Egypt. On the one hand, some people consider the protests to be the inevitable outcome of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s policies of stressing the importance of military expenditures and expansion of settlements. Besides this, Netanyahu has adopted an extremely liberal economic policy – different from the policies adopted by the Labor government. Add to this that the standard of living of the middle classes in Israel has [declined] tremendously. So there is a link between the expansionist colonial policies of Netanyahu and the deterioration of living conditions of people in Israel. This is one impression that people here have.
The second is that the Egyptian revolution has inspired many people all over the world, even in Israel. The Egyptian revolution has led people to believe that they can change things. The revolution is a sort of model for the protests in Israel and some militants have even tried to offer advice to demonstrators in Israel.
What will be the effect of all this on the Palestinians? I don’t think there has been much thinking about that, although [the protests] should get the Israeli government to focus less on defense and to try to promote a peaceful settlement with Palestinians and other Arab governments so that it can devote more resources to improving social conditions in Israel.
You mentioned the relationship between the revolution in Egypt and the protests in Israel. Can you talk more about that?
Apparently the slogans used by the protesters in Israel echoed the slogans raised during the Egyptian revolution. One major one in Egypt was, "The people want the fall of the regime," and apparently the same was used in Israel, but adapted to Israeli needs. Also, the idea that people would just sit in, and stay on the streets for days – this showed the power of ordinary people and was an important lesson of the Egyptian revolution.
Now that we are a few months down the road, how do you think the Egyptian revolution will affect Palestinians?
The Egyptian government now and in the future after the elections will not adopt the policies that [former president] Hosni Mubarak did – the blockade on people in Gaza and approving whatever policies Israel decides on for Palestinians. The feeling of sympathy for Palestinians is guiding the actions of the Egyptian government and the kind of hostility that Mubarak’s regime showed towards Hamas is a thing of the past.
I even read recently that Hamas may decide to move its office from Damascus to Cairo. Yesterday there was a meeting between [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal and the leaders of Hamas and the heads of Egyptian intelligence. Such meetings were held before between Omar Suleiman and leaders of Hamas, but in the past Omar Suleiman suspected Hamas of being a hostile force on the borders of Egypt. I don’t think this is the view of the Egyptian government now.
In general, what is your view of the Egyptian revolution – its successes and failures?
Any revolution goes through stages. First there was the triumph of the revolution, overthrowing the regime of Mubarak. Then we went to a second stage, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dragging its feet in fulfilling the objectives of the revolution. With pressure from people on the streets in Cairo and other places in Egypt, the Supreme Council has proceeded with some of the demands of the revolutionaries and put Mubarak on trial.
The scene in Egypt now is dominated by a sort of polarization between the Islamists on the one hand (some of whom took part in the revolution, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and others who did not take part in the revolution and opposed it, like the Salafis), and on the other hand the secular forces, including the liberals, the leftists and the nationalists. The object of polarization is the nature of the future constitution of Egypt. The secularists would like guarantees that it will be a secular constitution and the Islamists say that the new constitution should be left entirely to the new parliament. They feel that they are going to get a majority in the parliament and so they will have more freedom in drafting the constitution towards an Islamic revolution.
The revolution is a long-term process and we have not yet seen the impact of the revolution on the economic and political system. We have to wait for legislative and presidential elections and the drafting of a constitution to see whether the constitution will establish a sort of state of law in Egypt that respects civil and political rights, or if we will end up with a sort of Islamic constitution in which perhaps some civil and political rights will be sacrificed.
Are you hopeful or are you worried?
I am hopeful in the long term. I think we may have some set-backs, but in the long term I am quite hopeful.
Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid teaches political science at Cairo University. This interview was first published by bitterlemons-international.org