The 9/11 attacks catalyzed a tremendous shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Rather than prioritizing petrol, Washington targeted terrorist organizations, dethroned a dictator, and lobbied throughout the region for liberalization. Yet despite the billions of dollars spent policing Baghdad and protecting Benghazi, the unpopularity of the United States in the Arab world continues to be fueled by the belief that Islamist terrorists had nothing to do with 9/11, with many claiming the attacks were an American, Israeli, or joint American-Israeli conspiracy.
I. MY ROLE ON September 11 was to be a reporter for The New Republic. I was in downtown Brooklyn, and from my rooftop I watched the first tower crumble, and then I ran downstairs to the street with pen and notebook and plunged into the crowds fleeing over the bridges. I spoke with one person after another, asking what they had seen. They told me. I compiled my report.
Walking down Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv these days, I can hardly recognize the street where I live. The normally laid back atmosphere has given way to a sea of tents, people, slogans, speeches, and music. The protest has entered its fourth week and it seems to be growing stronger every day, inviting people from all over the country to participate, perhaps for the first time, in a political demonstration. The protest started when a group of mostly young people began living in tents in order to draw attention to the increase in rent prices Israel has seen in recent years.
Cairo—On February 10, 2011, Field Marshal and then-Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi intercepted a decree that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent to state television, in which he announced the replacement of the head of the Republican Guard, a Cairo-based army unit partially tasked with preventing against the possibility of a military coup. Tantawi had opposed the use of military force against the nearly 15 million protestors who had taken to the streets since January 25, and he had helped prevent the situation from escalating into a Tiananmen Square-style bloodbath.
The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being hailed as a landmark moment in Arab, if not world, history. And, in a certain sense, it is. The image of the once indomitable dictator wheeled into a courtroom on a gurney, flanked by the sons who might have been his heirs, but are now his co-defendants, affirms the primary achievement of Egypt’s revolt: namely, Mubarak’s ouster. For many Egyptians, the January uprising was always about ending Mubarak’s stifling 30-year rule and preventing him from pharaonically installing his son Gamal as his successor.
Tel Aviv—Among the many signs and witty slogans in the improvised tent camp that has recently sprung up on Rothschild Boulevard, part of a larger economic protest movement happening nationwide, one says “ROTHSCHILD, CORNER OF TAHRIR.” To be sure, it is hard not to acknowledge that, while watching protests sweep the Middle East, Israelis have gotten a lesson in participatory democracy from the residents of some of the least democratic countries on the globe. But, while Tahrir Square may have served as an inspiration, the grievances in Israel are certainly not the same as they were in Egypt.
The U.S. ship in the successor flotilla aiming to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip has been named The Audacity of Hope. It is a bad joke that Barack Obama deserves. His proven coldness toward Israel has emboldened these foolish and meretricious people (including the uproariously silly Alice Walker) to open yet another front against the Jewish state. Of course, their campaign is not really about the embargo. It is about the very existence of Israel. It is not genocide, but it is politicide, and this is also a crime against humanity.
In July 2008, Bishop Thomas, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of El-Qussia Diocese in Upper Egypt, delivered a talk in Washington about the cultural history of his co-religionists, entitled “The Experience of the Middle East’s Largest Christian Community during a Time of Rising Islamization.” His lecture ignited an immediate explosion within Egypt’s government-controlled media and mosques.
The border crossing from Egypt into rebel-controlled eastern Libya offers few clues that the country is at war. The Libyan immigration officers wear ragged uniforms and carry on the routine of stamping passports, though with a friendliness and ease that is undoubtedly new. The eight-hour drive to the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi is dramatic only for its scenery—a rugged coastline with wide open beaches, then, surprisingly, green hills, crossed by deep gorges and adorned with beautifully preserved Greek ruins, visited by no one.
In his State Department speech last week, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet to Benjamin Netanyahu. In the Oval Office a day later, and more fully in an address to Congress yesterday, Netanyahu picked it up and threw it right back. The question now is whether this clash can be turned into a new understanding between the United States and Israel that improves the prospects for the two-state solution both parties say they want. To bring this about, Obama will have to make further tweaks to his approach and rethink his declared stance on Palestinian refugees, among other matters.