Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Conversation with Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad

This post represents my return to the field of Middle Eastern studies.  I credit the emotional support of my dear friend Dr. Maikell Nabil Sanad for helping me find the courage to return to the field.  Thank you also to Dr. Daniel Pipes, Professor Bernard Lewis, and Muslim writer Stephen Schwartz for your friendship, support, and guidance as well. 

>> 05 September 2012

I believe both Iran and Israel don't have any nuclear weapons, or even can produce any in the near future. But I'm really happy with the Iranian lies, because Iran proved to Israelis that weapons can't protect them. Whatever strong your weapons were, your enemy can have stronger ones. Only peace can protect nations.

I think Maikel here is ignoring a basic strategic reality.  To claim that Iran is not building nuclear weapons – a fact admitted even by the enemies of the Jews – is ludicrous.  And to say that “I’m really happy with the Iranian lies”  is confusing and upsetting to me.  You are a supporter of Israel and the Jews, so praising Iranian lies doesn’t make sense to me.

Israelis who say that Israel should not interfere in Arabic revolutions, are like those who said that the world should not interfere on what's the Nazi Germany was doing to Jews in WW2... There is no borders in Human Rights ... How awful it is that the nation which benefited a lot from international interference, is refusing to interfere for Human Rights!!!

My response to this claim is as follows.  I agree with Maikel’s basic point that he is morally outraged by the silence of the Israeli government and people and American Jews in the face of enormous political repression in the Middle East.  When Maikel was dying on hunger strike in an Egyptian prison last year, perhaps the most painful part of the ordeal for me was the clear decision of the Israelis and world Jewry to side with Maikel’s captors against him.  I find it incomprehensible and unconscionable that the Israelis were happily prepared to let Maikel die even though he has done so much and so bravely to support Israel and the Jews in the face of overwhelming hatred in his home country of Egypt.

Similarly, I think the Israelis have shown not only a lack of compassion but also a failure of strategic imagination in failing to ally with Iranian secular democrats against the Islamist regime in Iran.  Israel has adopted a policy of containing the Iran regime and not of supporting a regime change in Iran.  In taking this approach, Israel has been strategically short-sighted because they have ignored and dismissed their best friends in the Middle East: the Iranian people who are opposed to this evil regime and who ardently desire the practical and political support of Israel and the Jews.

I am also troubled by Israel’s policy of indifference toward the Assad regime’s genocide in Syria.   I care about and support the Syrian people’s freedom uprising against the Assad regime although I am concerned about the Islamist character of some opposition elements.  I clearly wish that the West was prepared to bomb the Assad regime from the air in support of the Syrian freedom revolution as they did to undermine Qaddafi in Libya.  From an Israeli point of view, this situation is complicated by the reality that both the Assad regime and its Islamist and democratic opponents have made their opposition to Israel and the Jews very clear.   
However, I am also troubled by Maikel’s arguments in this post.  For one thing, I tend to avoid facile comparisons between current political situations in the Middle East and the Holocaust.  As my Muslim friend Stephen Schwartz often points out to me, the Holocaust is a unique event in human history in the sense that it was a successful genocide of an entire nation.  There is no comparison between Assad’s attempted genocide in Syria or the murderous political repression of the Egyptian and Iranian regimes on the one side and the Holocaust on the other.

Also Maikel is ignoring another basic strategic reality in this case.  Maikel and his followers are sadly a small minority in the Middle East in their brave stance in support of Israel and the Jews.  The closest comparison in the region is the movement of Mithal Al Alusi in Iraq, who won a seat in the Iraqi parliament in 2005 based on a platform of support for Iraqi democracy and strategic alliance with Israel and the Jews. Unlike Maikel, Mr. Al Alusi is not a pacifist. Mr. Al Alusi’s sons Ayman and Jamal were murdered by Ba’athist killers in  February, 2005, in Baghdad. Mr. Al Alusi won just 0.3% of the vote in the Iraqi parliamentary elections of 2005. 
The sad reality is that the Arab states and people have been waging war on Israel and the Jews since at least 1929, if not earlier.  I think Maikel needs to address this strategic reality.  I also question his  assumption that Israel is morally obligated to intervene in the internal affairs of its political enemies. 

In this article I think Maikel basically goes off the deep end with his claim that the Egyptian military regime represents the successor to the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.  My gut reaction to this article is that his claims are very extreme, and last Friday I called up Professor Bernard Lewis to find out his response to the premise of this article.  Professor Lewis agreed with me and said he thought that Maikel was “going way too far.”
He makes some reasonable points in his article.  For instance, he discusses the link between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hassan al Banna and Nazi Germany.  I am aware of Haj Amin Al Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, so I am not surprised by this new information.  He is also correct in stating that “the Nazi war criminal Aribert Heim was hiding in Egypt under cover for decades. The Nasser regime was known for having admitted many senior Nazis to Egypt after the war and for placing them in high-ranking positions in the Egyptian military and intelligence services.  And I am saddened that Maikel was imprisoned for ten months in 2011 and 2012 under the laws of the Nasser regime.  He also correctly notes that the regime has also expelled the Jews and stolen their property and repressed the Christians. 

However, Maikel ignores the subtle differences between the Nasser regime and its successors.  Obviously all these regimes are highly authoritarian, militarily dominated, murderously repressive, corrupt, and ideologically anti-Semitic.  But I do not think any of the Egyptian post-war military regimes belong in the same categories as Nazi Germany.   I think that Maikel undermines his own credibility when he makes such an extreme comparison. 
From a historical point of view, his claim “that many Germans fought against the Nazi regime from inside” is inaccurate.  The German people sponsored a few underground anti-Nazi movements toward the end of the war, such as the White Rose in 1943 and the attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944.  But most of these movements started once the Nazis were already losing the war, and sadly none of them seemed to attract broad-based support among the German people. 

 I agree with the basic premise of this article.  He blasts the Egyptian military regime for continuing to persecute atheists such as himself and Kareem Amer for “criticizing Islam”.  He also notes the alarming fact that six Christians, four atheists, and one Shi’ite Muslim are now imprisoned in Egypt on the charge of ‘criticizing Islam.’ Such a charge obviously is ludicrous from a Western democratic point of view but represents an attempt by Egypt’s military regime to pander to Sunni radical Islam in the form of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis.  I believe the Western democratic response to this policy of persecuting atheists and non-believers should be to withhold 5% of all U.S. military aid to Egypt as long as these human rights abuses continue.  We may not be able to change the dynamics of internal Egyptian politics, but we should make clear our abhorrence of any persecution based upon political and religious beliefs. 

I also like the basic premise of this article as well.  I have only one major disagreement with him in this article.  I oppose his claim that the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was contingent upon Israel’s agreement to create a Palestinian Arab state.  I think that Israel has no such obligation as long as the Palestinian Arabs continue to refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, to demand the demographic  destruction of Israel and the Jews through the ‘return of the refugees’, and to indoctrinate their people to hate and destroy Israel and the Jews.
He makes a number of powerful points in this discussion.  Egypt continues to indoctrinate its young population with a steady diet of anti-Jewish propaganda and to educate its young people to deny the existence of the State of Israel.  Egyptian maps of the Middle East show “Palestine” as covering both the area of the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews.  Such maps represent an attempt by the Egyptian regime to teach its children that the Jews have no right to exist. 

Second, even after signing the peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptian regime never cancelled its laws criminalizing Zionism.  In fact, when the Mubarak regime fell in February, 2011, activists discovered that the Egyptian intelligence service had a department devoted to “Countering Zionism.”  This fact contains critical implications.  It demonstrates that the Mubarak regime, like its predecessors, was so devoted to the program of opposing Israel and the Jews that they chose to dedicate money and resources to create a special branch of the intelligence services for this specific purpose.  Thus, continuing the ideological war against Israel and the Jews represented a high political priority for the Mubarak regime.   
Not surprisingly, the Egyptian military continues to indoctrinate its recruits and young officers to believe that the Jews are Egypt’s primary enemy.  In fact, every day young recruits are still required to repeat the radical Islamist credo that “Jews are enemies of Allah.”   Thus, the Egyptian military is preparing its recruits and officers to continue the war against Israel and the Jews.  The intelligence service also continues to persecute the few brave pro-Israel activists inside Egypt such as Maikel and to wage war on Israel in other ways.  For instance, the regime arranged for Islamist radicals to invade the Israeli embassy in Egypt and allowed the commission of terrorist attacks in the Sinai desert. 

I agree with his point that Israeli policy is unnecessarily hostile toward him and other Egyptian Arabs who support Israel and the Jews.  I think the reason the Israeli Embassy in Cairo has or had no web site in Arabic is that they have no interest in interacting with the Egyptian people.  And yes I do think the Israeli government has demonstrated through its actions and omissions that it supports the Egyptian military regime, appeases the Islamist radicals, and opposes cooperation and collaboration with Egyptian secular democratic forces such as Maikel and his followers.  

The Israelis don’t complain about the Egyptian violations of the peace treaty because they are following a misguided policy of appeasement toward the military regime.  They think their interests lie with the military and not with the Egyptian people.  I think they are so frightened by the specter of radical Islam and the fact that the first “democratic” elections in Egypt produced a Muslim Brotherhood victory that they are afraid of maintaining an open dialogue with the Egyptian people.  I am not surprised that Israel allows Egypt to arrest its citizens for speaking to Israelis because Israel itself doesn’t seem to welcome contact and interaction with the Egyptian people.  I think Israel is unintentionally depriving itself of a powerful opportunity to influence the Egyptian people by reaching out to them and helping them understand the Jewish points of view on Israel. 

He also comments that Jews are the most scared people in the world.  Unfortunately, the list of enemies he refers to all represent significant strategic threats to Israel and the Jews.  The Jews have suffered more persecution and genocide for 2,000 years than any other nation on earth.  Jewish paranoia is rooted in a long history of genocidal persecution and hatred.

The problem is Jewish paranoia runs so deep that we are afraid to open our hearts and minds to our friends in the Arab and Muslim world.  I believe this fear unnecessarily inhibits us from supporting our Egyptian Arab friends such as Maikel and his followers and from standing in solidarity with the Iranian secular democrats who support Israel and the Jews.  By failing to support our friends in the Arab and Muslim world, we unintentionally strengthen our enemies. 
More importantly, we close our hearts and minds to the possibility of building real and genuine friendships with people who support us from the heart like Maikel.  Israelis are so focused on appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that they don’t stop to think about what might happen if they removed their blinders and opened their hearts to the prospect of healthy interaction with genuine friends.   I think they refuse to remove their strategic blinders and imagine other, more humane possibilities for Egypt’s future.  They are too scared to think outside the box and to move beyond following a predetermined checklist for appeasing the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.     

An imaginative Israeli policy toward Egypt would be an entirely different ballgame.  The Israelis would start with developing an Arabic web site for the Israeli embassy in Cairo.  But the Israelis would expand far beyond that step and instead invite democratic Egyptian activists like Maikel to meet with them and make an active effort to interact and build relationships with Egyptian democratic forces who support Israel and the Jews.  Israel would host monthly meetings for its Egyptian democratic supporters to allow them to speak directly with high-ranking Israeli officials and discuss their concerns, issues, and priorities.  Israel would also make an effort to reach out to the Egyptian civil society organizations and intellectuals who are open to positive interaction with Israel and the Jews.  Israel would encourage Egyptian Arabs to visit Israel as well instead of blocking them from applying for a visa.
I send my best wishes to my dear friend Maikel on his upcoming trip to Israel and hope that his trip represents the beginning of building a new relationship between Israelis and world Jewry and Egyptian democratic supporters of Israel and the Jews.  It has been a wonderful pleasure to interact with Maikel.  I am thrilled that Maikel is going to Israel and look forward to receiving his personal updates on his trip and to publishing blog entries about his trip.  

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