Israel Mourns Death of a Modern Pharaoh

Netanyahu remembers Mubarak as pragmatic, strong-handed leader, but many Egyptians saw him as a tyrant

Israel mourns the death of Hosni Mubarak.
EPA-EFE/MOHAMED HOSSAM

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the first world leaders on Tuesday to publicly mourn the passing of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

A statement released by Netanyahu read:

“On behalf of the citizens and government of Israel, I would like to express deep sorrow on the passing of President Hosni Mubarak. President Mubarak, my personal friend, was a leader who led his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel. I met with him many times. I was impressed by his commitment; we will continue to follow this common path.”

Shortly after, the Israel Embassy in Cairo expressed its “great sadness” via Twitter.

Peace partner, or pragmatist?

Some felt that Netanyahu’s eulogy was a bit exaggerated.

While many Israeli officials have described Mubarak as entirely pragmatic and level-headed (a trait not common in Middle East leaders), he never really tried to advance or expand peace between Israel and Egypt.

Indeed, one of Mubarak’s great political successes was to re-endear Egypt to the rest of the Arab world after his predecessor Anwar Sadat sparked widespread animosity by not only making peace with Israel, but personally addressing the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem.

Mubarak achieved this by keeping relations between Cairo and Jerusalem as cool as possible without violating the peace treaty, while routinely criticizing Israeli leaders and policies.

 

Praising a tyrant?

Perhaps one of the reasons Mubarak earned accolades among Israeli officials is because they, too, like to think themselves pragmatists. And most Israeli officials (though they will rarely say so publicly) have come to the conclusion that most Arab countries need a strong, even dictatorial hand to keep them in line. It’s no coincidence that the most stable countries in the region besides Israel are those ruled by absolute monarchs.

But a great many, perhaps even most Egyptians did not see Mubarak as a benevolent monarch. In their eyes, his 30-year rule was authoritarian, which is why in 2011 they finally took to the streets as part of the “Arab Spring” to bring down the Mubarak regime.

Israel must be careful not to heap too much public praise on figures detested by so many of their own people, lest it perpetuate animosity for the Jewish state on the Arab street.

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