News about Umberto Eco

14.02.2011 - Israel could learn from the Egyptian syndrome

FLORENCE, Italy - The Egyptian uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak's dramatic resignation has aroused envy around the world. Not just people in dictatorships like Syria, Jordan, Sudan or Yemen are wondering when, if ever, the Egyptian scenario will reach their countries. Citizens of wealthy democracies look with longing at the demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation ) Square, who until the other day had limited political rights and are now responsible for one of the turning points in Middle East history.

Before Mubarak resigned, the Italian author Umberto Eco compared the situations in Rome and Cairo. He recalled the embarrassing episode, one of many, in which the Italian prime minister intervened last year with the police on behalf of a 17-year-old of Moroccan origin known as Ruby. She had been arrested on suspicion of theft. The young woman, who spent at least one evening in Silvio Berlusconi's company, is now the star witness in a case that could lead to Berlusconi's indictment on charges of paying a minor for sex. When she was arrested last year, Berlusconi indeed called the police station in Milan and tried to get her released on the weak pretext that she was "Mubarak's niece."

When Eco stood up to address the Italian opposition, he declared: "So far we believed that Mubarak and our prime minister only had a niece in common. Now we realize that they also share a refusal to resign." No more. Mubarak went. Berlusconi is still there.

The opposition in Italy has almost despaired of legally deposing Berlusconi. They see how in Egypt, light years from a model of Western democracy, the street managed to shake up the government much more efficiently. In an extraordinary situation like the Italian one, the longing for a struggle like the Egyptian one is understandable.

After all, in Italy, democracy is facing a challenge unique in the Western world. The richest man in the country, who heads the executive branch of government, controls most of the media and questions the judicial branch's authority. But even in countries where the situation is less dramatic than in Italy, there is longing for the Egyptian scenario.

In France, where the right has been holding the presidential palace for almost 16 years (Jacques Chirac and now Nicolas Sarkozy ), a clip was broadcast again and again showing Egyptian protesters holding up a sign in French saying "Mubarak out." The editors of the weekly news magazine Marianne quickly printed the sign on their cover and explained to readers why that second word could prove timely in France as well. A mixture of a wish and political analysis.

In Israel, too, the Egyptian syndrome arouses envy. Only last week the head of the Union of Local Authorities, Shlomo Buhbut, said that "we can't wage struggles like they do in Egypt." But he added in the same breath that "the social struggles in neighboring countries signal to us that more is possible."

Indeed, it is precisely because of Egypt's lightning scenario that we mustn't forget that democracy as a system of government works much more slowly than revolutions. Since the Gaza disengagement in 2005, protests in the Israeli street have been moderate, not to say somnolent. The changes, sometimes dramatic ones, stem from the workings of democratic institutions: Knesset elections, court rulings, media criticism.

Israelis would do well to learn from the Egyptian revolution that they should make their voices heard more often in the town square. Apparently the fact that no one stops them from doing so makes this act less heroic and much more boring.

By Seffy Hendler 



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