Arab World in State of 'Semi-Revolution'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - The Arab world is in a state of "semi-revolution" following the overthrow of the regime of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ali two weeks ago, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt said on Thursday.

Egypt became the latest Middle Eastern country this week to follow in what some have called the Tunisian domino effect. Anti-government protests continued on Thursday for the third day in Egyptian cities demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

Just days before the Tunisian leader fled, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah brought down Lebanon's government headed by Sa'ad Hariri over its backing of a United Nations tribunal investigating the assassination of Hariri's father, then Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, nearly six years ago.

Israel is keeping a low profile on the developments in the Middle East.  The only official Foreign Ministry comment was that Israel is "following events closely."

However, an Israeli official who spoke on background noted that it is important to distinguish between what is happening in Egypt and what is happening in Lebanon.

In Egypt, "the opposition is rocking the boat but not sinking it," the official told CBN News. Mubarak's regime is in control and there is no real danger it will be overthrown, he said.

He noted that no expert would have thought the Tunisian family would have fled the country even two days before it happened.

Nevertheless, he added that he did not believe that Mubarak's regime would crumble but that things would likely calm down.

In Lebanon there is still a lot of unrest, the official said. Hezbollah won this round by placing someone who is not Hariri in power, he said.

The Hezbollah-backed prime ministerial designate Najib Mikati - chosen to replace Hariri earlier this week - began forming his new government on Thursday.

Israel, the official said, is "very worried" that if the situation there deteriorates it could spill over Israel's northern border.

Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told CBN News that the Arab World "is now in a state of semi-revolution."

It's a coincidence that the Lebanese government was toppled at the same time that the Tunisia leader was ousted and Egyptian protestors are demanding the same thing, Mazel said. The Lebanese story is a different one.

In Egypt, the regime is much more contested (than it was in Tunisia). So far the army, police and National Democratic Party are all loyal to Mubarak, Mazel said.

Nevertheless, Mubarak will have to make decisions about whether he will present himself for a new term as president, try to push for his son Gamal to take over or allow more freedom in upcoming national elections in September, Mazel said.

Mazel said that Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very strong in Egypt, are not visible in the demonstrations. Instead, young people probably from the university or those who are unemployed are staging the protests. They're concerned about poverty, diseases and illiteracy, he said.

Mazel said he's not saying radical Islam is "out of business" but these demonstrators are looking for a better life not religion or God, he added.

Israel, he said, is worried and rightly should be. With the level of hatred and incitement against Israel high, anything could happen, he said. Nevertheless, Mazel said he did not think that Israel's peace treaty with Egypt is in danger.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a full peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It's unlikely that after 30 years of peace, they'll break it, he said.

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CBN News
Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Mideast Correspondent

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