Egypt has it’s own version of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Who would have thought?
But, in his public talk at STU last week, Israel public radio reporter Eran Singer showed a video of Egyptian TV star Bassem Yousef mocking Mohammed Morsi – calling him a “lunatic” even before his overthrow from his 2012-2013 presidency.
The rise of social media and opening of traditional media have transformed the psychology of the people of the Middle East, he said. “These are not political changes but mental.”
“Nobody can take this country [Egypt] back to ignorance,” Singer told the crowd of more than 100 at the Ted Daigle Auditorium.
“This is because people have crossed a psychological barrier of being afraid their dictator will harm them.”
The most serious Middle East conflict, said Singer who reports from Arab nations, is the civil war in Syria.
He said his sources indicate half a million people have been killed in Syria so far. As well, there are millions of refugees inside and outside of the country. This is the game changer.
“What happens here will determine the process in other places.”
He said countries are going through an “identity crisis.” Arab nations are asking themselves whether they are defined by nationalism or Islam. The divide between Sunnis and Shi’ites has also been reawakened. This has left countries, such as Singer’s Israel, asking, “Who are we and who do we support?” The map of the Middle East is changing, he said. Countries like Iraq and Syria may no longer be ruled by one central authority.
Still, Singer said he thinks the Middle East will not have true democracy for another 100 years because of places, like Syria, where the leader is gassing its own people.
Even with his ignorance and violence, President Bashar al-Assad will likely stay in power, said the Israeli reporter. He still has a lot of support from Russia, for example.
“Mr. Assad is the devil we know. He will stay the leader. But what is the alternative?” asked Singer. “Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.”
With al-Qaeda terrorists among the rebels in Syria, there is the threat of non-conventional weapons getting into their hands. This could be lethal, he said.
In the question period, Singer also addressed changes in Iran. The new president, Hassan Rohani, has said he’s willing to negotiate with the United States over nuclear weapons in Iran.
“The new leader symbolizes a new way of talking. He has received the authority to go to the West and negotiate and to lift the heavy sanctions on Iran.”
Although some Iranians are ready for these destructive sanctions to be lifted, Singer cautioned that many in Iran, including the Revolutionary Guard, still want to develop nuclear weapons.
Singer said if Iran gets a nuclear bomb, it’s not just a problem for Israel and the United States. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, could choose to develop a nuclear program. An arms race in the Middle East is truly scary, he said.
Singer said his home country has experienced changes in their own thinking as a result.
“The big question is: can Israel and Palestine sign a peace negotiation when the rest of the region is boiling?”
Right now, Hamas, which operates in Gaza, is weak, because it has lost its support from Syria because it’s supporting rebels who are fellow Sunnis, he said.
“Not only Israel but also the Palestinian authority in Ramallah feels they are in a better position.”
While this weakening of Hamas drastically alters the Palestinian and Israeli negotiation, Singer questioned whether the Palestine Authority would feel comfortable taking a peace treaty to its people at a time when so many Arab leaders and governments have been overthrown.
“It’s a whole new phase when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”