The bombing of Gaza by Israel, in retaliation for Hamas's rocket attacks, is a clear indicator of the decay of the Arab world. We watch wall-to-wall coverage on Al-Jazeera - complete with disfigured bodies, dead babies, and wailing men and women - but we do nothing. Our leaders condemn and deplore, and that's about it.
President Mubarak had to acknowledge the public's sentiments. A press interview was arranged last week with Egyptian TV news crews. He spoke informally, complete with the odd hint of fellaheen phrasing (reflecting his parents' peasant background). He told the Egyptian public that while he deplored the Israeli attacks, we should remember that Hamas was an intransigent party. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza was not under independent Egyptian control, he said. It was governed by a treaty involving EU, US, Israeli, as well as Egyptian partners. "Gaza is occupied territory. I do not deal only with Hamas, I deal with the occupiers of Gaza - the Israelis." He reminded us of the hundreds of thousands of Egyptian lives lost in the conflict with Israel since 1948. "No one can say we have not sacrificed," he said.
Few people watched - because our president has lost so much credibility over the years - but those who did watch were torn. I would estimate that about half fell for the charm of his Egyptian dialect, and his "I am a responsible deliberator" tone. Inter-Arab rivalries are common and many Egyptians do not feel motivated to sacrifice for other Arabs whom they feel are not grateful enough.
But the other half of the Egyptian public spat at the TV. They yelled "liar", "traitor" and many other insults over their president's pronouncements. How could we abandon our Palestinian brethren in this cold-blooded manner? Why aren't we at least kicking out the Israeli ambassador, stopping our gas supplies to Israel, opening the Rafah crossing unconditionally?
Everybody knows the answer. We have a government that is scared of its people. It sees its security in limiting its own people's freedoms; not in standing up for them. Particularly not when nuclear-armed Israel is involved, this charmed child of the USA and the rich EU countries.
No one is calling for all-out war with Israel. But the government's spokespeople are hinting that the minute we annoy Israel, we can kiss our infrastructure goodbye. All the amenities we enjoy will be bombed. Our economy will straitjacketed by the West. And we will be issued membership with the Axis of Evil the day after.
But I do not blame my people and my government alone. I blame the powerful, rich West and its indulgence of Israel. When will they get it? You cannot, repeat can not, impose a foreign presence on other people. Israel is foreign presence in the midst of Arabs and Muslims. Until it apologises sincerely and seeks to genuinely connect with those peoples that it grabbed the lands of, it will forever be unacceptable to them. No amount of killing, bombing, and destroying will change that.
What is saddening is that a lot of smart people in Israel already know that.