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Reasons for optimism in the Middle East

12 February 2011

4:44 PM

12 February 2011

4:44 PM

I began the week in Israel, where I watched Tzipi Livni make an extraordinary pitch for the premiership by representing herself as the candidate of moderation and peace. I ended it in Place de la
Republique in Paris where secular Algerians had gathered to show solidarity with their countrymen demonstrating against "le pouvoir" in Algiers. Their slogan, "Laicité,
Egalité, Liberté", is refreshing.

Am I wrong to feel quietly optimistic on both fronts? As we reported in the Jewish Chronicle this week, Tzipi Livni also made a significant overture to the diaspora Jewish community by saying she
welcomed a wider discussion about the future direction of Israel from outside the country itself. This is a hugely important statement at a time when Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself paralysed by
his coalition partners and isolated from the international community. Foreign Office ministers have become increasingly infuriated by the Israeli government over recent weeks as William Hague’s
interview with The Times showed.

There is understandable nervousness in Israel about the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. But Netanyahu’s apparent support for Mubarak left him at odds with other world
leaders. He also rather undermined Israeli rhetoric about being the only democratic state in the Middle East by failing to back the democrats next door. It is very unlikely that there will be a
resumption of talks while Netanyahu’s government remains in place, but there is at least now the hope of progress with Livni if it falls.

I can’t be the only journalist to be envious of my colleagues covering the events in Egypt this weekend. I was lucky enough to travel across Eastern Europe in 1989 and there isn’t much more
exciting than watching a people emerging from under the yoke of an authoritarian regime.

I have followed north African affairs since I lived in Paris in the early 1990s  and I only hope the wave of liberation soon breaks over the rest of the Maghreb. I felt a little of the
excitement of this movement in Paris this weekend and can only hope the same secular, democratic forces that dominated the Tunisian and Egyptian demonstration will also lead the Algerian

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