Israeli Youth Conflicted On Egyptian Revolt

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The uprising in Egypt has become confusing and messy. It wasn't like that when it started. At first, young Egyptians led the way, spreading their demand for democracy through Facebook and Twitter. Their message is resonating worldwide, especially among their own generation — and especially in the Middle East. Young, Internet-savvy Israelis are following their struggle with mixed feelings.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Egypt, the Internet helped transform the frustration of thousands into a political revolt, with young Egyptians spreading their demand for democracy through Facebook and Twitter. Well, their message resonated around the world, especially in the Middle East, among their own generation.

The story is more complicated, though, in Israel, where young, Internet-savvy Israelis have been watching events in Egypt with mixed emotions, as NPR's Philip Reeves found out in a Hebrew University cafe in Jerusalem.

PHILIP REEVES: When she wants to know more about the earthquake rippling through her region, Inbal Freund-Novick usually turns to one tool.

Ms. INBAL FREUND-NOVICK: Internet mostly, yeah. I mean, I don't know many people who are watching things on TV my age nowadays. But I'm mostly watching the Internet, yeah.

REEVES: The people of the Middle East now view one another more closely than ever before, thanks to the Net. Freund-Novick is making good use of it.

Ms. FREUND-NOVICK: I am following what's happening in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Jordan and Syria, what's happening all over the area.

REEVES: Freund-Novick, an Israeli post-grad student, has seen and heard those young Egyptians in Cairo crying for freedom. She's moved by them.

Ms. FREUND-NOVICK: I'm very happy for the people, that they're rising towards a government which is oppressing them, the way they see it. It's very thrilling to see so many people using their power to protest and express what they want to say.

REEVES: But there are some old realities the new world of the Internet cannot change: the fact, for example, that in this region most people, Arabs and Jews, carry the scars of war.

Ms. FREUND-NOVICK: My uncle was killed in '48 in Gush Etzion in the war. My cousin, her husband and their son were shot to death, and they left nine children in the second intifada. My step-cousin was killed in the Lebanon war.

REEVES: War creates suspicion and fear. Freund-Novick's fear is about what might happen next in Egypt.

Ms. FREUND-NOVICK: The risks are so immense. They're so tremendously scary. What's going to happening around here? If the wrong people are going to take power that, for me as an Israeli, it's a very frightening situation.

REEVES: Her fear is that the young pro-democracy Egyptians she's seeing on the Internet will eventually be completely silenced and that Egypt's government will fall into the hands of Islamist forces. She's worried the new Egypt will scrap the 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel, raising the risk of another war. She doesn't want to see that but says she knows how Israelis would respond.

Ms. FREUND-NOVICK: We'll have to fight it again. We did it before, and we'll do it again and put every effort into defending ourselves in every front possible.

REEVES: Israelis young and old seem to share this concern. At 24, Tal Simha has already fought for Israel in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. He'd prefer Egypt's autocratic President Hosni Mubarak to stay.

Mr. TAL SIMHA: (Through translation) For us it is better to have Mubarak because he has been committed to the peace process and because he has kept Egypt, which is a Muslim country, in a very stable situation with a stable regime.

Ms. FREIDA AMITAI: I kind of feel sad for President Mubarak.

REEVES: You do?

Ms. AMITAI: Yeah.

REEVES: Why?

Ms. AMITAI: Because I have always felt that he was genuine and authentic with way of thinking about Israel.

REEVES: Freida Amitai has another worry about all this. It's about the role played by Israel's closest ally, the U.S., under the Obama administration.

Ms. AMITAI: I'm not sure Obama shares the same interests as us, the Israelis. It feels a bit weird that the American government decided so quickly to stay away from Mubarak.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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