For much of the last week, the turmoil in Egypt has dominated news headlines.
For thousands of years, this country has played a unique role in our history. It was to the land of the Pharaohs that Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu journeyed when famine struck what is now known as Eretz Yisrael. Later, in response to another famine, Yaakov Avinu joined Yosef Hatzaddik in Mitzrayim (Egypt), and their descendants would stay there for 210 years.
Our ancestors endured vicious persecution, including enslavement and beatings, and the murder of newborn males. Yet after we merited the great miracles of the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea, we were commanded — as is stated in last week’s parashah — not to abhor a Mitzri, “for you were a sojourner in his land” (Devarim 23:8).
Our ancestors suffered long and painful years of slavery and persecution at the hands of the Mitzriyim. But as Rashi states (ibid.), “Even though they cast our firstborns into the river, we are forbidden to totally abhor them, and fourth-generation converts are accepted from this nation.” The reason? Because in a time of pressing need — at the time of the great famine — they served as our hosts.
It would appear that — if Chazal wouldn’t tell us otherwise — there should be no requirement of gratitude here. For one thing, it was our ancestor, Yosef Hatzaddik, who was granted the wisdom by Hashem to deal with the famine. Furthermore, it was only the grain in Yosef’s storehouses that remained edible, and no other. And surely any good we had from them was long since eclipsed by the savage viciousness with which they treated us and the long years of backbreaking forced labor that we gave them.
The Torah teaches us that negative deeds — even if they are very harmful — don’t obliterate or even deduct from positive ones. Rather, each positive deed calls for separate, eternal gratitude.
This concept applies equally toward nations and individuals.
During the 29 years that Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt, the country as a whole, as well as her neighbors, reaped the benefits of peace and stability.While his autocratic rule crushed dissent, it also increased the production of affordable housing, clothing, furniture and medicine.
Mubarak, who served as chief commander of the Egyptian air force during the Yom Kippur war, respected the peace treaty his predecessor had signed with Israel during his tenure, and ensured that billions of dollars in U.S. aid kept on flowing. He never pretended to be a friend, but he kept his word and was a man of principle.
He had his share of faults but, despite the rumblings of many Egyptians, he did much good for his people and the region.
After he was ousted in 2011, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for his failure to stop the killing of some 900 protesters during the coup that forced him from office. Mubarak’s sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried.
Egyptian judicial officials announced Monday that Mubarak could be released from jail later this week. Although some have argued that with the ongoing volatility and internal fighting that has taken hundreds of lives in recent days, freeing Mubarak will enrage his political opponents and spark an escalation to the conflict, that is no reason to deny this man his basic rights.
The White House has so far refused to take a position on the status of its former close ally, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on a “a process that is internal to Egypt.”
But in light of the fact that, in the past, the U.S. has frequently taken positions on legal matters in other countries — including the jailing of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and the sentencing in Russia of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky — we disagree.
Though many in Egypt and in the West are reluctant to admit it, the people of Egypt owe Mr. Mubarak a debt of gratitude. When he was at the height of his power, America and other allies benefited greatly from the personal relationship they had with Mubarak. The least they can do now is ensure that he is treated in a fair and just manner. The 85-year-old former president deserves to be released on bond, and every effort must be made to ensure that his retrial will be an impartial one.
It is often tempting to focus on the here and now, and focus exclusively on wrongdoing by public officials. But in Egypt, as in much of the rest of the world, the political and security situation is far more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Despite their best efforts to portray themselves as innocent pro-democracy protesters, the forces battling the army on the streets of Egypt aren’t peaceful protesters. The Muslim Brotherhood is a radical group with close ties to Hamas and other terror organizations, and its armed members have killed civilians, policemen and soldiers, and have attacked Coptic places of worship.
The military has made its share of errors, but it, too, deserves gratitude for stepping in and trying to save a country from destroying itself.
The last thing America should do at this point is cut off aid to Egypt.