Assuming that the Muslim Brotherhood and smaller Islamist groups do very well in
Egypt’s parliamentary election today, what does it tell us about the modern
history and political future of that country? The main cause for the political
upheaval in Egypt was the long-term failure of the Arab nationalist regime that
governed there, and in much of the Arab world, for well over half a
Rulers’ inability to keep promises about what they were going to
achieve – pan-Arab union, rapid social and economic progress, genocide against
Israel, driving out Western influences – has long been clear. Their corruption,
the lack of freedom they offered and the economic hardships they brought have
also long been clear.
The immediate causes of the successful revolt
include dissatisfaction with the succession of Mubarak’s son among the elite and
the especially hard times economically for the masses.
So will Egypt
change now? Of course there is always a lot of continuity in the political
culture and structure of a country, but clearly Egypt will move toward Islamism,
though the precise extent of that change cannot yet be determined.
the Mubarak era, Egyptian foreign policy was based on a pragmatic consideration
of Egyptian national interests. That included supporting regional stability
rather than wasting resources on losing battles to destroy Israel or seeking
Egyptian leadership of the Arab world. The policy was a reaction against the
failure of the campaign by President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1952-1970). It related
to the defeats by Israel in 1967 and 1973 (despite the fact that Cairo claims
the latter war as a victory).
Now those mistakes are likely to be
repeated, although it is not clear to what extent. The new-old Egypt is likely to
try to battle Israel in some way, to promote Islamist subversion elsewhere, and
to seek Egyptian leadership in the Sunni Arab Muslim-world.
Egypt-Israel relations, the removal of the military from power (probably
sometime around June 2012) will mean a turn toward total hostility.
all practical purposes, this would mark the end of the peace treaty even if
there is no actual war. Whether or not the treaty is formally reviewed or
abrogated doesn’t matter in terms of this practical impact. US policy, enamored
of the Muslim Brotherhood and not warmly supportive of Israel, will be useless
on these issues.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Egypt would go to war
against Israel. The main danger is that Hamas would try to lure Egypt into the
conflict by attacking Israel. In such a case, however, Egyptian actions might be
limited to letting Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist volunteers cross into
the Gaza Strip to fight while permitting money, weapons and foreign terrorists
to pour into Gaza to help Hamas.
IN TERMS of Egyptian foreign policy, the
most likely scenario is that of an Egypt becoming leader, whether on an official
state level or a de facto sense, with the Muslim Brotherhood leading a Sunni
Islamist bloc that would include Tunisia, Libya and the Gaza Strip, with support
for Brotherhood groups in Syria and Jordan trying to subvert those
The Saudis and Gulf states would be angry at this Egypt; Jordan
would be suspicious of it. Sunni Arab Islamists in Egypt have no interest in
working with, much less following, Turkey, whose regional influence would be
reduced. It would view itself as a rival to a Shi’ite bloc, including Iran, the
current Syrian regime and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
While the impact of
Egyptian policies would be anti-American, Cairo would do the bare minimum
necessary to keep the Obama administration deluded that this is not the case.
Such a success might come with minimal effort.
There are three potential
barriers to such a badcase outcome.
• First, and most importantly, it
would depend on who is elected president. The only man who could prevent this
scenario is the aging Amr Moussa. He is a radical nationalist, a demagogue, and
he hates Israel. On the more positive side, he has a strong pragmatic and
realistic streak. In other words, he would talk tough but avoid adventurous
• Second, the military could serve as a restraint if it feels
that its economic interests are at stake. It wants to keep US aid and avoid
a(nother) humiliating defeat at Israel’s hands. However, it might also cut its
own deal with the Islamists.
• Third, if the Islamists are preoccupied
with domestic issues, too busy fundamentally transforming Egypt to spend too
much effort on regional politics. It is likely that internal terrorism against
moderates and Christians increases as the Salafists flex their
As for the moderate parties, they are too badly and bitterly
divided to play a major role as an opposition. Staging a demonstration of a few
thousand people in Tahrir Square cannot ultimately substitute for having a
strong national organization with a mass base and a clear ideological line.
Facebook will not face down determined Islamists willing – even eager – to use
intimidation and violence.
The writer is director of the Global Research
in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at Pajamas
Media.His new book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale
University Press in January.