Were preliminary results in Egypt’s first round of presidential elections good
for the Jewish state or bad for the Jewish state?
On the positive side, there
was a sharp fall in support for the Islamists. If in the parliamentary
elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour party garnered between
them 75 percent of the vote, in the presidential elections the two Islamist
candidates – Mohammed Mursi and Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh – managed to receive
just 44% of the votes. This seems to indicate a public backlash against calls on
the part of the Islamists to implement Islamic law.
Also, the man who
garnered the second largest number of votes was Ahmed Shafiq. An Egyptian Air
Force commander, a long-time aviation minister and the last prime minister under
the Mubarak regime, Shafiq enjoys strong support from the Coptic Church and the
liberal-minded upper-class who stand to lose most from increasing emphasis on
Islamic piousness in the public realm. Shafiq has voiced his willingness to
visit Israel provided the Jewish state “gives something to show it has good
He would undoubtedly maintain the peace treaty with his
country and Israel.
Unfortunately, Shafiq, whose popularity is less a
product of his personal attraction and more to do with the fear of the meteoric
rise of extremist political Islam and concern over lawlessness, is also a
defender of some of the less democratic aspects of Egyptian rule. He has close
ties to big business and high-ranking military personnel and seems to endorse
continuing Egypt’s much hated, 30-yearold “emergency law” allowing extrajudicial
detention. In cases of emergency, his platform suggests, the application of such
measures should still be exempt from parliamentary review.
is undoubtedly the best candidate from an Israeli perspective. However, it was
Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, who appears to have received a slim
plurality of the votes. Mursi, who has a PhD in engineering from the University
of Southern California, has a track record of inflammatory statements about
Israel, including repeatedly calling its citizens “killers and
Last month, Mursi sat impassively at a Cairo stadium rally on
his behalf as a radical preacher pledged to create a new Islamic caliphate based
in Jerusalem, and an emcee led the crowd in chants of “Banish the sleep from the
eyes of the Jews; come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas!” The
candidate has called for the 1979 peace treaty with Israel to undergo
Mursi is also a proponent of basing Egyptian law on Shari’a,
the religious code of Islam. He led a boycott of a major Egyptian cellphone
company because its founder, Naguib Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, had circulated
on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey Mouse in a long beard with Minnie in a full-face
veil – a joke Mursi said insulted Islam.
In essence, in the final stage
of presidential elections, slated for June, we will be witnessing a rematch of
the struggle that has driven Egyptian politics for six decades, between secular
authoritarians – represented by Shafiq – who vow to restore stability, and
Islamists – led by Mursi – who promise a novel experiment in religious
Shafiq still has a real chance of beating the Islamist Mursi:
The three non-Islamist candidates enjoyed a majority of the vote. If these votes
go to Shafiq he would win. To succeed, Shafiq will have to woo most of
the 20% of Egyptian voters who supported the communist-Nasserist Hamdeen
Sabbahi, no easy task.
In an interview with the Iranian Fars news agency,
Sabbahi said he would “tear up” the peace treaty with Israel and would not
recognize a “Zionist element” that occupies Arab land. He also called to form an
Egyptian-Turkish- Iranian alliance, noting relations with Iran had deteriorated
“for no clear reason.”
In short, Sabbahi’s supporters might be more
inclined to support the Muslim Brotherhood than the pragmatic Shafiq.
even if he succeeds beating Mursi, Shafiq will preside over a parliament
controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists that can effectively
marginalize him. He will also have to cater to an Egyptian society that is
A recent BBC poll found 85% of Egyptians hold
negative views of Israel, up 7% from the year before. Under the circumstances,
it is difficult to be overly optimistic about the future of Israeli-Egyptian
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