There is no reason to panic over the possibility, if not the probability, that
Egypt’s next chief of state will be a leader of its Muslim Brotherhood. The
alarm sounded by some observers in Israel when the veteran Islamist organization
decided to field one of its own as a candidate for the presidency, namely
Khairat el- Shater, is unwarranted.
El-Shater, 61, who is its
front-runner and one of its most popular leaders, was released from prison last
month after having been incarcerated by ex-President Hosni Mubarak.
main reason for calm rather than apprehension is that the 1979 peace treaty
negotiated and signed by the late President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister
Menachem Begin is unlikely to be abrogated if the Brotherhood’s Freedom and
Justice Party wins the presidential election due to take place May 23 and 24.
Nor is there any need to for concern, at least in the short run, if the Egyptian
Parliament is controlled by the Brotherhood and allied Islamist factions. This
is because Egypt’s overriding interest is to maintain the status quo on its
northeastern border and to avoid the risk of another military showdown with the
Rather than worry about a supposedly inevitable crisis which
might destabilize the entire Middle East and tempt Iran to intensify its efforts
to shape the region’s future, it would be much more sensible to realize that
preservation of the domestic balance of power inside Egypt – between the armed
forces and the clericalists – is the Land of the Nile’s highest
Egypt simply cannot afford the economic damage it would incur
if the treaty were scrapped. Reversion to a policy of hostility toward Israel
that might deteriorate into outright warfare would have severe repercussions: •
The $1.3b. dollar annual subsidy which Egypt has been receiving from the US
• The delivery by the US of advanced combat aircraft,
tanks and other weapons would stop.
• Access to American technology and
the prospect of American economic investment would be eliminated.
of the severe economic effects caused by the violent overthrow of ex-President
Hosni Mubarak’s regime, especially the sharp drop in tourism from abroad (one of
Egypt’s main sources of hard currency) more harsh consequences would be be
The Muslim Brotherhood not only is Egypt’s best-organized
political movement, it also is more influential than its various rivals –
socialists, monarchists, liberals, etc. It emerged during the late 1920s and
became a clandestine organization that was bitterly opposed to Great Britain’s
de facto control over the Egyptian government. In the 1930s and 1940s its
leadership had pro-Nazi leanings and adopted the anti-Semitic ideology advocated
by Adolf Hitler.
However, it was not in the forefront of Egypt’s wars
with Israel – not in in 1948, 1956 or 1967. The first one was spearheaded by
King Farouk, who subsequently was deposed, the second by President Gamal Abdel
Nasser who died of a heart attack three years after it ended and the third by
President Anwar Sadat who was assassinated in 1981. None of them were Muslim
In fact, in 1974, when I visited Cairo for the first time and
interviewed one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders. it became clear that Israel
was not one of his major concerns. Although the Yom Kippur War with Israel had
ended only a few months beforehand, nothing at all was said about the Israeli
Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representative stressed the need
to reenforce and sustain the Islamic character of Egyptian society.
latter objective still seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s overriding
Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that its leaders have
been stressing the principle that agreements undertaken by Egypt to date,
including the peace treaty with Israel, must and will be upheld.
indeed this turns out to be the case, an Islamic regime in Cairo will turn
inward – avoiding regional problems such as the status of the Gaza Strip and its
Concurrently, the Palestinians’ demand for statehood will
be downplayed while while the Brotherhood seeks a more Islamic orientation in
Egypt’s educational and other public institutions.
The Muslim Brotherhood
may be on the verge of winning the political opportunity for which it has been
awaiting patiently for the past 84 years. It is unlikely to be squandered by the
endorsement of risky military adventures or the abandonment of longstanding
diplomatic and political commitments.The writer is a veteran foreign
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