The biggest news hereabouts is the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt''s presidential election. Not so long ago, we saw pictures of the same party''s members clawing at their cages in court rooms while being tried and found guilty for one or another variety of rebellion.
The Islamists'' victory continues what began some years ago in Turkey and Gaza, more recently in Tunisia, is currently on the agenda of rebels against the Alewite government of Bashar al-Assad, and appears in the weight of Hezbollah in Lebanon and signs of unrest in Jordan.
Ron Ben-Yishai is one of the best Israeli commentators on things political, military, and Middle Eastern. He sees the Brotherhood''s victory as a landmark that--along with other Islamic successes and portents--threaten Israel. This latest victory is especially problematic insofar as Egypt has the potential of dominating the Middle East. However, any spectre of an Islamic revolution is far from complete.
The margin of victory (52-48) reflects a substantial secular opposition to Islamicization. It is by no means clear how Egyptians will work through Issues concerned with a substantial Coptic minority, the residual power of the Army, plus tensions between moderate and extreme Islamists (some of whom say they want to impose Islamic law on secular Egyptians and minorities), along with the impressive degree of democracy apparent in the election and the military regime''s acceptance of the outcome
Contributing to the unresolved nature of whatever Egypt will become is the weight of American aid, most likely conditioned on the maintenance of international agreements. Egypt''s economy is chronically on the edge of disaster, and has been threatened by a year-long collapse of tourism.
Ben-Yishai does not see any near term prospect of war. However, he also does not expect any serious efforts to impose control over the problematic Bedouin of Sinai. They are not only the major players in the movement of African migrants toward Israel, but even more threatening is their service for pay in the efforts of Gazans and others concerned to terrorize Israelis with incursions and rockets sent toward Eilat, and indications that an increasing incidence of Sinai Bedouin have moved in the direction of Islamic extremism along with its intense antipathy toward Israel.
Whether it is the Bedouin or Palestinians who several times have blown up the pipeline meant to carry gas from Egyptian fields to Israel and Jordan, it is doubtful whether that supply will ever be reestablished. The company with contracts to transport the gas and Egyptian authorities are suing one another. The company wants billions to compensate it, and to cover its obligations to Israel''s Electric Company. Egyptians are claiming that the company and its Israeli backers used corrupt means to obtain favorable terms from the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Also unresolved are military and judicial decisions to limit the authority of the president and to suspend the parliament and the process of reforming the constitution, and the demands of Islamists to maintain the threat of mass demonstration in order to undo those limitations on their authority.
Ben-Yishai begins his commentary is a way that might serve as a warning to syrupy westerners who see prospects of Israeli-Palestinian accords in every hint of Middle Eastern change.
"If the Arab dominoes continue to fall into the lap of politicized Islam, the chances of a peace agreement with Palestinians approaches zero, and the peace agreement with Jordan is in danger."
The victories of Islamists reflect, at least partly, an inward-looking religious orthodoxy of a kind that demonizes Jews and Christians, and threatens any who proposes the compromise of Muslim territory. In the eyes of some Islamists, that means all of Israel, plus a great swath of Europe as far west as Spain, and north through the Balkans to Vienna, or even further to wherever there is now an immigrant community of Muslims.
Yet Ben-Yishai''s next sentence
"On the other hand, the relatively democratic election in Egypt distances the danger of a general war."
He goes on to explain that democracies tend not to fight one another, given their rulers'' sensitivity to the human and material costs of war.
Ben-Yishai views the future as undetermined, and at least a bit threatening, rather than rosy.
The report of the New York Times is not optimistic
"(The president-elect) will have to spar with the generals, who, just after the election, stripped much of the power from the presidency, and he must overcome the doubts of those who chose his opponent — nearly half of the voters — and millions more who did not vote.
Mr. Morsi will also have to convince Egyptians that he represents more than just the narrow interests of the Muslim Brotherhood and to soothe fears among many that his true goal is to bind the notion of citizenship itself more closely to Islam.
“The challenges are very strong,” said Mohammed Habib, a former deputy chairman of the Brotherhood who has worked with Mr. Morsi. “Everyone is watching him through a microscopic lens.”
Asked if Mr. Morsi had what it takes to overcome those challenges, Mr. Habib said, “No, he doesn’t
Another New York Times report is that the Obama administration expressed relief that Egypt''s election commission gave the nod to the Islamic candidate, insofar as anything else would set off violent protests. The White House called on the president-elect “to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government.” A White House statement also signaled to Egypt’s ruling generals, who dissolved the Islamist-led Parliament, that it looked “forward to the completion of a transition to a democratically elected government.”
Barack Obama''s Nobel Peace Prize depends to a large extent on the speech he gave in Cairo admonishing then-rulers of Egypt to embrace democracy and human rights. Now Senator John Kerry, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, is quoting the president elect as committed to protecting fundamental freedoms, including women’s rights, minority rights and the right to free expression and assembly, as well as the importance of post-revolutionary relationships with America and Israel.
All that sounds good for a westerner, and an Israeli, in contrast with other comments in the Islamist''s repertoire.
“Ultimately, just as it is anywhere in the world,” Kerry said, “actions will matter more than words.”
Iranian sources are quoting the president-elect that he will strive to improve relations between Egypt and Iran, and re-examine agreements with Israel. While this may be nothing more than lip service in exchange for routine congratulations about his election, it may require a reconsideration of tensions between Shi''ite Iran and virtually all the rest of the Middle East--including Egypt--governed by Sunni Muslims. It may also serve as notice to Saudi Arabia and others that the new Egyptian government will seek its own fortunes, and establish itself as a leading force in a new Middle East.
On the other hand, it may not even be lip service. Brotherhood sources are denying that the president-elect said that he wanted to improve relations with Iran, or that he even spoke to the Iranian sources claiming to quote him.
The future is anything but clear in that large, populous, and important country, and among others likely to be affected by what happens there.