Whither Egypt?

Were preliminary results in Egypt’s first round of presidential elections good for the Jewish state or bad for the Jewish state?

Egyptians argue elections in Tahrir Square 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptians argue elections in Tahrir Square 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 intentions.”
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.
Still, Shafiq 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 vampires.”
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 “revisions.”
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 democracy.
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.
And 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 virulently anti-Israel.
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 relations.