Israel amid an Islamist Middle East

An honest enemy is better than a false friend.

First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390 (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters))
First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters))
With the outcome of the ongoing Egyptian elections looking grim (to Westerners) due to the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme Salafi parties, many are deeply concerned.
The Muslim Brotherhood has 105 seats in the Shura Council and together with the Salafi Islamic Bloc’s 45 seats they occupy a majority of the 270 seats. In the People’s Assembly, which will draft the new constitution, they have 235 seats and together with the Salafi Bloc’s 123, they completely dominate the 508 seat Assembly.
Israel is monitoring the outcome with extreme interest since Egypt is Israel’s immediate neighbor and the largest Arab country. In addition to chaos in Sina, the question of whether Egypt will uphold the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty remains to be seen as well.
Last month, the People’s Assembly voted to stop exporting gas and cut diplomatic ties with Israel while recently Amr Darrag, a founding member of the Freedom and Justice party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, said “his country will uphold its peace treaty with Israel.” The rhetoric from Cairo may change however, after the elections.
In Syria, Bashar Assad’s regime is crumbling and many think it is just a matter of time before he loses power as well. The Syrian National Council, which is mostly made up of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and is supported by the United States, looks like the likely successor to the Assad regime. The Syrian opposition has requested assistance from Israel in overthrowing Assad but Israel has wisely refused to get involved.
Lebanon is now already controlled by the Islamist Hezbollah under the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. After the Saad Hariri government fell because of refusal to cooperate with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Mikati was then tasked with forming a government. Hezbollah and its allies subsequently ended up with 16 of the 30 cabinet seats.
In Libya the government is nearly certain to be controlled by the National Transitional Council under Mustafa Abdul Jalil, which will be dominated by Islamist parties. This was confirmed to me personally by Special Envoy to the Libyan National Transitional Council Basit Igtet. Fittingly, one of the first things that Jalil said upon Gaddafi’s downfall is that “Libya should allow polygamy for men in place of current restrictions on this practice.” The recent desecration in Libya of Christian and Jewish graves in the Benghazi War cemetery by Libyan rebels and the harassment of David Gerbi after his attempts to restore the synagogue in Tripoli also seem to be harbingers of Libya’s future.
Tunisia’s population elected the Islamist Enahda party, which has recently concluded that there should not be ties with Israel. The co-founder and intellectual leader of the party, Rashid Ghannoushi, has also praised the mothers of suicide bombers, celebrated Hamas rule in Gaza, appealed for a hundredyear struggle against Israel and happily predicted its disappearance. Jews in Tunisia are now complaining about the anti-Semitic chanting that has occurred several times at Salafi rallies urging the state to adopt sharia and during Palestinian Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Tunisia.
Yemen seems to be in a permanent state of disarray as its government battles al-Qaida, which has already taken over several towns completely. In addition, the Shi’ite Houthis have effectively created a state within a state in the Sa’adah region.
While most commentators merely call Saudi Arabia an ultra-conservative monarchy while Sudan and Iran are called Islamist, I am not sure why a distinction is made. Both are ruled according to sharia, whether it is Sunni or Shi’ite, and it does not seem right to classify Wahabism as not Islamist. Saudi Arabia is also the biggest fundraiser for Islamist causes in the world.
Jordan is so far weathering the storm. Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan argues that a Palestinian state should be set up there since Palestinians are the overwhelming majority of the population and that the Hashemite Kingdom makes up the eastern half of the British Mandate of Palestine.
As he states, “the Muslim Brotherhood has served the Jordanian government for decades by providing a de facto political outlet for the politically-drained Palestinians as they are banned by the government from all political activities except joining the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In this case we see possibly even a solution to the intractable Israeli/Palestinian issue. Many people who advocate a two-state solution, whereby they mean that Israel should give up Judea and Samaria and let a Palestinian state rise there, will automatically oppose this idea due to the fact that they view King Abdullah as a moderate, reassuring ally. But what they overlook is the fact that Abdullah is in fact an outsider, his family coming from the Hejaz, having been put into control by the British.
In addition, what type of regime can we expect from a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria? In this case what would presumably be a Muslim Brotherhood- dominated state would at least be on the other side of the Jordan, not several miles from Israel’s coast and airport.
What all these changes are showing is that the corruption and two-facedness of the previous regimes of Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak and their ilk have ended. Their populations never wanted peace. They are being replaced by regimes with clear goals and unambiguous statements.
As the Bush administration noted after elections were held in Gaza and Hamas was elected, “They voted for an end to corruption.” Bush was right in that that was one of the things they voted for. What they also voted for were parties who had the absolute goal of eliminating Israel and were not afraid to say it.
Previously Arafat would say one thing to Western audiences in English and something else entirely to Arab audiences in Arabic. Hamas does not do this.
They say what they mean to all. Now all of Israel can finally see that the Arab populations do not which to live with Israel in the region but rather to defeat it and replace it.
The Islamist may be ruthless, repressive and genocidal but they are at least honest about their intentions, which cannot be said about the previous Arab dictators in the region, who tried to play both sides in the Cold War and tried to become US allies after the Cold War by claiming to be “moderate.”
An honest enemy is better than a false friend. The US and the west will gradually come around and grudgingly establish relations with these regimes (like the Norwegians did with their recognition of Hamas) and US willingness to engage with “moderate” Taliban. That is, if the Islamists let them.
The author is an international relations graduate from NYU.