Muslim Brothers look inward

With power, Islamic regime in Cairo will avoid regional problems such as the status of the Gaza Strip and its Hamas regime.

Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater (photo credit: Reuters)
Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater
(photo credit: Reuters)
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.
The 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 Israelis.
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 priority.
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 would terminate.
• 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.
In view 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 unbearable.
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 Brothers.
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 issue.
Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representative stressed the need to reenforce and sustain the Islamic character of Egyptian society.
The latter objective still seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s overriding objective.
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.
If 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 Hamas regime.
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 correspondent.