Sleepless in Jerusalem

Written on May 25, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in News

Egypt’s presidential elections are keeping Israeli officials awake at night. Will their closest Arab friend soon be an enemy?

By Oren Kessler

Egypt’s first round of presidential voting wrapped up on Thursday with the crop of viable candidates down to just a handful. Official results won’t be ready until Tuesday, but next door in Israel, policymakers are already scrambling to sort the bad options from the worse.

For all his faults, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was a reliable, if remote, Israeli ally for three decades until his ouster in a popular uprising last year. Subsequent parliamentary elections over the winter brought an Islamist rout, with the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood winning half of all seats and even harder-line Salafis taking another quarter. It’s too early to tell if the next president will be an Islamist, but even if not, a new constitution could grant Egypt’s formerly rubber-stamp parliament real powers (the panel tasked with writing the charter has been suspended amid bickering over its own Islamist-heavy composition).

“The changes in Israeli-Egyptian ties will be wide and deep,” says Yoram Meital, chair of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. “Egypt is about to make a number of revisions to its security and foreign policies that many in Israel, particularly our decision makers, view with trepidation.”

Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978, followed a year later by a formal peace agreement — the first ever by an Arab leader. The deal has never been popular among Egyptians (Sadat paid for it with his life), and in the presidential campaigns since Mubarak’s ouster, Islamist and non-Islamist candidates alike have called for the treaty’s revision or outright annulment.

The top two candidates will go to a run-off vote next month, with the interim military rulers transferring power by July 1. But polling in the Middle East is still notoriously unreliable, and each survey seems to paint a picture all its own. Without reliable exit numbers, we’re forced to rely on a handful of polls that came in the final days of the campaign: The state-run Al Ahram Center this week found former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa leading with 31.7 percent support, trailed by a former premier, Ahmed Shafiq, at 22.6 percent, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi at 14.8 percent. Initial absentee results place Morsi first, followed by the independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and the leftist nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi. The Salafis remain a wildcard — the national electoral board disqualified their main candidate last month on a technicality, and Morsi and Aboul Fotouh are now jostling each other for Salafi support. Read more…

Oren Kessler is Middle East affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on May 24, 2012.


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