Morsi wins but Israel's peace with Egypt will hold
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Morsi addresses a Cairo crowd after his election victory
When Egypt’s newly elected President, Mohammed Morsi, moved into fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak’s former office this week, some Israeli officials openly worried that now that the land of the pharaohs has a Muslim Brotherhood figure at the helm, long-standing ties between the two countries could be at risk.
Those fears were based partly on the fact that the Brotherhood has historically close ties to Hamas, which is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot; but they were also based on a provocative interview Mr Morsi gave to an Iranian news agency.
Mr Morsi bluntly stated that he would like to “reconsider” the peace deal with Israel while building closer ties with Iran, to “create a strategic balance” in the Middle East.
However, such fears on Israel’s part are overblown — or, at the very least, premature.
At every turn on the messy and often bloody road to democracy since Mr Mubarak was ousted, the Muslim Brotherhood has proved conciliatory towards the power-obsessed group of ruling generals. Nothing if not pragmatic, that defining pragmatism will also define the group’s new president’s relations with Israel.
Mr Morsi, in other words, was merely telling the Iranians what they wanted to hear, just as other Muslim Brotherhood representatives have been repeatedly reassuring political leaders in Washington over the past year — and were doing so again this week — that the peace treaty with Israel is not threatened by an Islamist-led Egypt.
Anyway, it is the pro-Israel generals, whose commitment to the peace treaty secures billions of dollars in US aid, who are giving the orders — for one very obvious, but usually overlooked, reason.
Yes, the Brotherhood has won every post-Mubarak election that has taken place; but they have done so on the back of extraordinary low turnouts — usually between 30 and 40 per cent of eligible voters. So they won a majority from within the minority of Egyptians who voted.
Indeed, apart from some anti-Israeli riots led by a small group of football hooligans called the Ultras, and the repeated bombing of a gas pipeline to Israel in the Sinai by Bedouins who have their own specific and long-standing grievances with the central government in Cairo, Israel has hardly featured as an issue in Egypt’s domestic political turmoil.
The overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people, who did not vote for Mr Morsi or anyone else, are meanwhile suffering from dire economic circumstances, endemic poverty, a decimated tourism industry and alarming crime rates. The last thing they want is war.
In fact, they are very much in favour of a continued prominent role for the Egyptian generals in stabilising the country. A showdown between the pro-peace treaty generals and the Muslim Brotherhood would see the latter’s supporters swiftly crushed.
So, as the role of the presidency and parliament is defined over the coming months, we will hear much criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood about the lack of constitutional oversight granted concerning the Egyptian army’s budget and its final say on questions of foreign policy.
However, Israeli officials should be reassured that, as usual, it will be little more than huffing and puffing.
John R Bradley is the author of ‘After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts’ (Palgrave Macmillan)