Hope and fear as Egypt holds elections

By Anshel Pfeffer in Cairo, November 29, 2011
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Soldiers guarded the entrances to polling stations in Egypt

Soldiers guarded the entrances to polling stations in Egypt

Enthusiasm and optimism was high on Monday as voters flocked to what one voter in al-Maadi neighborhood describe as "my first chance to really determine my future myself, in the past the voting stations were empty on elections day, as we knew that whatever we voted, the results would be the same."

But the soldiers in full combat gear, cradling bayoneted Kalashnikov rifles, at the entrance to the polling area, were a reminder that a free Egyptian democracy is still far from guaranteed.

The Israeli government is expecting relations between Israel and Egypt to deteriorate in the wake of the elections that began this week in Egypt. While the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) continues to hold real power in the country following President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, SCAF is under intense pressure from the pro-democracy forces and the Obama Administration to transfer authority to an elected civilian government.

Such a government is expected to include a significant Islamist presence, with the Justice and Freedom Party identified with the Muslim Brotherhood projected to be the main victor in the parliamentary elections.

While the generals have promised to eventually transfer part of its powers, it is demanding that a new constitution grant it a central role in future Egypt. Over recent months, The main contacts between the Israeli and Egyptian leaderships has been through the commanders of the two armies and other senior defense officials, IDF officers admitted last week, that these communications are dwindling.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee that "we don't expect to have the same level of intimacy with Egypt with the new regime." not all Israelis though are that pessimistic,one veteran intelligence analyst said this week "we should not be so simplistic. Not all Egypt is Islamic Brotherhood and not all the Islamists want to go to war with Israel.

At Friday prayers in Al Azhar mosque last week one of the sermons promised that "from Tahrir Square we will liberate Palestine, all of Palestine." And yet, the Brotherhood has not publicly called for cancelling the peace treaty with Israel. "We can have peace with Israel," said one Brotherhood activist,"but first Israel must respect the rights of the Palestinians."

Israelis are not alone in their concern. The largest religious minority in Egypt, the Copt Christians, are worried that an Islamist-dominated government will deepen discrimination of their community. "As it is we can't get senior government jobs or licenses to build new churches," said Hani Boutrous, a Copt leader in Alexandria, "and police and army officers have not been prosecuted for attacking Copts, but things can still get worse."

Only last month, a demonstration against discrimination in central Cairo was violently mowed down by military armored vehicles and 24 Copts killed. "Copts are joking now that we should all move to Sinai and Israel can protects us," says one member of the community bitterly, "but we say so quietly so as not to get arrested."

"That's all we need now," a senior Israeli officer, "another reason for argument with Egypt. Our best policy right now is not to be involved in Egypt until we know how things turn out."

Last updated: 3:37pm, November 29 2011