Arab Spring elections boost democracy, and Israeli fears
Egyptian parliamentary elections that begin Monday are expected to result in victory for an Islamic party - in this case, the one affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood
As in the other election campaigns in the Middle East that have taken place since the Arab Spring, the Egyptian parliamentary elections that begin Monday are expected to result in victory for an Islamic party - in this case, the one affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The wave of revolutions, which began a year ago next month, have so far resulted in a wave of successes for Islamic parties: Justice and Development in Morocco, Ennahda (Renaissance) in Tunisia, and now Freedom and Justice, the party of Egypt'Ss Muslim Brotherhood. It looks like Freedom and Justice will become the largest party in both chambers of the Egyptian legislature once all the rounds of the election are over, in March.
More than a few enthusiastic words of praise have been written about the Arab Spring - both in the Arab world and, at least at first, in the West. It must be acknowledged, however, that political Islam, the emerging alternative to the ousted regimes, does not look overly promising - certainly not through Israeli eyes. These political movements are not all the same, however.
Morocco's Justice and Development Party is more reminiscent of the ruling party in Turkey than of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And the party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not a group of religious fanatics who would declare all-out war against the West or take the immediate risk of revoking the peace agreement with Israel. But a look at how activists from the Brotherhood have attempted, without any real success at this point, to recruit the masses through incitement against Israel - as in a prayer service in Cairo on Friday that was filled with anti-Israel rhetoric - does raise concerns about the future character of relations between the two countries.
Freedom and Justice is not expected to garner an absolute majority in the two houses of the Egyptian parliament, and the party declared in advance that it was not contesting more than 49 percent of the seats in the lower and upper chambers of parliament. The movement would have an opportunity, however, to link up with a party such as Al-Nour, which is made up of radical Islamic activists, and could also join forces with independent Islamist candidates to form a large bloc that could pass legislation reflecting the spirit of Islam.
At this time, though, it seems unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood would take part in such a development. It could be that the Brotherhood might actually prefer a political alliance with a secular party.
The round of elections for the lower house that is beginning today is the first of three, with voting taking place in nine electoral districts during each stage. Today's voting is scheduled for the largest and most important areas, including Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor. The election results from this stage will provide a clue as to how the elections will turn out when the final phase is concluded in March, when candidates for the upper house will be elected.
It should be noted that even if the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party does become the largest in parliament and does put together a majority coalition, that does not mean they can revoke Egypt's peace agreements with Israel.
Egypt's foreign affairs and defense will still remain the responsibility of the future Egyptian president, who will be elected in another seven months. On the other hand, the current constitution, which is expected to change once the parliament is in place, permits the legislature to vote to depose the president.
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to understand the position of Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, who said last week the Arab Spring provided a reason for Israel to cut its defense budget. After all, even if the immediate prospect of a conventional war with Syria or Egypt has declined, the risks of instability have increased.