The elections in Egypt and Jordan and the WikiLeaks documents show the determination of conservative regimes in the region to fight for their survival. In Jordan, the royal house can count on maintaining continuity. The delicate balance between the Hashemite representatives in Parliament and the Palestinian ones has been preserved, Samir al-Rifai has been re-appointed prime minister, and two-thirds of the previous ministerial team will continue to serve. Protests about the electoral results were dealt with quickly and honestly.
In Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections, which were relatively free, the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats out of 454 in the wake of the regime's surrender to pressure from the Americans, who at the time were pushing for democratization reforms in the region. In the recent elections, whose second round took place earlier this week, the regime in Egypt applied the lessons it learned, and took a tough stance toward candidates who did not come from the center parties. This followed the decision of U.S. President George W. Bush, during his second term, to abandon his vision of a democratic Middle East, and the fact that his successor, Barack Obama, did not bother to renew it. Apparently, the administration in Washington is less concerned about reform than it is about the question of presidential succession in Egypt, in light of President Hosni Mubarak's age (82 ) and health.
The Muslim Brotherhood was prohibited from appearing on a list of its own, and the Egyptian administration took care to make things even more difficult for the movement's candidates who ran with other parties. During the past three months, for example, there have been reports in the international media about hundreds of arrests and dozens of candidates being disqualified. Unsurprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that not a single one of the candidates identified with it was elected. That is, in the eighth People's Assembly, the Brotherhood will basically not be represented.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did raise the question of the way the Mubarak government dealt with the elections, but only behind closed doors. Only after popular protests in the U.S. and Europe did the State Department issue a statement expressing concern and disappointment at the harassment of oppositionists and their supporters. The Egyptian presidential spokesman in turn rejected the American criticism as well as the State Department report last month on the freedom of religion in Egypt, but presumably the Americans will not question the overall legitimacy of the election.
The Egyptian regime will allow only quiet public discourse on the issue of presidential succession and will suppress with a heavy hand any other manifestation of opposition to the successor, whoever he may be.
The WikiLeaks documents testify to the moderate and conservative Arab regimes' prevailing attitude toward Iran. In a cable from early 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, it was noted that Mubarak has burning enmity toward the Iranians, who are interested in undermining stability in the region and in Egypt, in particular: "There is no doubt that Egypt sees Iran [as] its greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its 'Shia revolution.'"
Mubarak has given voice publicly to the attitude of other Arab leaders. King Abdullah II of Jordan has warned that America will only exacerbate the disagreement in the Arab world and send spineless Arab regimes into the arms of the Iranians.
There is nothing new in the WikiLeaks revelations or in the reports about the conduct of Middle Eastern regimes in their election campaigns, but they highlight the struggle between the two central forces in the region: the so-called "conservative" and pro-Western camp, and the radical, pro-Iranian camp. The damage to America's standing and the absence of a meaningful peace process between Israel and its neighbors have, of course, implications for the outcomes of this struggle.
On the one hand, there is sense to the argument that at a time when the region is at such a significant crossroads, it would not be wise of Israel to make fateful decisions about its relationships with its closest neighbors. On the other hand, the status quo is not serving Israel's long-term interests.
An Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process - even one whose goal is limited to reaching interim solutions - will make things easier for moderate elements in the region. It will enable them to establish, together with Israel, mechanisms for dealing with issues like water, energy and transportation, and will facilitate economic development, which is an essential part of the struggle between the polarized camps in the Middle East. Therefore, Israel should initiate the renewal of the diplomatic process and not content itself with the pleasure of reading leaked cables, which prove that, in the view of the moderate-conservative camp in the Arab world, Iran - and not the Palestinian issue - is the existential problem.
Dr. Oded Eran is director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and formerly ambassador to Jordan and the European Union. A longer version of these remarks appeared in the INSS Insight series.
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