Monday, January 23, 2012

Egypt's Parliament 75 percent Islamist; Egypt-Israel Peace Agreement is Dead Even if Treaty Still Exists

By Barry Rubin

We’re starting to get a good picture of what the lower house of Egypt’s parliament will be like, though it will take another month to be certain. Close to 50 percent of the seats will be held by the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 25 percent will be held by the al-Nour party of Salafists. With 75 percent the two Islamist parties will be able to do as they please.

But, they—or at least the Brotherhood—are determined to be cautious. Note that there is a big difference between actually being moderate and simply being patient, advancing step by step toward radical goals. The Western media will report that the Brotherhood is indeed moderate. Actually, as I review coverage over the last year it is almost impossible to find even a single article in the mass media that reports any such evidence, much less analysis, despite the massive documentation available to the contrary .

The non-Islamist seats will be held by the Wafd, nine percent, and the Free Egyptians Party, another nine percent, with the rest spread among a dozen different parties, mainly liberal with a small number of leftists. The Wafd will be willing to make deals with the Islamists in order to obtain a share of power for itself. Only the Free Egyptians will oppose them with determination.

There is no reason to believe the “moderates” will be able to work together; the Islamist parties also won’t unite. There is, however, an important difference. While the Wafd's cooperation with the Brotherhood will undermine the ability of anti-Islamist forces doing anything at all, the Salafists will pull the Brotherhood toward a more militant stance.

Both Islamist parties will support laws making Egypt more Islamist and when the Brotherhood does less than the Salafists want it will be proclaimed as moderate. Yet the two parties have no substantive difference on foreign policy except about how openly anti-American they will be and how active to push on conflict with Israel.  Internationally, the Brotherhood will be portrayed as a wonderful bulwark against the Salafists, even as it moves Egypt step by step down the road toward radical Islamism.

Two key events will dominate Egyptian politics: writing the Constitution and also the election of the president, currently expected in June. In order not to scare people, the Brotherhood continues its strategy of not directly sponsoring a presidential candidate. It is likely, however, that the Islamists will vote for Islamist candidates and in any run-off the likely two candidates will be an Islamist, probably Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and the radical nationalist Amr Moussa. But here’s a thought: what if the two candidates that receive the largest number of votes in the first round are both Islamists? That could mean an all-Islamist run-off between the Brotherhood’s favorite and a Salafist.

As for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty...

Barry Rubin is director of the GLORIA Center and editor of MERIA Journal. His new book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. 

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