While many in the mainstream media are suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the majority of the new Egyptian Parliament, is being tempered toward moderation by its new responsibilities, King Abdullah of Jordan doesn’t seem to be buying it.
In Washington last week the king held a private meeting with a dozen American Jewish leaders, and when asked how best to decipher among the various Brotherhood groups — which were more fundamentalist and which more open-minded? — the king is said to have asserted that they are all the same. He did not have to explain that means they are committed to the single goal for which the Brotherhood was founded in 1928: to transform Egypt into an Islamic state. That does not bode well for Jordan, and it is particularly worrisome for Israel since the Brotherhood has long espoused jihad and anti-Semitism.
Egyptians heralded their country’s first freely elected parliament in six decades, which met for the first time this week, and the dominant Brotherhood, which holds almost half the seats, espoused its desire to work with all parties and emphasized its commitment to democracy. But with the second largest bloc of the parliament — 25 percent of the seats — held by officials of Salafi, a more fervent Islamic group, it is not likely that the small liberal parties will have much impact in the writing of the constitution. The presidential election is scheduled for June.
The Obama administration, faced with the dilemma of distancing itself from those who have long professed anti-American sentiments or seeking to deal with them now that they are in power, has opted for engagement. It should be extremely cautious so as not to appear too eager and accepting, and it should insist on proof that the Brotherhood has changed more than its rhetoric.
Israel is deeply concerned about its relationship with Egypt, which has been aptly characterized as a “cold peace” since 1979. It is doubtful that the new government in Cairo will take active steps to disavow the peace treaty with Israel and jeopardize $3 billion in U.S. aid. But the Brotherhood and the Salafists don’t recognize Israel as a legitimate state and they support Hamas, which can act as their surrogate armed force. That means Israel must beef up its security on the borders and be prepared for terror attacks in the area, with no help from Cairo.
So yes, a democratic election has resulted in an open parliament in Egypt after decades of autocratic rule, but don’t expect an electorate long fed a steady diet of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist vitriol to seek closer ties with its neighbor anytime soon.