With the first round of presidential elections in Egypt coming up in late May, the field is tightening up. And the prospects for those of us concerned about Israel are increasingly grim.
That’s because the up-and-coming candidate of the moment is a classic Islamist, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who wants to do away with the peace agreement with Israel, looks up to Iran as a model country, is a strong critic of the United States and opposes men and women working together. In fact, the Obama administration is so worried about Abu Ismail that it is now quietly supporting Khairat el-Shater, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, long feared as the group that would upend relations with Washington and Jerusalem.
You may remember that The Brotherhood promised not to put up a presidential candidate in the first post-Mubarak elections. They didn’t want the Egyptian military, still holding power, or the West to become fearful over the prospect of an Islamic fundamentalist government taking control. But as The Brotherhood has sought to play up its political rhetoric and tone down its fundamentalism, to Washington, el-Shater is starting to look like a good alternative.
Another leading candidate is Amr Moussa, a veteran politician and former head of the Arab League whose popularity, in part, stems from his famed diatribes against Israel.
In an interview with Newsweek last summer he called the Mideast peace process “just [an Israeli] trick to continue talking and make the cameras flash … but there’s no substance. We shall not engage in such a thing anymore. Never.”
The magazine called him “one of Israel’s most relentless detractors in Egypt,” confronting Israelis at conferences and in television interviews to such an extent that a popular Egyptian song, whose title translates to “I Hate Israel,” makes reference to Moussa.
The situation underscores how unstable the political situation is in Egypt, and calls attention to the still strong feelings, pro and con, over Washington’s calling for, or at least not opposing, the fall of Hosni Mubarak a little over a year ago.
Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Jordan were deeply upset at the U.S. decision to abandon a loyal ally, albeit an autocrat, while most political observers in the U.S., from right to left politically, felt it was important for America to support the democratic impulse on display in Tahrir Square.
Israel kept a low public profile but expressed reservations about what might result from the Arab Spring. For now, we can only watch as the election process plays out and Israeli leaders, and no doubt many in Washington, pine for the good old days of Hosni Mubarak.