Sunday, 27 May 2012

0 Israel Is nervously Watching Egyptian Vote

Both candidates for Egypt's presidency have pledged to respect the country's peace treaty with Israel, but they differ greatly in their approach, especially regarding the Palestinians.

In addition to preserving the peace with Israel, Ahmed Shafik, a former Egyptian Air Force general, is expected to continue Egypt's patronage of the mainstream Palestinian faction Fatah. Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority, cooperates with Israel.

Egyptian Vote

Mr. Shafik's military background and his role as the last prime minister to have served under the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, suggest that he would approach Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls Gaza, with suspicion and hostility. Mr. Mubarak was one of Israel's staunchest allies.

Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and former leader of its parliamentary bloc, has a long history of hostile statements about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. He has called Israel's citizens "vampires" and "Draculas."

Mr. Morsi has also criticized the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas for what he called gullible collaboration with Israel in the absence of a Palestinian state, and he has praised Hamas -- an Islamist offshoot of the Brotherhood -- for resisting the Israeli occupation.

"For Hamas, it means the final outcome of this election will be the difference between winning Egypt and more of the same," said Gamal Abdel Gawad, director of the Ahram Center in Cairo.

Brotherhood leaders have said they intend to use their influence with both Fatah and Hamas to urge them to compromise with each other to press Israel to recognize a Palestinian state.

"The Brotherhood will gently pressure Hamas to be more pragmatic, although that is a direction that Hamas is already moving," said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

Hamas officials have acknowledged that they are looking more to Egypt and the Brotherhood for support as they move away from Syria. A top Hamas official, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, settled in Cairo after fleeing the unrest in Syria and maintains close ties with the Brotherhood. He could not be reached for comment on Friday, but the recording on his spokesman's cellphone was set to the theme song of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Egypt awaits the writing of a new constitution that will define the powers of the president, but the office is expected to oversee foreign policy, possibly in consultation with military leaders.

Thus, gaining the presidency would pose challenges to Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood. If, as promised, the Brotherhood maintains the peace with Israel, Mr. Morsi as president could be expected to meet with Israeli's ambassador and top officials, which for the Brotherhood would mark a new level of official recognition of the Israeli state. "I assume he would have to," Mr. Hamid said, "and that would be a landmark moment."

The Israeli government, though alarmed at the prospect of a less-friendly Egypt, has maintained a wary silence about the elections, fearing any perceived interference could backfire.

But Israeli analysts and experts view Mr. Shafik as a moderate who can probably be counted on to keep his promise to preserve Egypt's 33-year-old peace treaty with Israel, long a cornerstone of regional stability. Mr. Morsi, who has also pledged to respect the treaty, is described by some as a potentially dangerous unknown who might be tempted to act more out of religious ideology.

Many Israeli analysts say they are grappling less with the question of who the president will be and more with the question of what direction he, and Egypt, will take.

"The balance between the presidency, the government, the Parliament, the army and public opinion will determine the future of Egypt and its relations with its neighbors, including Israel," said an Israeli government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the subject.


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