Sunday, June 24, 2012

Morsi Wins, Is Israel In Trouble?

Egypt's Presidential Election Commission announced hours ago that Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi has won the country's first presidential elections post-revolution.  This is the first time an Islamist candidate has been elected to the presidency of an Arab country.  As a result, the news is likely to cause considerable apprehension on the part of the Western powers, and in particular Israel.  

The Muslim Brotherhood has made no secret of its antagonism towards Israel, and towards many values at the heart of U.S. democracy promotion efforts.  However, while Morsi's victory is significant in a symbolic sense, analysts must be careful not to fall prey to dystopian predictions of Islamist domination or the death of secularism and democracy in the Middle East.  Israel should be very careful in the wake of Morsi's victory, but should not consider the events a crisis.  Here's why:

1) Many of the votes for Morsi were protest votes.  Many Egyptians voted not so much in favor of Mohammed Morsi as in protest of Ahmed Shafiq, a former regime official whose election would have seriously undermined the Egyptian revolution.  While Morsi won the election, the strongest opposition to the conservative social policy of the Muslim Brotherhood comes from Egyptians themselves.  This opposition includes people who voted for Morsi because they couldn't bear to vote for a Mubarak regime official.  In other words, Egypt's own citizens are an internal check on the abuse of power by the Muslim Brotherhood.

2) The SCAF retains considerable power.  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) sits at the top of Egypt's military apparatus and its linkages to the West remain.  While Morsi's election sets up a power struggle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, control over Egypt's military is an issue on which the SCAF will not make concessions.  In addition, Egypt currently lacks a parliament and a constitution.  While Morsi's victory has great symbolic significance, the amount of power the SCAF actually will concede is much smaller.  More important than the fact Morsi won is what exactly he won: A presidency with very little actual power.

3) The Brotherhood has left itself wiggle room in its threats against Israel.  It's unlikely Israel will play a strong role in Morsi's agenda right now given the expectations on him to improve Egypt's domestic situation and challenge the SCAF's hold on power. He will also have to contend with disunity within the Muslim Brotherhood itself.  However, even the statements the Muslim Brotherhood has made about Israel refer to "renegotiating" the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, not revoking it altogether.  The major issue is whether Egyptian troops would be allowed into the Sinai.  Yet Egyptian troops have already entered the Sinai during Egypt's revolution, with express permission from Israel.  The term "renegotiation" gives the Brotherhood considerable wiggle room with regards to how it decides to approach Israel policy, if it decides to approach it beyond rhetoric and speeches.  Regardless, maintaining calm in the Sinai is a shared security interest between Egypt and Israel.  If Morsi instigates a military conflict with Israel, it will not likely reflect well on him or the Brotherhood, and could quickly end what would be a brief stint in power.

Thus, while Morsi's win is a change news analysts should follow closely, it is important to keep in mind that much has not changed in Egypt.  Its international commitments and SCAF-controlled military remain the same. it's strong urban secular population remains a political force.  The Muslim Brotherhood is no friend of Israel.  At the same time, Morsi ultimately lacks the power, even as Egypt's president, to seriously challenge the security of the Jewish State.


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