Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

There’s no debate: anti-Israel sentiment growing in Egypt

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Egyptian presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh held a televised debate on Thursday, but when it came to Israel, the candidates had little to argue about.

Both pledged to review the 1979 peace treaty Egypt had signed with Israel, while trying to outdo each other's antagonism towards Israel: Abol Fotouh termed Israel an enemy, while Moussa called it an adversary.

The candidate's caustic views were mirrored in a poll released on Tuesday, which revealed growing anti-Israel and anti-Western sentiment in the country. As Egypt continues to develop a new Constitution and readies for presidential elections on May 23 (with a likely runoff on June 16), the debate as well as the poll raise new concerns over Egypt's direction.

In the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, an increasing majority of Egyptians said they supported the annulment of their country's peace treaty with Israel. Sixty-one percent called for the Egypt to abandon the 1979 accords in the latest poll - up from 54 percent in 2011.

Furthermore, in response to parliamentary elections that have given Egypt's Islamist parties a huge majority in the country's legislature, Egyptians said they overwhelmingly preferred a political system modelled on the strict Islamic system in place in Saudi Arabia to the Islamic-secular democratic hybrid system of Turkey.

When asked whether Saudi Arabia or Turkey serves as the better model for the role of religion in government, 61% said Saudi Arabia, compared to 17 percent for Turkey. Twenty-two percent of respondents said that neither was a suitable model.

James M. Lindsey, blogging at the Council of Foreign Relations, pointed out the contradictions in the Pew poll.

On one hand, he wrote, "Egyptians like the idea of democracy. Two-thirds say it is preferable to other forms of government, and six-in-ten Egyptians say democracy is the form of government best suited to solving their problems."
Yet on the other hand, he added they prefer the a non-democratic Saudi model of government to the Turkish model.

Another contradiction was seen in the way Egyptians related to the US in the poll, Lindsay noted. Only 19 percent of Egyptians said they held favourable views of the United States and most believed US aid was detrimental to Egypt. However, in spite of that, a majority of respondents said Egypt should remain as close to the US as it is now, or closer.

On a final note regarding the Pew poll, consider this sobering fact: By comparing this week's poll to another Pew poll released earlier this month gauging the popularity of al-Qaeda in the Middle East, we can determine that two percent more Egyptians approve of al-Qaeda than approve of the US.

Returning to the question of whether Turkish model could be used as a template for Egypt, there has been a significant amount of exploratory commentary and debate over this possibility, both in Ankara and Cairo. This talk began in earnest with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's visit to Cairo in September 2011 and has been revived in recent days as work on Egypt's constitution advances and the country's presidential election nears.

Proponents for grafting the Turkish model onto Egypt point to the similar population size between the two countries, certain commonalities in foreign policy outlook, and eye political parallels between the Turkey's AK Party and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

However, both the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian political commentators have largely rejected the idea that Turkey's largely successful Islamist-led but secular-rooted political system can be replicated in Egypt.

In Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News on May 3, a Muslim Brotherhood official said that unlike Turkey, Egypt must be ruled under Sharia law.

Turkey could be a model for the new Egypt, but its secular order may not be suitable, as the Egyptian constitution highlights sharia as the source of legislation, a prominent Egyptian lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood has said.
"Sharia is the source of legislation according to our constitution. A retreat from this could provoke Egyptian people against us," Dr. Hazem Farouk, a member of the Egyptian Parliament from the ranks of the Freedom and Justice Party, political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told a small group of reporters Tuesday in Ankara.


Meanwhile, in the Egyptian news portal Bikya Masr on Thursday, analyst Tarek Soliman wrote that while there is much for Egypt to admire about the Turkish model, the differences between the two societies and the political history behind their respective Islamic movements are just too vast to bridge.

Seeing the great contrasts between AK Party and the Islamic Egyptian parties in gaining popularity and the way they function reduces the chances of either the Brotherhood or Al Noor Party following the AK Party's footsteps.
The reason for this is very important. The AK Party had an existing credibility before it came to office and this has served as evidence of their authenticity in the eyes of the people. On the other hand, the Brotherhood and Al Noor raise many concerns regarding their agendas because of grey areas, some obscure actions and unclear intentions.
With a huge question mark in front of their possible outcome, I wouldn't gamble with the Turkish Model for fear that it may backfire into a condition similar to Iran's.


Does all this mean that Egypt's slide into radicalism is inevitable? Soliman said not necessarily, provided the country takes the proper steps forward.

Rather than trying to integrate another country's values and models into ours, we should set ourselves clear goals and then chart our way to reaching the tenets of democracy, winning the right to free elections, creating the infrastructure for economic prosperity, and then letting history write about how we did under these circumstances.
Perhaps done right it will be a golden era.


In related news, On Thursday Egypt seized an arms shipment en route from Libya to the Sinai.

A report from the Saudi-supported paper Asharq Al-Awsat says officials in Egypt believe that such smuggling is being financed by Iran.

The lawless Sinai continues to be a security problem for Egypt and Israel alike. An official for Islamic Jihad in Egypt told an Egyptian newspaper this week that approximately 500 al-Qaeda terrorists operate in the peninsula.

 

Ten Fijian UN peacekeepers abducted by Sinai Bedouin were released this week after being promised their demands for a prisoner exchange would be met. The incident was just the latest in a series of kidnappings involving foreign nationals in the Sinai in recent months.

Ahron Shapiro

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