Decisive mandate

Decisive mandate

Islamist parties have performed exceedingly well in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak general elections.

While the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has emerged the clear winner, having secured just under half the seats in the new parliament, the radical Salafi al-Nour party has come in second. This means that Islamist parties control around two-thirds of parliament. They have exceeded expectations. The performance of the secular parties is disappointing. The surge in the political fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood has been spectacular. It was banned by president Hosni Mubarak government but managed to remain active and worked assiduously on building a support base for itself among the masses by running welfare programmes, schools and clinics.

Although it could not contest elections, it kept itself politically relevant and influential by backing independent candidates in elections. Thus its organisational network was well-oiled and efficient and when the time came for it to ask people for votes, its decades of hard work paid off. The resounding success in parliamentary polls will boost the Brotherhood’s prospects in the upcoming race for the real prize – Egypt’s all-powerful presidency.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt has triggered anxiety in Israel and the US over the future of the 32-year-old Camp David Accords. There is concern that the Brotherhood will revoke the peace treaty.  Muslim Brotherhood leaders have said they would like to hold a referendum to determine its fate. However, the Brotherhood will act with caution. Holding a referendum could prove tricky and revoking the treaty could put it on a confrontationist course with the US and Israel. It is likely therefore to push for renegotiation of some of the treaty’s provisions, particularly restrictions on Egyptian troops stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, rather than dump the treaty in toto.

Washington and Tel Aviv must realise that the fate of the peace treaty rests as much on them as on Egypt’s new rulers. Rather than fret over an Islamist government in Egypt they need to recognise that a democratically elected government there throws up opportunity for Israel to negotiate a treaty that enjoys legitimacy among the Egyptian people, one that is more likely to last. Dismissing the Brotherhood as ‘untrustworthy’ might win Israel’s government some support among the hawks but it will do little for peace in the region.

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