The first round of voting in Egypt shows a strong showing for the Islamic parties, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salifist party Al-Nour. At this point the Islamists appear to have taken two thirds of the vote.
This first round took place in urban districts where more western oriented parties were expected to make a good showing. The next round of voting will take place in rural areas, which are more traditional and conservative, so the final result will probably have the Islamists with clear, governing majorities. In the west there is now much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this turn of events. In my opinion, whether this is bad news or good news for the west depends much more on us than on the Egyptians.
The first task of a democratically elected government is to deliver the goods to the voters. As Egypt’s tourist industry is probably its biggest source of foreign exchange, I would imagine that a stable, democratically elected government of any ideological color would try to create an environment where tourists feel safe. In my opinion a democratically elected Islamic government might be the most efficient bulwark imaginable against terrorist groups aiming to disrupt tourism, thereby emptying that government’s coffers. Starting a war with Israel would also be a distraction from eliminating corruption and bringing better social services to the population, which have always been the hallmark issues of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is likely that in the medium to long term the most important result of the Egyptian revolution will be Egypt’s return to being the intellectual and cultural center of the Arab world… Without Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are only poor substitutes. A democratic Egypt (Islamic or not) will dynamize the entire region… neutralizing that soft power was Washington’s aim in supporting Mubarak.
Probably the greatest danger to Israel from the new Egypt would come from Egypt’s soft power, not its military forces. More than tanks and rockets, Egypt means movies and books and the Al-Azhar university (founded in 970AD). This renewed cultural projection and prestige will change the entire texture of Arab culture and Sunni Islam in the coming years.
The biggest error hand wringers are making is to confuse Egypt with Iran. Shiite Islam is a minority in the Muslim world and Iranians are not Arabs. The religion of Egypt is Sunni Islam and Egypt is the largest and most important Arabic speaking, Sunni Muslim country, so whatever the effect of an Islamist Egypt will be, it will be bigger than the effect of an Islamist Iran, because it will occur within the dominant religious current and in the principal language of the Middle East and in its most important nation. It will be most interesting to see if Egypt joins Saudi Arabia in opposing Iran or whether they will extend their hand to the Ayatollahs.
As far as the USA is concerned the problem of the Middle East is a problem of domestic American politics. Israel is the measure of all things and Israel is a society in crisis and just as a person with a toothache, when tiny Israel twinges, the US political establishment can think of little else. And just as a person with a toothache has problems thinking straight. American policy in the Middle East is wallowing in incoherency and has been for years.
Israel is not in a happy situation, all the tides in the region are running against them and with all their eggs in the American basket they watch uneasily as the USA pulls back from its military involvement in the Middle East. Certainly any democratic regime in Egypt or any other Arab country is not going to be friendly to Israel, certainly while the Palestinians are being treated as they are… As it stands today, I cannot image any revitalization and empowerment of the Arab masses could ever benefit Israel, I think it is way too late for that. The Israelis had a real chance for peace after Bush the First won the opening round of the Iraq war, they passed it up, too bad for them, … Like Bessie Smith once put it, if they make their own bed hard, that’s the way it lies.