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Dr Musa A Keilani: A solution to the problem is answer to many crises
February 17, 2011
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Israel is worried that the revolt in Egypt could bring about a fundamental change to the state of peace between the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests that Egypt could go “Iran’s way” if the Muslim Brotherhood emerges as the dominant power if political reforms were introduced in the country.

The argument is also strong in the United States where legislators and “experts” on the Middle East are screaming that the Brotherhood is poised to take over Egypt. They see the 1979 drama in Iran being cloned out in Egypt and say the country would withdraw into itself and seek to deal with the outside world on its own terms as Iran is doing now.

There are several issues that need to be looked at before arriving at such conclusions.

First of all, the Egyptian society has always been largely moderate and open, particularly given the huge flow of foreign tourists. Tourism has always been a central part of the Egyptians’ life and the thought of isolating themselves could not be in the minds of many Egyptians.

Free flow of tourists means close Egyptian interaction with the outside world and that is one of the best bets that would dissuade most Egyptians from setting their own rules like the Iranian regime has done.

Secondly, the revolt against the regime of president Hosni Mubarak is definitely not led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, the Brotherhood has a role in the rebellion but it took one cautious step backward and is not calling the shots. Brotherhood leaders would like to argue otherwise, but that suits their political interests.

Egyptians do acknowledge that the Brotherhood is a political and social force, but not the dominant group in the country.

Of course, the Brotherhood has a history and record of taking advantage of the Egyptians ancestral leaning towards Metaphysical beliefs since Pharaoh Aminhoteb who was the first to introduce the concept of monotheistic Deity years before any other religion. Since 1928, the roots of the brotherhood penetrated all strata of Egyptian society including some Orthodox Copts.

So it was not surprising that they provided a surrogate shadow government taking initiatives to help the people whenever the need arose. We have seen the Brotherhood galvanising into action ahead of the government whenever disasters have stuck the country. Brotherhood volunteers were the first to arrive and offer help to victims of earthquakes, fires and other tragedies. They acted even before the authorities could think of how to go about offering relief. The people are aware of it and it is one of the best cards of the Brotherhood.

However, that does not imply that the Brotherhood would sweep a fair and free parliamentary election in Egypt. The group would definitely emerge as one of several other powers in legislature and would play a key role in shaping the future of the country. However, it would not be in a position to impose its will on the people of Egypt as it is not running as a candidate for the presidency of the country.

What many would like to say but don’t is that one of the first things that the Brotherhood would do, if it assumes power, is to abrogate the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

That is a short-sighted view. The hypothesis that the Brotherhood will push for abrogating the Camp David treaty has to take into consideration the hard earned pragmatism of the group’s leaders. They are smart and intelligent enough to be aware that any such move would result in Egypt isolating itself, unable to play its rightful role in the regional and international scenes. It was the Egyptian advice that made Hamas leaders declare their willingness to deal with Israel within the parameters of a ten-year Hudna ceasefire.

Their rhetoric against the state of peace with Israel is a rallying point while they are in opposition, and their tone would be moderated considerably once they assume positions of power.

They are perfectly aware that it is in Egypt’s interests to maintain the state of peace with Israel. They might seek to scale down interaction with Tel Aviv — not that much was seen in this context even after the signing of the Camp David treaty. The behind-the-scene role that Egypt played under the reign of Hosni Mubarak would be affected, and Israel might not be able to count on Egypt as a bridge to the region.

Finally, Egypt is Egypt and Iran is Iran, both with their distinct historical, political, social and religious features that pre-empt many comparisons.

It is true that Egypt will never be the same again in the wake of the revolt against Mubarak’s regime, but it is a safe bet that the Egyptians would balk at going Iran’s way as Netanyahu put it.

We are also hearing expressions of concern that Al Qaeda would succeed in having major inroads into a post-revolt Egypt. That is where the future leaders of Egypt face their biggest challenge. They need to ensure fairness and justice and convince the people that their life has taken a positive turn away from the plights they suffered for decades.

There could indeed be small roots of Al Qaeda in Egypt, but they are in no position to influence the future of the country. Again, the political establishment of Egypt knows well that it is against the interests of the country if it allows any form of radicalism to emerge.

It is a misguided notion, raised by some armchair pundits, that the Muslim Brotherhood has links with Al Qaeda. There might be Brotherhood activists who changed coats and became Osama Bin Laden’s followers, but the very reason for their “migration” was that they felt the Brotherhood was too moderate and not doing enough to challenge Arab political regimes. What does the revolt in Egypt hold in store for prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement?

Well, the answer lies with the Israelis.

As many international leaders have pointed out, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a threat to regional stability. The revolt in Egypt has changed the dynamics in the region and all those interested in peace in the Middle East should take preemptive action and must take advantage of the opportunity and push for a solution to the Palestinian problem.

The Israelis should accept that the Palestinian problem is at the root of the state of conflict in the Middle East. Indeed, a solution to the problem is the answer to the many crises in the region, but it would go a long way in scaling down the hostility towards the Jewish state.

The Israeli leadership should realise that they are doing their country harm by maintaining hard-line, rejectionist positions in the quest for peace rather than assuming objective stands based on fairness and justice for all.

Until they do that, they would have to continue worrying about the impact of regional and international developments on their sense of security though it is self induced and hollow.

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