One of the key focuses of the new Israeli government, formed after the January 22nd national election, will be Jerusalem’s relationship with Cairo. Egypt is considered to be the leading nation of the Arab world. Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi is consolidating his power, standing alongside the Moslem Brotherhood that has a majority rule in Egypt’s Parliament.
On a diplomatic level, Israeli leaders have failed in their attempts to deal directly with Morsi and other political Islamists running Egypt’s government. Israeli officials are worried that Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood will attempt to re-open and re-examine the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty once their political power has stabilized.
Israel is watching on the sidelines as Sunni Egypt forms an alliance with Shiite Iran. Reaching across the “Sunni-Shiite divide”, Morsi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are shaking hands, with the mutual goal of seeing Israel and the West weakened. But, analysts predict that in 2013, Morsi will seem more like a “moderate” to the global world as he needs financial support in order to get Egypt out of poverty so it can eventually become an economically viable nation.
Morsi has been offered a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if he commits himself to following through with suggested austerity measures. But, instability continues in Egypt, as protesters demonstrate against Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood. Egypt’s constitution is considered too Islamic by a majority of the secular Egyptian population who do not trust the government. They believe the Brotherhood conducted an illegal campaign to persuade Egyptians to accept a new constitution. The aim of the Brotherhood is to impose Sharia Law on all Egyptians.
Egypt’s general public has become more anti-Semitic as the Moslem Brotherhood has gained influence in Egyptian society. Since the creation of the Brotherhood in 1928, they have targeted Jews. In the 1940’s, known for their anti-Semitism, the Brotherhood conducted pogroms in the Old Jewish Quarter of Cairo. During WWII, the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al- Banna, was reportedly corresponding with Adolph Hitler. Today, Egyptian clerics in Cairo rant against the Jews from their mosque pulpits, and the media fuels the society with hatred towards Israel and the Jewish People. What keeps the persecution against Egypt’s Jews prevailing is a sense from radical Islamists that they now have the support of Morsi and his government.
Meanwhile, to protect his rule, Morsi wants to build a strong army militia that is loyal to him and independent of the current Egyptian armed forces. Though a type of Moslem Brotherhood militia has existed for a long time, it is unclear how many weapons they have and how powerful they are. In 2007, the Brotherhood’s youth “deterrence forces” marched on Cairo’s al-Azhar University campus, dressed in black militia-type uniforms, parading like an army.
Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, remembers that incident. “It made a big noise at the time. (Former President Hosni) Mubarak was not happy nor was the public. The Brotherhood wanted to show Egypt that they are a strong force to be reckoned with.”
When Egypt’s 2011 “Arab Spring” revolution was in full swing, the Moslem Brotherhood incited Egyptians to demonstrate (burning police stations, government buildings, and a building next to the Egyptian museum in Cairo), all the while defending and protecting the protestors. Mazel claims that during the revolution it was difficult for those outside of Egypt to accept how a group of unorganized Egyptians could, effectively, extend their protests throughout the country. “Now, we understand that some were pushed by the Moslem Brotherhood and their militia at that time.”
Recently, the Brotherhood claimed that when the revolution’s famous camel demonstration took place in February 2011, they were “protecting” the people in Tahrir Square. Reports indicate the Brotherhood may have shot at Egyptian security forces at the time, while using its Militia 95 against the Egyptian demonstrators.
In 2012, some of Morsi’s advisors resigned, including his vice president, after he extended his own powers and became dictatorial, in order to push through the newly unpopular Egyptian constitution.
This month, in a violent demonstration against the constitution, Egyptian protestors were subject to another crackdown. Reportedly, some “thugs” came near the Presidential Palace and started to shoot at the demonstrators, throwing Molotov cocktails at them. At least 15 Egyptians were wounded. According to Mazel, the “thugs” were part of the Moslem Brotherhood militia. “They came and fought to scare the people.”
Despite the fact that these radicals have risen to power in Egypt, Mazel says that something positive has occurred. Egyptians are no longer afraid to protest against their government. They are ready to go into the streets, demonstrate and fight. “From this point of view, the Moslem Brotherhood reached power a little bit too late.” In Mazel’s opinion, the Brotherhood has tried to take control, militarily, while not gaining the respect of Egyptian society. “And, one can say Morsi is no longer a legitimate president even though he was elected. All the political opposition is against him.”
Despite Morsi’s mishaps, Mazel does not believe that he will fall from power. He thinks Morsi will continue to be protected by the rising Moslem Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has gained not only a foothold in Egyptian society, but throughout the Middle East. What was once the Shiite Crescent is now becoming the Sunni Crescent with the Moslem Brotherhood leading the way for political Islamists to take over regional governments.
As Israelis go to vote, they are keenly aware of the changes taking place with their southern neighbor. Just how well the new Israeli government fares in its diplomatic dealings with political Islamists in Egypt, could determine the challenges Israel will face in its dealings with the rest of the Arab world
“The burden against Egypt: Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt. The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.” Isaiah 19:1