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Monday, May 25, 2015

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No dialogue, just worry

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The complicated general elections for a new parliament in Egypt have finally been completed. The hybrid proportional and direct election system has yielded a result in which Islamists of various bents and inclinations won about two-thirds of the seats. 

We do not yet know exactly how, but we do know that life for the “average individual” in the Middle East’s largest country is about to change. And likely quite radically. The Islamist parties are committed to installing sharia law as the governing constitutional ethos of modern Egypt. The result may not be the sort of revolution envisioned by the Internet-driven pursuit of greater government accountability, individual liberty and personal freedoms by so many of the country’s youths who inspired the Tahrir Square demonstrations a year ago.

In an extension of a friendly hand to its large neighbour to the south, Israel last week sent a congratulatory note to the people of Egypt after the inauguration of its new parliament.

“On the occasion of the opening session of the Egyptian parliament, on Jan. 23, Israel extends its congratulations to the people of Egypt for its efforts to achieve freedom, democracy and economic development,” Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

“We send the new parliament our wishes of constructive and fruitful work for the well-being of the Egyptian public. We trust Egypt will continue to uphold the importance of peace and stability in our region,” the foreign ministry statement added. The hopeful gesture was spurned.

Moreover and more ominously, so, too, was the possibility of any let alone civil, mutually respectful bilateral relations.

According to a report in JTA, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood said that the government of Egypt would not hold any kind of dialogue with Israel.

“The [Muslim Brotherhood] group does not have any willingness to engage in dialogue with Israel,” Mahmoud Ghazlan told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat in an interview. “This decision has been taken and our position is consistent and clear, and is not currently open to discussion.”

Ghazlan left little doubt that diplomatic relations with the Jewish state are in jeopardy. Recent equivocal assurances by Brotherhood spokespeople that the peace treaty between the two countries, signed in 1979, will not be reopened provide no comfort. As many commentators have noted, the strong showing by the Islamist forces has unleashed a veritable hurricane of publicly conveyed anti-Jewish, anti-Israel expression. Writing recently in the Atlantic magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg observed that “Cairo is rife with antisemitism.”

Even as former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak pleads with the new rulers that his life be spared, the rest of us watch and hope that peaceful relations, if not actual peace, will also be spared.

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