Elections In Egypt And The Reprecussions For The Palestinians / Pinhas Inbari

05 December 2011
Last week’s elections in Egypt have showcased a striking phenomenon – the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood partnered up in a move that may develop into a future alliance to rule Egypt.
Their cooperation resulted in a peaceful election process, despite local fears that the elections would only deepen the rampant anarchy in Egypt. Whether this new-minted partnership will hold depends on the Brotherhood’s acceptance of the new constitution, which will provide for a powerful presidency. The Brotherhood’s denial to nominate its own candidate for the presidency suggests it does not object to the status quo of a country led by a strong president. It is likely that the Islamic organization will be satisfied with assuming responsibility over domestic affairs, while leaving foreign affairs and defense to the president, who would be more closely associated with the army.

However, it is also possible that the military views its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood as purely tactical and not as a long-term strategy or a genuine partnership. The staggering success of the Islamist parties, who received roughly 60 percent of the votes, may suggest to the army that an equal partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood is mere wishful thinking.

The developments in Egypt have a direct impact on the Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Gaza. The advent of Muslim Brotherhood to power in Cairo will shift the balance of power from Fatah to Hamas. While Mubarak's rule by and large favored Fatah over Hamas, the reverse may be true of the incoming government.

These developments are also likely to contribute to Mahmoud Abbas’ long-anticipated exit from Palestinian politics in 2012, and will increase Hamas’ interest in Cairo's affairs rather than Ramallah's. At the same time, Hamas will exploit Abbas’ rush out of Palestinian governance to gain a better hold of the West Bank.

Yet, one would be ill-advised to consider the partnership between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas as a fait accompli. While the Muslim Brotherhood is a purely political party that refrains from violence, Hamas is a "resistance" party that disagrees with the Muslim Brotherhood on the strategy of an armed struggle in Egypt proper. There have been splits in the past inside the Muslim Brotherhood on the matter of active jihad, which it fully supports in Israel’s case. However, the Brotherhood is unlikely to welcome the spirit of "muqawama" in Cairo, which will better serve the interests of its radical rivals in the Islamist arena and spoil the delicate balance it seeks to establish with the military.

It is worth remembering that when the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yasseen, wanted to transform the political Muslim Brotherhood group in Gaza into the militant Hamas, Al-Azhar University refused to give its blessing to the venture. Instead, Yasseen was forced to approach the Salafist al-Madina university. To date, the Muslim Brotherhood’s websites have ignored Sheikh Yasseen and have not promoted his adulation.

The test of the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas will be the regulation of the Rafah border crossing – a critical issue for Hamas. Presently, the crossing does not operate on a regular basis as a full-fledged border station, but rather as an unregulated, ad hoc foot passage. Hamas has frozen its campaign over the crossing until Egypt’s internal elections are over. Nonetheless, there is no doubt it will return to its demands once the new government in Egypt is in place.

It is expected that the Brotherhood will encourage Hamas to shift its tactics to "popular resistance" from military activity in order to facilitate support for Hamas in Cairo. Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al, who has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to find accommodation in either Cairo or in Amman to replace his home in Damascus, has shown himself particularly amenable to the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

His recent declarations on the subject have been mostly aimed at achieving reconciliation with Fatah, but are also meant to convince both the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood that Hamas will not engaged in muqawama affairs when in Cairo. Thus far, the army has remained unconvinced that Hamas would be able to honor its commitments.

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