There has been a great deal of focus on the future relationship between a new Egyptian presidency and Israel, especially if an Islamist is to take the helm of power. Despite fears that Israel will become vulnerable in the region, after the loss of a strong ally like Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, Islamist presidential candidates have yet to commit any political faux pas vis a vis the Jewish state.
If anything, their statements during election debates have touched on how Egypt should revise relations with Israel with no one calling for a major change in the two country’s relations or even indicating the cancelation or attempts to revoke the peace treating signed in 1979 with the Jewish state.
The moderate Islamist presidential candidate, Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, called Israel an “enemy” as it “occupied land, threatened our security” during a TV debate but analysts believe his statement was rhetoric and reflective of Egyptian sentiments.
However, his statements are unlikely to translate into the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel and that, many believe, boils down to Egypt’s financial needs – a great concern for the new leadership that will need to salvage the country’s economy.
Fotouh, in his interview with Newsweek published on Sunday, spoke about his plans to rescue Egypt’s economy whose currency reserves are gradually being depleted in face of the politically instability following the January 25 revolution that toppled Mubarak’s regime.
“Egypt is keen on keeping close relations with all foreign parties, especially the United States ... But it has to be a relationship of respect, based on common interests,” he said.
Egypt’s economy, even before the revolution, has heavily depended on U.S. aid which amounts to nearly $2 billion each year and is given due to the country’s respect of the peace treaty with Israel signed 33 years ago.
“We don’t need to cause any shocks either internally or externally,” Fotouh said, an indication that things would not drastically change under his presidency.
His interview may have been replete with criticism of the United States for supporting Arab dictators over the years and for continually siding with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians, but analysts argue that it is to be expected from a Egyptian presidential candidate in an era of revolutions to reflect his people’s sentiments.
In contrast, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Mursi was far milder in his criticism of Israel when he said that he would respect the treaty so as to keep U.S. aid. However, his aide said in late April that Mursi would not meet Israeli officials as president but the foreign minister would, also an indication that under his leadership Egypt could not afford to cut ties with the Jewish state.
A more secular presidential candidate, Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, also echoed similar views early this month when he said that Egypt could no longer tolerate the policy of unquestioning friendship with Israel adopted by the former regime.
“Mubarak had a certain policy, it was his own policy and I don’t think we have to follow this,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
Analysts argue that what many seem to forget is that Mubarak’s policy put Egypt at a lesser economic disadvantage.
Egyptian gas exports to Israel have always sparked controversy, as Mubarak’s regime has long been accused of selling gas at extremely low prices to Israel.
Post-revolution Egypt has doubled the gas price for Jordan in October and the same is expected to be done to Israel.
Despite the interim Egyptian government’s attempts to revise its gas deal with Israel, its inability to cut ties with the Jewish state still fuel the ire of those who oppose the two country’s relations. The pipeline in Sinai, which supplies gas to Israel, has come under attack at least 12 times since the toppling of Mubarak in 2011.
Israel recently warned Egypt that it has to control the rising unrest in Sinai if it wants to preserve peace.
Egyptian presidential candidates too must be wondering how to maintain peace with Israel without alienating their constituents – and U.S. aid.