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Islamist parties, chief among them the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, are set to dominate Egypt’s new parliament.
At a Muslim Brotherhood rally on Nov. 25 to promote the “battle against Jerusalem’s Judaization,” participants held signs calling “Death for Israel” in Arabic and Hebrew.
Parliamentary Elections in Egypt: Where the Parties Stand on Foreign Policy
The parliamentary elections currently taking place in Egypt have raised concerns both in Western capitals and among the country’s liberals about where the country is headed in coming years. Results from the first round of voting, which included 9 of Egypt’s 27 governorates, indicate that Islamist parties will dominate the new parliament. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has emerged as the largest party with 37 percent of the vote, was largely expected. However, few predicted that the radical Salafists would be so popular, having won about a quarter of all votes.
The new parliament will wield significant power, allowing it among other things to select the panel responsible for writing Egypt’s constitution. It will also be able to influence Cairo’s foreign policy, potentially initiating major shifts in relations with the United States and Israel.
Opposition to Israel’s Existence and Blatant Anti-Semitism
The FJP, which has garnered the largest share of the vote, is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. As such, it advocates implementing Islamic law in the political, social and economic spheres. The party’s religious doctrine also encompasses fervent opposition to the existence of the State of Israel, based on the idea that the entirety of historic Palestine is an Islamic endowment that cannot be shared with non-Muslims.
This view of the Jewish state is evident in the FJP’s platform, which affirms “the need to confront the aggressive and expansionist Zionist entity” and supports “the Palestinian right to self-determination, including the right of return for all refugees and Jerusalem as the capital.”
Statements from leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP are even more extreme than the party’s official documents, often betraying blatant anti-Semitism. “Our primary enemy is the Zio-American [sic] project which seeks to control the whole region in order to establish ‘Greater Israel’ and the new Middle East,” said Muhammad Badie, general guide of the Brotherhood. According to Essam al-Arian, deputy president and spokesman of the FJP, “existence of a state for Jews is against all rules of states all over the world.”
At a Nov. 25 rally in Cairo organized in cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood to promote the “battle against Jerusalem’s Judaization,” speakers slammed the “Zionist occupiers” and the “treacherous Jews.” Citing an end-of-times prophecy attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, according to which Muslims will one day kill the Jews, participants made explicit calls for jihad and for “liberating” the whole of Palestine.
The terrorist group Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the two share close ties. Al-Arian has described Hamas as “a resistance group fighting for freedom and liberation of their lands from occupation,” and a Brotherhood delegation visited the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in October to celebrate the release of Hamas prisoners by Israel. A Hamas official announced earlier this month that the title “A Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – Palestine” had been added to Hamas’ official name, “The Islamic Resistance Movement.”
Though the new parliament has yet to be convened, the Brotherhood has already called for Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel to be reevaluated by the legislative body. “A long time has passed since the Camp David Accord was signed, and like the other agreements it needs to be reviewed, and this is in the hands of the parliament,” said Mahmoud Hussein, the group’s secretary-general.
Finishing right behind the FJP, the Salafist al-Nour party represents an even more radical and fundamentalist stream of Islamism. The party accepts democracy only insofar as it is compatible with Islamic law and espouses rigid social codes, including complete gender segregation. Salafists have spoken against the right of Copts to run for public office and have attacked Coptic churches.
In the foreign policy sphere, al-Nour’s platform is extremely vague and fails to mention Israel, the Palestinians or the United States. Statements from party leaders and activists, however, reveal the same views expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I don’t want war with Israel. So Israel must leave the part that it took from me... from all of Palestine—not just the West Bank or Gaza,” said one al-Nour activist. “An Egypt strong economically, politically, socially and militarily will bring down Israel’s role in the region,” said al-Nour party head Emad al-Din Abd al-Ghafour.
Parties on the secular side of the political spectrum have lagged far behind the Islamists in the first round of the elections. The Egyptian Bloc, which includes the liberal Social Democrats and Free Egyptians Party, won about 14 percent of the vote, while the old and established al-Wafd party garnered roughly 10 percent.
The main member of the Egyptian Bloc, the Free Egyptians Party, endorses a civil democratic state and free market economy. In terms of foreign policy, the party respects the peace treaty with Israel and supports a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. It calls for enhancing economic relations with the United States, but at the same time also advocates stronger ties with Turkey and Iran.
Al-Wafd describes itself as a centrist party, with an emphasis on freedom of religion and a liberal economic perspective. However, it is also extremely nationalist and its leaders have expressed their disapproval of U.S. policy in the Middle East and of the peace treaty. The party’s program rejects “the label of terrorism on violent resistance to Israeli occupation” and conditions normal relations with Israel on “the return of the entire West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, the Golan to Syria, and the remaining Lebanese territories to Lebanon and closing the nuclear reactor at Dimona.”
In a July 2011 interview, al-Wafd Vice Chairman Ahmed Ezz al-Arab dismissed the Holocaust as a “lie” and claimed the CIA, Mossad and America’s “military-industrial complex” were responsible for the September 11 attacks. He also mocked President Obama, depicting him as a “the black rabbit taken out of the American hat when it was needed.”
An Anti-Israeli Parliament
The remaining governorates are scheduled to go to the polls in coming weeks, with elections ending on Jan. 10. As these more rural and conservative areas vote, the Islamist parties’ share in parliament is expected to grow even further.
Regardless of its precise composition, Egypt’s new parliament will likely push for a much more aggressive foreign policy and stake positions that are at odds with American and Israeli interests.
“People tend to exaggerate how different Islamists are from non-Islamists on foreign policy,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “If there’s anything all parties agree on it’s dislike of Israel.”
This is the second part of a series of articles dealing with Egypt’s parliamentary elections.