The West is nervously awaiting the Egyptian parliamentary elections in September, hoping that the secularists can limit the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. However, a recent outburst by a top secularist leader shows that even the alternatives to the Islamists will reevaluate the peace treaty with Israel.
“The Holocaust is a lie,” said Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, the vice chairman of the Wafd Party, Egypt’s largest secular party. “The Jews under German occupation were 2.4 million. So if they were all exterminated, where does the remaining 3.6 million come from?”
He conceded that Nazi Germany did murder hundreds of thousands of Jews, but said that gas chambers and other horrid stories are “fanciful.” He also said that the Israeli Mossad, the equivalent of the CIA, and the “military-industrial complex” carried out the September 11 attacks. Osama Bin Laden, El-Arab said, was “an American agent.” He also alleged that evidence that Jerusalem is a historically Jewish center was contrived by Jewish-American soldiers in Iraq, who “stole Jewish antiquities from the Babylonian exile period and had them reburied in Jerusalem to cement the Jewish historical claim on the city.”
A former leader of the Wafd Party, No’man Gum’a, says that the treaty with Israel needs a “reexamination,” but that “we will not renounce it.” He also says that Egypt needs to have normal diplomatic relations with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Ezz El-Arab did ridicule Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a “hateful character,” and said it is “crazy” to suggest eliminating the Jewish presence in Israel. These statements make the Wafd Party preferable to the Muslim Brotherhood, but it will still lead Egypt into a direction much more hostile to Israel.
Other secular leaders have also pledged to confront Israel. Presidential candidate Ayman Nour, leader of the Al-Ghad Party, called for “standing up to this enemy,” though he says he supports the peace treaty and opposes “aggression” against Israel.
The frontrunner in the presidential race, Amr Moussa, is similarly hostile to Israel and supports reaching out to Iran. A cable released by Wikileaks states, “Moussa has publicly and privately minimized Iran’s threat, claiming that the Arab world should strengthen its economic and cultural ties with Iran. Moussa believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poses the greatest danger to the region…” He has said that “Iran’s intervention in Arab affairs is worrying,” but he believes that dialogue is the way to handle it.
The West cannot invest its hopes in Mohamed el-Baradei, either. He says that the Muslim Brotherhood is not an extremist organization, and that “the Israeli occupation only understands violence.” He has carried water for the Iranian government, which has allegedly donated to his campaign. He even declared that under his leadership, “if Israel attacked Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime.”
A poll in April indicated that if the parliamentary elections are held in September, the Wafd Party will win more seats than the Muslim Brotherhood. It has a 46 percent approval rating, with the Brotherhood at 38 percent. Nearly one-fourth say they intend to vote for the Wafd Party, and only 12 percent have decided to back the Brotherhood. In the presidential race, Amr Moussa has the support of 37 percent of voters and an approval rating of 80 percent. Mohamed Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is supported by 16 percent.
These numbers indicate that there is a viable secular competitor to the Islamists, but these secularists will still challenge Israel and move Egypt away from the West. Jonathan S. Tobin explains, “Under the circumstances, there is simply no way that a secular party committed to democracy can stand up against the Islamists without paying lip service to the Jew-hatred that is the lingua franca of so much of that country’s political discourse.”
In June, the Wafd Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and over a dozen other political parties decided to form an electoral alliance. The Wafd vice president said, “The aim (of the alliance) is to have real and fair representation of all political powers in parliament so that no single group dominates it.” Ezz El-Arab said, “For four years, in alliance, we can build a constitution based on certain principles that guarantee human rights, citizenship, no religious trend whatsoever. Once this is established, everybody can go to the ballot box and try his luck.” This reflects a stunningly naïve view of what the Muslim Brotherhood intends to do with its influence in writing the next constitution. It is critical to the West that the secularists forcefully challenge the Brotherhood – but it looks like the Islamist group is going to get a free pass.
It is now inevitable that Egypt is going to move in a decisively more anti-Israel direction, and will likely take a soft stance towards Iran. The Middle East is about to become even more frightening.