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June 6, 2012

U.S. Must Insist on Egypt Keeping Peace with Israel

The anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric of Egypts leading presidential candidates has raised serious concerns about the next governments commitment to peace with Israel and to maintaining its other international obligations. Both candidates for Egypts presidency have challenged elements of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treatythe cornerstone of regional stability for more than three decades. Washington must urge the new government to rededicate itself to Egypts commitment to peace.

Egypts presidential run-off election will be between a Muslim Brotherhood leader and a former air force general. The Muslim Brotherhood party leader Mohammad Morsi and former air force general Ahmed Shafiq have emerged from the first round of elections as the two leading candidates, each taking roughly 25 percent of the vote. These two face a runoff election on June 16-17. The Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist movement, remains the best-organized and most effective group, holds a 50 percent bloc of parliament with its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Ahmed Shafiq (left) and Mohammad Morsi have emerged Shafiq, widely viewed as supported by the as the leading candidates in Egypts elections. military and minorities (such as the Copts) fearing an Islamist takeover, is also seen as inheriting much of the former regimes apparatus.

The Salafist parties, belonging to a more conservative branch of Islamist ideology, are divided by a desire to support Islamism and a reluctance to see a Muslim Brotherhood monopoly over the government. The new Egyptian constitution remains an open question, as it is still not clear when and how the revisions will take place, and therefore what powers or authority the president, vice president, or prime minister might have. The leading candidates have expressed troublesome views on Israel and Islamic governance both before and during the campaign. Morsi has said that the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty is unfair to Egypts interests. The only language they [Israel] understand is force hence what is taken by force must be restored by force, he said.

Morsi has also expressed his desire to transform Egypt into an Islamic state. We are expecting and hoping to represent the people, that the Islamic framework can to a great extent control the government and the behavior of the State in the future, he said. Shafiq has stated that he would not abrogate the Egypt-Israel treaty, but declared his support for Egypts unilateral termination of natural gas sales to Israel. During the campaign, Shafiq pledged to work toward establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and end Israeli occupation of all Arab land, including the Golan in Syria.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is the lynchpin for stability in the Middle East and has led to the strengthening of Cairos relationship with America. In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Although the peace has been cold, Cairo has adhered to its main treaty commitments: full diplomatic relations; keeping the Sinai as a demilitarized buffer zone; permitting the presence in the Sinai of the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers; and maintaining freedom of navigation through the Suez Canal even for Israeli warships. With some exceptions, the Egyptian-Israeli border has remained quiet through the transitions taking place in Egypts government. Egypts peace with Israel contributes to regional stability and has helped prevent the outbreak of war. Egypts performance in preventing the smuggling of weapons to Hamas in Gaza was always uneven, but has now deteriorated. Where Cairo previously cooperated with Israel in isolating and blockading Hamas, Egypts military rulers have failed to maintain control of Sinai and have dramatically reduced their law enforcement in the region. The United States must insist that Egypt maintain the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and reject extremism. With the dominance of anti-American and anti-Israel Islamists, Egypts foreign policy is likely to undergo fundamental changes. A future populist government might turn against Israel and the United States. Nonetheless, the international community should insist that Egypt maintain the peace treaty with Israel, including the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula and permission for the continued presence of the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai. In their deliberations on the fiscal year 2013 foreign aid bill, congressional committees have signaled that Egypt risks losing its annual assistance if it does not uphold the peace treaty with Israel. Egypt also must keep the Suez Canal open to all shipping, including the passage of Israeli civilian and military vessels.

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