Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

‘Hobson’s Choice’ for mainstream Egyptian society

If you’re a mainstream, moderately religious Egyptian, or one of Egypt’s secular and educated younger generation, the choice facing you at the ballot box in the forthcoming presidential election is a very stark one indeed. Do you choose the devil, or the deep blue sea?

Whilst somewhat different options might be offered to the 82 million people of the historic Arab nation, the outcome is surely all but a foregone conclusion; chaos. Having overthrown the long-time president Hosni Mubarak through a popular revolution inspired by the Arab Spring that first erupted more than a year ago in Tunisia and only last week saw the unpopular former leader sentenced to life imprisonment, the many that risked their lives in the quest to turn Egypt into a genuine democracy now see themselves facing the choice of voting for one of two candidates; Mubarak’s final prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, or Mohammed Morsi, the conservative Islamist candidate representing the Muslim Brotherhood.

That’s not what the younger generation of Egyptians fought and died for in Tahrir Square, but sadly (and almost inevitably), it is precisely what has happened. The Muslim Brotherhood left the modernists to place themselves in the firing line and suffer significant losses at the hands of the regime, correctly calculating that waiting on the sidelines for the battle to be won before moving into the void would be the right policy.

In an article for this site of February 18 this year entitled “A ‘Funny’ Thing Happened On The Way To The Ballot Box”,  I suggested the following, “…for those of us here in Israel that have grown up with Mubarak on the other side of the fence and — despite his many well documented flaws — grown used to the status quo of having Egypt in the south and Jordan to our east as “partners in peace,” there was a gnawing sense that the jubilant masses who greeted the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 might one day come to regret having done the “donkey work” for Islamic radicals who might well step in to take advantage of the predicted political vacuum.”  

I stand by those words and suggest that, sadly, that depressing scenario is turning into grim reality right before our very eyes.

The Muslim Brotherhood has played a tremendously good hand and may even achieve the presidency without having to go to the ballot box on June 16 & 17, if their call for further protests in Cairo and around the country in anger at Ahmed Shafiq is heeded. The religious masses who are now joined in growing numbers by many thousands of other Egyptians have been dismayed at the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and others at the centre of the regime in the controversial court decision of last week.

With Shafiq being ever more viciously portrayed as a dangerous remnant of the dictatorship they have only recently overthrown, the Muslim Brotherhood is encouraging the masses to take to the streets and squares and call on Egypt’s interim military rulers to annul Shafiq’s presidential challenge, leaving their very own Mohammed Morsi as the undisputed winner by a TKO – Technical Knock Out – without even a single ballot being cast.

The naive jubilation transmitted by the mass media around the world at the prospect of the Arab Spring bringing forth democracy as it is understood in the West is rapidly being exposed as having been premature, and some might add, misguided.

Libya is teetering on the brink of civil unrest once again with a myriad of tribal differences surfacing at almost every juncture –  the seizing of Tripoli airport by alleged rebels having earlier this week been brutally put down. Syria continues to be a horrendous battleground of carnage in which the international community has proved impotent and continues to waffle on without offering any concrete solutions as, tragically, the innocents (as usual), suffer most. Now, Egypt could very well be heading towards a far stricter religious Islamic regime – something not too dissimilar to that in Iran – that will gradually, but almost certainly, suppress the aspirations of the millions who supported the overthrow of Mubarak.

If able to be vented, (and I say “if” because it is hard to predict just which way the Egyptian military will jump when the dust settles), the anger and disillusion of a significant number of young, secular, Egyptians will surely lead to serious violence that will destabilise the country. We in Israel should not look glibly upon this turmoil as no concern of ours. Although it proved a far from easy relationship, the potential loss of a 30-year partner in peace raises massive questions as to just what threat we may face in the not too distant future on our southern borders, and the disturbing potential of a deadly new sponsor of the Hamas regime in Gaza.

The next few weeks in Egypt will surely be absolutely critical for the Arab world’s most populous nation and for all of her neighbours; and that most certainly includes us here in Israel.



About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at