Middle East is catching world attention again. Since the early 2011, revolutions emerged in some countries of the region. Started in Tunisia, people power movement virus spreaded quickly to Yaman, Egypt, Bahrain, and the recent Libya. From all those cases, Egyptian revolution potentially would be the most affected one for international politic for at least two reasons. First, the role of Egypt as United States (US) important ally in the region. Second, the implication for Egypt-Israel relation, extended to Palestinian conflict issue.
Beginning with Tuesday protest on January 25, protestors dominated by young people took a great attention in domestic and international level. They tried to organize bigger protest with greater numbers of people and location by social media. As the result, hundreds of thousands of protestors- consist of men and women, Muslim and Christian, fundamental and liberal, and even children- flooded Tahrir Square of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Damietta, and other major Egyptian cities. They wanted Hosni Mubarak, a 30 years dictator of Egypt, to resign as the president. This is the symbol for the greater goal of reformation in Egyptian government. Burdened by international pressure for violence incidence toward protestors, especially from United States and European Union, Vice President Suleiman finally announced that President Mubarak has resigned and the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces has taken control of the country (Aljazeera, 28 February 2011).
For United States, Egypt under Hosni Mubarak was a moderating influence in the Middle East. It is important power to stabilize regional force, especially in Arab-Israeli tensions context. Therefore, United States gives annual average $2 billion for economic and military foreign assistance since 1979 (Sharp, 2011, p. 25). This was the same year which Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed, following Camp David Accords in 1978. It is implicitly tell us that US interest to support Israel existence in the Middle East has become the major determinant for Egypt status as US ally. In addition, Egypt-Palestine border in Gaza is very crucial for Palestine-Israel conflict since Gaza become the base for fundamental party of Hamas. Therefore, Egypt-Israel relations After Mubarak will automatically be US big concern in the region. But, other important point to be noted is United States’ support for Mubarak resignation that seems to be a threat for Egypt-Israel “cold peace” relations. As stated by White House Spokesman, Robert Gibbs, United States hope that any new Egyptian government had to include a whole host of important actors, including non-secular ones, which give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be stable and reliable partner (Los Angeles Times, 1 February 2011). It indicated that United States agree for the inclusion of Ikhwanul Muslimin, a fundamental Islamic organization, in the new Egyptian government.
Unpredicted reaction was showed by Israel when Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said “The Government of Israel welcomes the Egyptian military statement that Egypt will continue to honor its peace agreement with Israel.” Officially, Israel seemed not to worry about Ad interim military government in Egypt that promise to commit The Peace Treaty agreed in 1979. But, it can’t be denied that the prediction of new Egyptian government dominated by Ikhwanul Muslimin will become a big threat for Israel national interest toward Palestinian issue. Preparing for the worst, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated that Israel must monitor the situation and upgrade its long term security (Isracast, 3 March 2011). Some Israeli translated the upgrade by Israel need to change its defense posture and increase defense spending because Its Peace Treaty with Egypt in the mid-1970s required Israel to reduce its defense expenditure from 23% of its gross national product to about 9% (Sharp, 2011, p.3). With the increasing potential threat from Egypt, identifying the next player in Egyptian political elite is very important for both Israel and United States to determine not only the future of bilateral relations with Egypt, but also their foreign policies in the Middle East as a whole.
The Last Egypt-Israel Relations: G to G vs. P to P
From historical view, Egypt and Israel have dynamic relations since Israel existence in 1948. Their relations started in a bad way of 1948 Arab-Israeli War, followed by 1967 six day war and 1973 Yom Kippur war. United States’ supporting factor, especially for military force, led Israel to be the winner and to take larger area than in 1948. Those wars were ended with the Camp David Accords in 1978. A year later, both countries agreed to assign Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, continued by the establishment of full diplomatic relations on February 1980. After Anwar Sadat assassination incident, Hosni Mubarak took the top position as president in 1981. Since then, the peace between Egypt and Israel can be maintained for last thirty years under Hosni Mubarak regime (BBC, 3 March 2011).
In the G to G (Government to Government) level, Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty gave strong base for the peace achieved by both countries. Officially, Israel regards Egypt as an important strategic partner, as stated by former defense minister of Israel, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. The partnership reflected by Egypt‘s role as mediator in some unofficial cease fire understanding between Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, the peace relations have been colored by some incident such as in 2003 when Egyptian Air Force overflew Israel nuclear research facilities at Nahal Solek and Palmachim Airbase. Therefore, some analysts describe the relation between Egypt and Israel as a “cold peace” (Kershner, 2011, p.1).
A different condition founded in People to People (P to P) level. A polling conducted by Zogby International for the University of Maryland in July 2010 showed that 90% of Egyptian named Israel as one of the two nations that are the biggest threat to them (Huffington Post, 4 March 2011). On the other side, Majority of Jewish public in Israel fears that Islamic regime will lead the Egypt after 2011 revolution and will threaten the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. The Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University conducted a survey in February 2011 and the result stated that 70% of Jewish respondents think that the chances of democratic regime will soon emerge in Egypt are low. In addition, 49% think that the revolution will affect the peace treaty negatively. These distrustful relations in the P to P level will endanger the existing relations and indirectly give bad sign for the future Egypt-Israel Relations in the post Mubarak Era. Yet, it is important to note that the distrustful relations between two countries people might have existed since Israel Independence in 1948, even in the Mubarak era. It indicates that role of Egyptian leader to use its power and manage the government policies- especially for nonpopular ones- become the prominent factor to determine Egyptian relations with Israel and other countries.
Egyptian Next Leaders and Their Stance toward Israel: War of Interests
Since Mubarak resignation, discourse on the candidate for the next Egypt’s president has risen and focused on Mohamed ElBaradei, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Ayman Nour, and Ahmed Zenail as the four politically influential individuals. Nevertheless, based on the proposal of constitution amendments trough referendum on March 2011, article 77 states that the presidential term is four years and the president can be only re-elected for one term more. Thus, it is more important to analyze the party/group that potentially will be the great power on a long term than the candidates of the president personally.
There is an assumption that there will be a “war” between Islamic based organization and group/party supported by United States and Israel to place their people in the top level of Egyptian government. As the largest opposition movement in Mubarak era, Ikhwanul Muslimin has been seen as the most potential power to rule the country. Let alone, it has confirmed the preparation of establishing a political party named the Freedom and Justice Party (Horeya and Adala) on February 2011 (Ikhwanweb, 6 March 2011). In responding the international prejudice of its leading to make Egypt as a rigid Islamic country, Ikhwanul Muslimin said that it wants to promote and participate in democracy. But, as an Islamic based organization, Ikhwanul Muslimin has posed its anti-Israel position and accused that Israeli Occupation Force as the core of terrorism in the world. Ikhwanul Muslimin was also indicated as the supporter of Hamas of Palestine. Thus, it will be very difficult for Israel under Likud-right wing party coalition to build peace and closed relations with Egypt under Ikhwanul Muslimin.
On the “assumed” contrary side, foreign players represented by Israel and United States will be expected to support pro-liberal groups or they who can guarantee interest of Israel security. Therefore, United States and Israel tend to support military group to take power trough democratic mechanism. Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as the head of Supreme Council of the Armed Force is predicted to get support from US and Israel since Supreme Council has stated that it will commit to the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. But, in the possible multiparty democracy of the next Egypt, it is hard to the government to make a closed relation with Egypt since public opinion will be stronger in the decision making process. Thus, it is Israel interest to keep Egypt as a not too democratic country, so that the anti-Israel public opinion will not lead the policy making agenda. Differ from the “war of interest” assumption above, US expressed unexpected response for their agreement to the participation of Islamic based organization e.g. Ikhwanul Muslimin in the Egypt’s next government. It caused difficulty for Israel under Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu which is still in position of not accommodating establishment of Palestinian state, a policy that make most of Arabian people, including Egyptian, see Israel as an enemy.
Maintaining Relations with Egypt: Choices for Israel
Considering the chance of Islamic based organization of Ikhwanul Muslimin to lead the next Egyptian government, the possibility of democratic Egypt that will take public opinion as the important factor in decision making process, and the difficulty of US support for all chances above to be came true, the only way for Israel to secure its relations with Egypt is by softening its “arrogant policy” toward Palestine. Israel should show good willingness on the peace process, e.g. stop settlement construction for Jewish in the occupied territory and continue the peace talk with Palestine mediated by the Quartet of United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia. Last but not least, Israel may have to sacrifice its hard stance and show its willingness to the establishment of Palestinian state. With all those policy changes, Israel will have strong bargaining position to make a good relationship with Egypt and other neighbors in the Middle East. Then, its existence hopefully will be secured for a long time. (Sandy Nur Ikfal Raharjo)