Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Impact of the Arab Spring on the Future of Egypt-Israel Relations

Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee)*

Photo: Human Events


The events that began in Tunisia in January 2011 and spread to Egypt and then Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Syria, and beyond, shook the political, intellectual, and social foundations of the Middle East. This political quake can still be felt, and no one is quite sure when the aftershocks will conclude, or when another shock wave of popular unrest might occur.

The Muslim Brothers is rising to power in Egypt and there will be some arguable questions, that this essay will discuss it. What can we anticipate of such an organization? However, what will be the role of the Islamists after the collapse of the dictatorships? What is their perspective toward their neighbors, namely Israel? And what is the future of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, or the Camp David accords?

The essay started with theoretical background on international relations in the Middle East; then other sections discuss above questions.

Theories to Analyze International Relations in the Middle East

“The Middle East’s unique features defy analyses based on any one conceptual approach to international relations,� (Hinnebusch, 2003, p.1) therefore, this would be an ideal starting point for understanding how IR theory works and how it can help us understand and explain Middle Eastern regional interactions.

The main issue appears to be that the Middle East, despite of its significant position in world politics, is neglected or ignored by western scholars as a source for theory development, and too many international relations (IR) scholars has seen the region as too unique, or as not fitting very well into IR approaches. Furthermore, there is important distinction should be made between IR scholars who use the Middle East as a case study, and Middle East specialists that are also “genuine� IR theorists (Sasley, 2011, p.14). Three scholars have been successful at conceptualizing international relations in the Middle East, that all of them discuss various IR approaches. Fred Halliday (2005) concerned about historical-sociological framework, Raymond Hinnebusch and Anoushiravan Ehteshami (2002) construct a neo realist scaffold. In addition, Hinnebusch (2003) later expands their approach by creating a multi-theoretical explanation rooted in historical sociology, constructivism, structuralism, and neorealism.

According to Halliday, good theory should be conceptually comprehensible and rigorous, have historical context, appropriate to frame analysis and research agenda, and engage with ethical issues. In addition, Halliday agrees to classify IR theory into analytic and normative theories, where the former is composed of set of concepts designed to elucidate how international relations work; the latter is concerned about concepts and norms (Halliday, 2005, p.21).

Halliday elaborates IR literature on the Middle East into five broad categories: historical analysis, foreign policy analysis, realist paradigm and its modifications, ideational explanations, and historical and international sociology (2005, p.24). Historical analysis concerns about the history of a country’s foreign policy in a limited frame and tries to explain why and how state activity takes place through that historical narrative. It is more descriptive than explanatory (Sasley, 2011, pp.12-15). Historical explanations are potent to shed greater insight into the knowledge of Middle Eastern societies than some claimants of IR theory (Halliday, 2005, p.24).

IR realist scholars prioritize the state as the leading institution and the one to which theories much point, in contrast to that in the case of the Middle East itself, it is non-state actors who often control domestic and regional politics more (Halliday, 2005, pp.27-30).

Hinnebusch and Ehteshami (2005, p.1) assume that in the Middle East the state is the main actor in foreign policy and its elites have an interest in maximizing the autonomy and security of the state. They agree to the realist claim that Middle East state system result in anarchy as a built-in characteristic.

According to Hinnebusch (2005) neorealism holds that systemic insecurity makes regular behavior, notably balancing against threats, but this is merely typical to the extent that a state system of relatively sovereign unified states is consolidated. However, for Hinnebusch the Middle Eastern state system is not yet consolidated, the dynamics of systemic level would have slight effect on state behavior (Hinnebusch & Ehteshami, 2005).

According to Hinnebusch foreign policies of the Middle East states are shaped around three conceptually diverse environments. The first is the domestic level, which he relies on theories of state building. The second is regional systemic level and the third the global level, that he relies on structural explanations of international relations where core-periphery relations are seen as a basic feature of Middle Eastern states (Hinnebusch & Ehteshami, 2005, pp.3-6).

Hinnebusch argues that world system had contradictory influences on the foreign policies of local states in the Middle East (Hinnebusch & Ehteshami, 2005, p.6).

Illustrating Arab Spring

This article is to shed light on Egypt revolution, that the Muslim Brotherhood played a leading role (Johnson, 2011) in uprising revolution and its wake. According to Barry Rubin, Director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, the causes for this revolution in Longer-term, was the failure of the Arab nationalist regimes that have governed the Arab world since the 1950s and early 1960s. Their inability to keep their promises--pan-Arab union, rapid social and economic progress, genocide against Israel, driving out Western influences--have long been clear. Their corruptions, lack of freedom, and economic shortcomings have long been clear. On the other hand, immediate causes include elite dissatisfaction with the succession of Mubarak's son and especially hard times economically (K. A. Khidhir, personal communication, November 25, 2011).

Protestors who led Egypt's revolt were young, liberal, and open minded. They were the bloggers who first proposed the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, resigned Egypt president, on Twitter; Facebook activists who were sending invitations for their friends to protest. One of the leading activists was Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google executive who, after Egypt's state security agency detained him for 12 days, rallied the crowds to hold Tahrir Square (Trager, 2011). These activists refuted Religious and traditional ideologies, like claims by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and calling for civil liberties, religious equality and tolerance, and an end to dictatorship (Dickey,2011).

In order to avoid emergence of Islamic parties, the West has accepted and justified of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world. And it was these very regimes that demonized their Islamist rivalries, particularly Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, that historically represents the first well-organized mass movement with the political impact to match (Ramadan, 2011a). For more than 60 years, the Brotherhood has been illegal but tolerated. It has demonstrated a powerful capacity to mobilize the people in each relatively democratic election, where it has been a participant (Ramadan, 2011b).

Muslim Brotherhood Ideology and Worldview

As the Arab Spring turns to blazing summer, Islamist movements have quickly formed political parties and mobilized national campaigns designed to uncover their new image before elections in the fall and winter (Ghosh, 2011). The Muslim Brotherhood, the main political entity in Egypt, has formed the Freedom and Justice Party. There is controversies over relations between the party and the Brotherhood, but leaders of the party declare that they are self-organized entity (Trager, 2011). Importantly, Brotherhood is planning for the future.

Essam el-Erian, a top Brotherhood leader, declares that the thing we stood against is gone, so now we have to re-examine what we stand for (Ghosh, 2011).
The Muslim Brotherhood may have strong role to reshape the Egypt state system and foreign policy, because it has long history and popularity. It began in the 1930s as a legalist, anti-colonialist and nonviolent movement that claimed legitimacy for armed resistance in Palestine against Zionist expansionism during the period before World War II. The writings from between 1930 and 1945 of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Brotherhood, masterminded organization’s path that he opposed colonialism and strongly criticized the fascist governments in Germany and Italy (Ramadan, 2011a). He rejected the use of violence in Egypt, even though he considered it legitimate in Palestine, in resistance to the Zionist Stern and Irgun terror gangs (Spencer, 2011a, p.602).. He believed that the British parliamentary model represented the kind closest to Islamic principles (Ramadan, 2011a).

Al-Banna's objective was to found an "Islamic state" (Ramadan, 2011a) based on gradual reform, beginning with popular education and broad-based social programs. He was assassinated in 1949 by the Egyptian government on the orders of the British occupiers (Ramadan, 2011b).

Following Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution in 1952, the movement was subjected to violent repression. They are forced to reorganize abroad. While many of its senior leaders would spend years in Egyptian jails and its top theoretician, Sayyid Qutb, would be executed, the group was fortunate in having two havens where it was able to regroup (Johnson, 2011). Many of its members were forced into exile: some in Saudi Arabia, where they were influenced by the Saudi literalist ideology; others in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia, Muslim-majority societies where a wide variety of communities coexist. Still others settled in the West, where they came into direct contact with the European tradition of democratic freedom (Rubin, 2010, pp. 105-117).

Western countries are doubtful about the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, some media organizations even declared it has ties with terrorist organization (Salih, 2009, pp.150-154). For example, NewWeek has published a dossier that accuses the Muslim Brotherhood uses “moderate-seeming politicians to further its extremist agenda� (Dickey,2011).

Regarding these claims, Tariq Ramadan, Prominent Muslim Scholar, refutes these claims and declares that the West continues to use "the Islamist threat" to justify its passivity and outright support for dictatorships (Ramadan, 2011b). The organization has clearly declares that they are "not using violence, denouncing terrorism, and not working with jihadists" (Trager, 2011). In addition, it is seen as a social movement as much as a political entity. Egypt's poor have long associated the Brotherhood with its social services, like free clinics and schools (Ghosh, 2011).

It is suggested that the west should have more analyses of political Islam, in order to get the essence of Islamism, that they have different faces through history and regions.

Muslim Brotherhood Comes to Power, Israel Worries

The undergoing fundamental changes in the Middle East expected to affect Israel's relations with the Arab world (Marshall, 2011). Israeli officials unveil their anxiety in their statements talking about Arab Spring, especially revolutions in Egypt. It fears for the survival of the 1979 Peace Treaty (Seale, 2011). Western commentators routinely describe the Treaty as a "pillar of regional stability," a "keystone of Middle East diplomacy," a "centerpiece of America's diplomacy" in the Arab and Muslim world. This is certainly how Israel and its American friends have seen it (Seale, 2011). On the other hand, the treaty could be seen as one of the strategic position that has, by neutralizing Egypt, guaranteed Israel's military dominance over the region for the next three decades (Seale, 2011).

Israel is going through a tough time of isolation in the Middle East. While Israel has diplomatic relations with only three nearby countries, in recent months its ambassadors have been humiliatingly forced out of two of them: Turkey and Egypt. The king of the third, Jordan's Abdullah, commented that Israel was "scared" (Seale, 2011).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said we are anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt and (elsewhere) in our region (dickey, 2011). "The peace between Israel and Egypt had endured for over three decades and our goal is to ensure that these relations continue." (Mitnick, 2011)

All the same, anti-Israeli feeling in Egypt is growing. This feeling could be seen in different levels of that country, political parties, elites, and even ordinary people. Some radical political parties want to close the Suez Canal to the Israeli navy and to block the sale of natural gas to Israel. The new Freedom and Justice Party says the 1979 treaty should be "revised" (Seale, 2011).

The Muslim Brotherhood and its new party most likely not be committed to the peace treaty with Israel, or will be confrontational, so that would be a major strategic shift in Egypt’s orientation (Mitnick, 2011). The party is having majority of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament, it is likely to push Egyptian foreign policy further away from U.S. interests (Trager, 2011). As a result, it is expected that post-Mubarak Egypt to improve relations with the United States enemies in the region, especially Iran and denigrate the Camp David accords with Israel.

The mainstream Arab citizens even have their view on the treaty, which is essentially different from former ruling governments in the region. In a Pew Research Center poll published two months after the revolution 54 percent of Egyptians favored annulling the peace agreement with Israel, versus 36 percent who wanted to maintain it, the rest were undecided (Spencer, 2011b, p.778).
Israeli government will encounter crucial situations in the future, because most of candidates for Egypt presidency have anti-Israel feeling. For example, Amr Mousa, one of the candidates, has defined by a Western diplomat that “the source of his popularity is almost entirely derived from his image as an Arab nationalist who's very critical of Israel" (Dan, 2011).

There is also another perspective, Sam Vaknin, editor-in-chief of Global Politician journal, declares that both sides (Israel and Egypt) benefit greatly from America’s largesse (to the tune of 2-3 billion USD annually each). The Egyptian military is unlikely to give up such a generous endowment. Israel also buys half its natural gas consumption from Egypt. There are intelligence-sharing programs in place (K. A. Khidhir, personal communication, November 30, 2011).

Vaknin reaffirms that Egypt needs peace and commercial ties with Israel. In addition, Ateya al-Wayishi, Egyptian author, declares that the revolution may have restricted impact on Israel-Egypt relations (K. A. Khidhir, personal communication, November 28, 2011). However, he expects that the treaty will be amended, in order to secure more interests for Egypt.

In addition to these perspectives, Ramadan (2011a) believes that neither the United States nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will easily allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of democracy and freedom come true. The undergoing reform process will be monitored by the United States agencies in coordination with the Egyptian army, which is the essential player and has crucial role of mediator.


The Arab Spring has reshaped the political, institutional and international relations of the Middle East. Egypt is entirely affected by Arab Spring that revolution has uprooted Mubarak’s regime, and Islamists came to power. Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential political entity, has formed the Freedom and Justice Party that will be guided by the organization. The party has popularity and won majority of votes in recent elections. These recent political changes have made Israel anxious. Israeli government is concerned about their Peace Treaty with former Egyptian government. Israel would like to maintain the treaty, but Egyptian political parties; presidency candidates and public opinion have a different perspective on this treaty. The essay has discussed these changes and argued what is expected to come.


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*Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee) is a journalist, blogger, and student at the University of Kurdistan-Hawler. He has written articles for Global Politician, American Chronicle, Middle East Online, Mideast Youth and others. His blog can be read at:

This article has been published on Global Politician:

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