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Egyptian vote bad for Israel

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TEL AVIV -- As 50 million Egyptian voters go to the polls to elect a new president today, one thing is already clear -- Israel is the big loser in these post-Mubarak elections.

Public opinion polls in Egypt, commissioned by Israeli groups, came to the same conclusion.

While none of the 13 candidates calls for the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, all of them -- without exception -- call for changes in the peace treaty Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed at the White House in March 1979.

The main demand, supported by the military, concerns the deployment of the Egyptian army in Sinai. In view of recent terrorist events in Sinai, the Egyptian army wants no limitation of its deployments in Sinai.

After Bedouin saboteurs blew up the gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan 14 times, Israel allowed the Egyptian army to deploy additional units in Sinai.

But the military wants no limitation on deployments.

This could affect the status of the multinational force in Sinai, which among other subjects, supervises the freedom of navigation to Israel and Jordan in the Red Sea. Such a change requires the approval of the UN Security Council. It's doubtful a new Egyptian president would want to begin his presidency with such a demand of the UN.

The two-day election is unlikely to produce a new Egyptian president and a runoff is likely June 16-17. Once elected, the military would be expected to cede power to him on July 1.

And it will be a him. None of the 13 candidates in today's elections is a woman.

There are four leading candidates. On the secular side, Amr Mussa and Ahmad Shafiq are the front-runners. Mussa, a Nasserist, served as Egypt's ambassador to the UN, then as foreign minister and finally as secretary-general of the Arab League. Mussa is supported by the Christian Copts and the Liberals. In recent days, he angered Saudi Arabia by calling publicly for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia then shifted its support to Ahmad Shafiq, a former air force commander who was Egypt's last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak. Although officially neutral, it is thought Shafiq enjoys the discreet support of the military.

On the Islamic side, the two front-runners are Mohamad Mursi -- the official candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and Abd el-Moneim Abu al-Futuh, a moderate Islamist who broke with the Muslim Brotherhood and is running as independent.

Abu al-Futuh enjoys a larger popular support than Mursi and polls give him the lead.

The surprising element in these first free elections in Egypt is the minimal association of women to the campaigns. The women's organizations that played an active role in ousting Hosni Mubarak are fighting Muslim tendencies to change women's status in public life. All together in the new parliament, there are only 11 women, most of them Islamists. They are fighting the Brotherhood's tendency to lower the legal age for marriage from 18 to 13.

But the most serious challenge in today's elections is military. Since the 1952 Nasser Revolution, the military was the dominant force in Egyptian politics. All four presidents of the ancien regime -- Mohamad Naguib, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak -- did not allow public interference in the army's budget, nor did they limit the expansion of the army's economic empire.

Furthermore, all four presidents appointed army generals to positions as ambassadors, provincial governors and preferred positions in the economy. It is practically impossible to replace all these former generals with "newcomers" no matter how qualified they might be.

Because of the omnipresence of the military in all spheres of Egypt's public life, it is thought both the army and the new political parties, will have to find new "working arrangements" between them, for the sake of Egypt and for the sake of the entire region.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2012 A11

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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