If the regional power comes under Islamist rule, Israel's biggest nightmare would have then come true.
Egypt's presidential election, due to be held — if things go according to plan — in three weeks time, could turn out to be another watershed development in the history of the Middle East. Just like its revolution last year, the election in Egypt on May 23-24 is likely to have tremendous impact on Arab domestic politics as well as on the political landscape of the region. Egypt's military chief of staff on Wednesday indicated that the army ma transfer power sooner than promised. Indeed, Tunisia must be credited for being the cradle of change and democracy in the Arab world, but Egypt is the key to the long-awaited transition.
Egypt is not just another country in the Middle East. It is the heart of the Arab world and what happens in Cairo will inevitably have a huge impact on the entire region. To further emphasise this point, one may need to recall that when the Egyptian army toppled the monarchy in 1952, military coups became the norm in most of the Arab world. When a pan-Arab regime ruled in Cairo, Arab nationalism engulfed the region as a policy and ideology. When Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, notwithstanding the expulsion of Cairo from the Arab League, the Arab world started to talk about a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given this long history of influence on fellow Arab countries, it would not be a far-fetched prediction that if the Islamists — whether from the Muslim Brotherhood or from the Salafist trends — rule in Egypt, most, in not all, of the Arab world would come under Islamist rule.
Just three weeks before the polls, people and governments in the region and beyond are closely watching the increasingly fierce election campaign in the biggest Arab country, with a different emphasis though. Arab people in particular are more interested in the domestic ramifications of Islamist rule in Egypt and its impact on the future of democratic change in their own countries. Western governments and regional powers, on the other hand, care more about the impact of the change in Egypt on the regional balance of power.
The question that is being frequently asked is: would the arrival of the Islamists to power in Egypt lead to a new line up in the region? For Israel, the vital question is: Would the Camp David Accords and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty be affected by the ascendance of new political elite in Cairo? This question has been haunting the ruling class in Israel ever since the January 25, 2011, uprising. Indeed, Egypt has always been the centre of gravity in terms of regional strategic calculations. For Israel, it was the major challenge for almost three decades (1948-1978). Most Israeli analysts agree that the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt has been the bedrock of Israel's national security. The very survival of Israel ceased to be at stake since the end of the state of belligerence with Egypt.