Fearful of Egypt’s Islamist surge, Israelis see mainly disaster
in the Arab world’s elections
JERUSALEM — For Israelis, the Islamist election surge in Egypt is depressing confirmation of a deeply primal fear: An inhospitable region is becoming more hostile still.
This sentiment has been accompanied by a bittersweet sense that Israel was dismissed as alarmist when it warned months ago that the Arab Spring — widely perceived as the doing of liberals yearning to be free — could lead to Islamist governments.
Speaking for most people here, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the emerging result of the first round of parliamentary voting in Egypt “very, very disturbing” and expressed concern about the fate of the landmark 1979 Egyptian Israeli peace treaty.
“We are very concerned,” added Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has long warned that Egypt could potentially pose a threat. Speaking to The Associated Press Sunday, Steinitz expressed hope that Egypt “will not shift to some kind of Islamic tyranny.”
Experts here, as elsewhere, point out that political Islam comes in varying shades of green: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has about a 10 percent lead over the more radical Salafists and appears far less eager to impose a devout lifestyle or seek conflict.
But most Israelis appear to have little patience for such distinctions. There is a sense that moderate Islamists are pulling off something of a con, lulling opponents into complacency, projecting a seemingly benign piety to exploit a naive public’s hunger for clean government after years of corrupt, despotic rule. And there is a long memory of Iran, once friendly to Israel, where secular forces including the military helped depose the Shah in 1979 only to swiftly be steamrolled by fundamentalists.
Those who refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it.
“These upheavals are a bad thing for the modern world, for Israel,” said Yitzhak Sklar, a 50-year-old Jerusalem resident. “There is something in their religion that pushes them to extremism. Their religion calls for murdering anyone who opposes them.”
Smadar Perry, Arab affairs writer for Israel’s top selling Yediot Ahronot daily, bemoaned Islam’s “coming out of the closet” in Egypt, symbolized by the “disappearance of jeans-clad youngsters in favor of (those with) long beards and eyes ablaze with fanaticism.” Islamist rule in Egypt under any stripe would be “a terrifying problem,” she wrote.
That "terrifying problem" will not wait for long to eat its next victim.
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