Do Not Fear Moderate Islamists
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, many Americans and Europeans have worried that Arab dictators will be replaced by Islamic fundamentalists who are hostile to Israel and the West. Some fear that if parties inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood win elections, as they have in Tunisia and Egypt, they will use their power to destroy the democracy for which Arab peoples have fought so hard.
But these fears are misplaced. In Egypt, for example, the Freedom and Justice Party has focused most of its attention on addressing the economic concerns of the Egyptian people, like poverty and unemployment. The Brotherhood’s leaders realize that they must not alienate their fellow Egyptians (especially the young people who helped overthrow Hosni Mubarak) by ignoring the issues that are most important to them. Likewise, in international relations, an Egyptian government led by the Brotherhood has no incentive to become hostile to Israel. That would only increase Western suspicions about the intentions of Islamists (at a time when it is in the interest of Egypt to maintain good relations with the West).
It is natural for Israel to be concerned about a government led by Islamists on its border. The closer Iran comes to developing nuclear weapons, while Islamists gain political power in Egypt at the same time, the more Israelis will fear that they are being surrounded by hostile Islamist countries. But Israelis must accept the simple fact that elections in other countries are beyond their control. If the Israeli government is seen as being hostile to democratic movements led by Islamists, Arab dislike of Israel will only become more intense than it already is. Engagement with moderate Islamists is the best way to ensure that Egypt remains committed to peace.
Submitted by Michael D. Purzycki
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.