JERUSALEM – Egypt's first round of presidential voting wrapped up on Thursday with the crop of viable candidates down to just a handful. Official results won't be ready until Tuesday, but next door in Israel, policymakers are already scrambling to sort the bad options from the worse.
For all his faults, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was a reliable, if remote, Israeli ally for three decades until his ouster in a popular uprising last year. Subsequent parliamentary elections over the winter brought an Islamist rout, with the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood winning half of all seats and even harder-line Salafis taking another quarter. It's too early to tell if the next president will be an Islamist, but even if not, a new constitution could grant Egypt's formerly rubber-stamp parliament real powers (the panel tasked with writing the charter has been suspended amid bickering over its own Islamist-heavy composition).
"The changes in Israeli-Egyptian ties will be wide and deep," says Yoram Meital, chair of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. "Egypt is about to make a number of revisions to its security and foreign policies that many in Israel, particularly our decision makers, view with trepidation."
Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978, followed a year later by a formal peace agreement -- the first ever by an Arab leader. The deal has never been popular among Egyptians (Sadat paid for it with his life), and in the presidential campaigns since Mubarak's ouster, Islamist and non-Islamist candidates alike have called for the treaty's revision or outright annulment.
Initial exit polls place the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi first, followed by former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Ex-Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, the former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and the leftist nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi round out the top five. The top two candidates -- likely Morsi and either Shafiq or Moussa -- will go to a run-off vote next month, with the interim military rulers transferring power by July 1.
Israel officials most dread the prospect of an Islamist president. Aboul Fotouh regularly refers to Egypt's neighbor as the "Zionist entity," and the mainstream Brothers can themselves match any other Islamists for pure anti-Zionist and Judeophobic bombast. Morsi sat front row at a recent stadium rally as a preacher pledged the candidate would revive the Islamic caliphate, this time in Jerusalem: "Banish the sleep from the eyes of the Jews," chanted an MC, "Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas!" (In Arabic it rhymes.)
In Egypt, however, opposition to the peace pact extends far beyond Islamists. Polls show 85 percent of Egyptians view Israel negatively, 97 percent see it as one of their country's biggest threats and 61 percent want to overturn the treaty entirely (32 percent want to keep it; 7 percent are undecided). Anti-Israel sentiment cuts across class lines: Over the last year, opposition to the peace deal rose most sharply among the college-educated (up 18 points to 58 percent) and those under 30 (up 14 points to 64 percent). In Egypt's first-ever presidential debate this month, Aboul Fotouh described the Jewish state as an "enemy," while Moussa settled on the more diplomatic "adversary." (The latter has a decades-long record of anti-Israel bona fides; the anthem "I Hate Israel, I Love Amr Moussa" topped the Egyptian charts in 2001.)
Jerusalem has legitimate cause for concern -- of the five frontrunners, four have called for an overhaul of Camp David. Moussa has eulogized the peace accord as "dead and buried," Morsi urged it be put to referendum, Aboul Fotouh called it a "national security threat," and Sabahi warned that under his leadership, Egypt would no longer be Israel's "godfather" in the region. Shafiq, too, has begun burnishing his anti-Israel credentials: when an Islamist lawmaker recently accused him of Mubarak-era corruption, the former Air Force chief shot back that as a pilot in the 1960s he had downed two Israeli planes while the MP was still in his Nile cotton nappies.