Argument

Processing Delay

The Arab-Israeli peace process has never been more irrelevant to developments in the Middle East.

Summer 2012. Israel's elections have been delayed until late next year by the formation of a new coalition government. The "Arab Spring" is producing Muslim Brotherhood victories, Salafi gains, chaos in Syria, disorder in Egypt, tremors in Jordan. Iran's nuclear program moves steadily forward despite tougher sanctions and ongoing negotiations between Iran and the world's major powers. In the United States, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney begin to face off in the upcoming presidential election.

Amid these developments, the so-called "peace process" will enter its 46th year on June 10. For it was on that day in 1967 that a cease-fire in the Six-Day War was declared, leaving Israel in possession of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem but divided over what to do with its newfound gains.

Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1982 and from Gaza in 2007, and no one is discussing the Golan these days due to Syria's internal crisis. But the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank remains a matter of intense international -- including American -- diplomatic effort. While professional peacemakers may want to get negotiations going again, the inconvenient truth is that none of the parties to this conflict have adequate incentives to take serious political risks right now. Forget about reaching a final settlement for the next year and likely far longer -- neither the situation on the ground nor the politics in Israel and among the Palestinians makes it at all likely.

In the fall of 2003, Israel took the first steps to withdraw its forces and settlers from Palestinian territories. Despairing of any possibility for productive negotiations while Yasir Arafat led the PLO, but under heavy pressure to make some move, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon turned to Gaza, which the old general viewed as a military burden rather than as an Israeli asset. After a grueling political battle that extended through 2004 and half of 2005, a resolute Sharon carried out his plan to remove Israeli settlements and military bases from Gaza in August 2005, breaking up his own Likud party over it.

This political move, which resulted in the creation of the Kadima party, would hardly have made sense had Gaza been Sharon's final plan. By late fall of 2005, Sharon had already fought and won in Likud for the Gaza disengagement. But he wanted, his closest collaborators believe, to go further -- to set Israel's borders in the West Bank more or less along the current fence line, taking in roughly 12 percent of the territory and protecting all the large settlements. In his view, that 12 percent would shrink in some future final status agreement with the Palestinians, but an interim move in the West Bank would provide defensible lines until then. It would also serve as the basis for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, thereby finally separating Israel from the Palestinians. It would allow Israel to act, not wait decade after decade hoping for the day when Palestinian moderation allowed the PLO's leadership to sign a deal.

Sharon's stroke in early 2006 did not kill that plan, and indeed, Ehud Olmert ran and won on something like it when he succeeded Sharon as leader of Kadima. Olmert called it hitkansut -- translated as convergence, gathering, or rallying together. The idea was the same: pull back from isolated settlements and set Israel's final borders.

Under pressure from U.S. President George W. Bush, Olmert agreed to wait and try to negotiate a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In Bush's view, a negotiated deal would bring Israel the Palestinian commitments it needed, and bring Abbas the legitimacy he needed. Olmert, believing he had a full term of office before him, thought he could comply with Bush's wish and move unilaterally later if no breakthrough was forthcoming. He never had the chance, however, falling victim to a combination of personal scandal and Israel's disappointment with the outcome of the 2006 Lebanon war. Moreover, the June 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza left the Palestinian populace and leadership split, and it suggested to Israelis that withdrawal of any sort from the West Bank might permit the same sort of terrorist takeover that withdrawal had allowed in Gaza and in south Lebanon.

Now that former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz -- who had previously presented a peace plan that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state in 60 percent of the West Bank's land -- has won control of Kadima and joined the government, there has been some speculation about whether the "peace process" will soon be revived. It will not. There have been no negotiations for three and a half years, the result mostly of foolish and inept diplomacy by the Obama administration. By declaring that a freeze on construction in settlements and in Jerusalem was a prerequisite for negotiations, Obama and his envoys (led by George Mitchell) cornered Abbas -- how could he appear less "Palestinian" than the Americans?

But the breakdown of negotiations presented Abbas with another problem. His greatest asset in his rivalry with Hamas was the claim that he could produce a state while Hamas could produce only violence. No negotiations, no state -- so Abbas has been forced to look elsewhere for validation during the Obama years.

In the absence of negotiations, Abbas has grasped for a unity government with Hamas. Despite previous failed agreements, notably a pact mediated by the Saudi king in February 2007, Abbas is now trying this route again. Talks beginning on May 27 were to select a new cabinet within 10 days, and though they have been delayed, they may succeed by the end of June. The plan is for that new government to rule for six months and then hold elections, but neither Hamas nor Fatah wants to subject itself to the unpredictability of the polls. For Abbas, elections might end his years of happy globe-trotting. He claims that retirement is his fondest wish, but if the Palestinian population will put up with him for a few more years, he will put up with them.

Elections aren't even the toughest challenge such a coalition would face. Security tops the list. Who would lead the Palestinian Authority's various forces? Who can expect Hamas to disarm when it has never been defeated by Fatah, either in combat or at the ballot box? Because "national unity" is widely popular among Palestinians, Abbas and Hamas will keep at it and may even briefly achieve a "unity government" -- but it won't last.

Even a short-lived unity government with Hamas would doom any chance of a negotiation with Israel, but that doesn't bother Abbas. He can't see a way to climb down from his demand for a construction freeze, and he doesn't have high hopes for negotiations in the first place. Negotiations demand compromises, and he knows that any he makes will immediately be denounced by Hamas as treason. Meanwhile, he's not in a good position for serious talks with Israel anyway. His minister for negotiations, Saeb Erekat, had a heart attack this spring, and the other old negotiating hands -- former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo -- are out of favor.

All this leaves Abbas simply muddling through, declaring that he will go back to the United Nations, hold elections, or insist on a new government. But he's shuffling those claims like cards in a deck -- now one on top, now another. The shuffling will continue until the United States has a new president and Abbas can decipher what, if anything, the new administration will demand of him and of Israel. The most likely outcome for Abbas is more years that look like the last three: lots of travel, occasional efforts at the United Nations, and discussions of elections and unity governments that never get beyond the talking stage.

Don't expect any initiatives out of the United States until after the presidential election either. If Romney is elected, he and his new team will need time to get settled and will likely see Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as a bottomless pit for diplomatic energy rather than as a priority. If Obama is reelected, he will have no Middle East hands to whom he can turn. Mideast advisor Dennis Ross has left; Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, departed for a post at the United Nations; and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will in all likelihood leave when a new secretary of state is appointed or a few months later.

In January 2009, Obama appointed Mitchell as special Middle East envoy on his second day in office. That kind of priority will not be assigned to the "peace process" in January 2013 -- no matter who wins.

The new Israeli coalition has some room to maneuver, but don't expect it to make diplomacy with the Palestinians a priority. It will want to make decisions on Iran first and see who will be the U.S. president for the next four years. An Israel that is worried about stability in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon and facing a growing Iranian nuclear weapons program is unlikely to take many risks in the West Bank.

That's not to say the new government can afford to ignore the Palestinian issue. Polls show that Israelis do want peace and do want separation from the Palestinians, but have little faith that much can be achieved. If Iran's nuclear program is halted, through either a bombing campaign or a negotiated deal, and Iran's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, falls, attention may turn back to the West Bank. An Israel that has defied the counsels of restraint from the United States, Russia, China, and all of Europe by bombing Iran may well seek to patch things up by appearing in a more "moderate" and cooperative light on the Palestinian issue.

Such peace talks, however, would likely fail. If the Palestinian president could not agree to the startlingly generous offer a falling Olmert made in late 2008, nothing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can offer will elicit a yes. This would leave Netanyahu facing two alternatives: continue economic and institutional development in the West Bank without talks, or undertake a Sharon/Olmert/Mofaz move in the West Bank.

Netanyahu's government could adopt some combination of consolidating (perhaps even annexing) the major settlement blocs while unilaterally pulling settlements back to the security fence. This would allow the Palestinians more political and security sway in large areas of the West Bank, while also compensating settlers who move "back" -- mostly to other, larger settlements, not behind the Green Line.

The problem with unilateral steps is that they go unrequited. Sharon, contemplating disengagement from Gaza, said this straightforwardly to Bush. In the absence of concessions from the Palestinians, he sought and received political and ideological compensation from the United States. This came in the form of Bush's April 14, 2004, letter to Sharon, wherein the United States said that there was no "right of return" and that the Palestinian refugee problem had to be solved in Palestine "rather than in Israel." It also affirmed that "it is realistic to expect" Israel would keep the major settlement blocs, which were "new realities on the ground."

Both houses of U.S. Congress endorsed these views soon after Bush articulated them, but the Obama administration foolishly devalued this compensation for Israel in 2009, treating the letter as a sort of private missive to Sharon that does not affect U.S. policy now that Bush is no longer president. They have thus made Obama's own words cheap and not acceptable as compensation for taking political and security risks.

Nothing this year or even next, when Netanyahu faces an election in the fall, would lead the prime minister to act unilaterally. Sooner or later, however, he may discover what Sharon did in 2003: Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do the European Union and many Israelis. The same may hold true for a reelected Obama administration. Attention is now on Iran, Syria, and Egypt, but in another couple of years attention could shift back to demands to "end the occupation," featuring a variety of proposals -- many of them foolish and dangerous -- for how to do so. At one point in 2003, Sharon caustically joked to me, "There is a boom in plans," referring to the various innovative proposals whose common denominator was that Israel should give up assets it held.

Pressures on Israel will mount. Take, for example, the "Quartet Principles," which require that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence, and adhere to all previous diplomatic agreements before joining any Palestinian government that the United States would recognize and assist. Remarkably, these principles have been supported by other members of the Quartet: the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union. That support, however, was less a matter of principle than the product of the absolute bloody-mindedness of Hamas. The Palestinian Islamist movement would not move an inch and would not give eager Russian and European diplomats even the slightest hint of compromise -- through ambiguous formulations of what "recognition of Israel" meant or how "adherence to" or "respect for" previous diplomatic agreements might be interpreted.

But that could change. Now, six years later, with its own popularity in Gaza at a low-water mark and its former ally in Damascus on the ropes, Hamas may decide to encourage those diplomats who are determined to be encouraged. That wouldn't take much of an ideological shift on their part. After all, not only European but American diplomats are happily engaging the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt without imposing demands on it to change positions on women, Copts, or sharia, much less Israel.

The damage of an EU decision to deal with Hamas would be unavoidable. First, Israelis would be further confirmed in their belief that the Europeans could not be trusted, diminishing even further the European Union's role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, such a move could only undermine Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which view Hamas as an enemy to be defeated rather than as a genuine partner. Third, peace talks would themselves be impossible if Hamas were part of the Palestinian government or, worse yet, of the PLO, which is the formal negotiating body for the Palestinians.

So why would the Europeans be tempted to do it? Frustration, for one thing. Nothing is moving, so let's shake things up, the argument would be. Such wishful thinking would then produce learned arguments about how Hamas is changing, how the "military wing" is declining in power while the "moderates" are rising, and how no peace is possible without Hamas's buy-in.

But these arguments, honest or disingenuous, are only part of the picture. The truth is that domestic politics push European leaders to take such stances and condemn Israel. This is one of the few genuinely new developments since the "peace process" began. In many constituencies across the continent, Muslims now comprise a significant minority of voters. France's recent presidential election is instructive. One poll found that a remarkable 93 percent of Muslim voters went for François Hollande, while 7 percent voted for Nicolas Sarkozy; another leading poll found that Hollande got 85 percent. The usual estimate is that there are 2 million Muslim voters in France; if 85 percent of them supported Hollande, that translates to 1.7 million votes. As Hollande's margin of victory over Sarkozy was 1.1 million votes, the impact of the Muslim voters was clear.

This is a point well worth remembering when Europeans condescendingly point to U.S. politics as the source of America's support for Israel -- as if their own policies emerged from some Platonic ideal of a foreign ministry or think tank. It is difficult to believe there will ever again be a constellation of European leaders as sympathetic to the Jewish state as figures like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, Sarkozy, and -- the lone survivor among them today -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The prevalence of anti-Israel views among the European left also helps explain why EU governments are increasingly critical of Israel. This is a dangerous development for Israel, but one over which it has little control. The Israelis cannot ignore Europe because of its economic importance to them: 30 percent of Israeli exports go to the European Union. So they are condemned to fighting efforts at boycotts and divestment year after year, country by country, battle by battle, and one need only chat with any Israeli ambassador in Europe to discover how difficult, and how tinged with anti-Semitism, those battles now are.

Combine all these factors, and it becomes clear that there are few reasons for Netanyahu or Abbas to take risks to revive the "peace process." If not dead, it is dormant, quiescent, moribund -- choose your synonym. Any remotely likely change will leave Abbas worse off than he is today. Whatever action Netanyahu might take would bring enormous political problems in Israel and few gains outside it. Sooner or later Israelis will have to once again make decisions about their relations with the Palestinians, but not while the outcomes of the "Arab Spring," the Iranian nuclear program, and the U.S. presidential election remain unclear.

As Israeli and Arab journalists, diplomats, and political leaders pass though Washington, I sit down with them on occasion for an hour. I watch the clock, and when the hour is up I find I can say, in meeting after meeting, "We've been talking about the Middle East for an hour, and neither of us has said the word 'Palestinian.'" That's an issue for next year, or the year after that.

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GettyImages

Argument

Brother Number One

Should Americans be worried about the man who might be Egypt's next president: the Muslim Brotherhood's curious second choice, Mohamed Morsi?

Egypt is on the cusp of its first real experiment in Islamist governance. If the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi comes out on top in the upcoming presidential runoff election, scheduled for June 16 and 17, the venerable Islamist movement will have won control of both Egypt's presidency and its parliament, and it will have a very real chance to implement its agenda of market-driven economic recovery, gradual Islamization, and the reassertion of Egypt's regional role.

Over the course of Egypt's troubled transition, the Brotherhood has become increasingly, and uncharacteristically, assertive in its political approach. Renouncing promises not to seek the presidency and entering into an overt confrontation with the ruling military council, the Brotherhood's bid to "save the revolution" has been interpreted by others as an all-out power grab. Egypt's liberals, as well as the United States, now worry about the implications of unchecked Brotherhood rule and what that might mean for their interests.

Things couldn't have been more different two years ago. Under the repression of Hosni Mubarak's regime, the Brotherhood's unofficial motto was "participation, not domination." The group was renowned for its caution and patient (some would say too patient) approach to politics. When I sat down with Morsi in May 2010 -- just months before the revolution and well before he could have ever imagined being Mubarak's successor -- he echoed the leadership's almost stubborn belief in glacial but steady change. He even objected to a fairly anodyne description of the movement's political activities: "The word 'opposition' has the connotation of seeking power," Morsi told me then. "But, at this moment, we are not seeking power because [that] requires preparation, and society is not prepared." The Muslim Brotherhood, being a religious movement more than a political party, had the benefit of a long horizon.

Morsi wasn't well known back then. He was an important player in the Brotherhood, but did not seem to have a particularly distinctive set of views. He was a loyalist, an enforcer, and an operator. And he was arguably good at those things. But being, or becoming, a leader is a different matter. Despite heading the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc and later leading the group's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Morsi struggled to command respect across ideological lines. He rarely spoke like someone who liked making concessions or doing the hard work necessary for building consensus.

Like many Brotherhood leaders, he nurtured a degree of resentment toward Egypt's liberals. They were tiny and irrelevant, the thinking went, so why were they always asking for so much? In May 2010, the opposition seemed to be coming alive, but in a uniquely Egyptian way. At one protest in Tahrir Square, each group -- Islamists, liberals, and leftists -- huddled in its own part of the square. I asked Morsi why there wasn't greater cooperation between Islamists and liberals. "That depends on the other side," he said, echoing what the liberals were saying about the Brotherhood.

This thinly veiled disdain could be papered over when liberals, leftists, and Brotherhood members were facing a dictator they all hated. And, during the revolution, Brotherhood members, Salafists, liberals, and ordinary Egyptians joined hands and put the old divisions aside -- if only for a moment. When Mubarak fell, though, there was little left to unite them.

The international community, particularly the United States, shares the liberals' fear of Islamist domination, but for a very different set of reasons. Historically, the Brotherhood has been one of the more consistent purveyors of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment. While some Brotherhood leaders, particularly lead strategist Khairat El Shater, are less strident in their condemnations and less willfully creative with their conspiracy theories in private, Morsi is not. In a conversation with me, he volunteered his views on the 9/11 terrorist attacks without any prompting. "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter," he said, shifting to English, "then you are insulting us. How did the plane cut through the steel like this? Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible."

According to various polls, such views are held by most Egyptians, including leftists and liberals, but that doesn't make them any less troubling. It is perhaps ironic, then, that out of the Brotherhood's top officials, Morsi has spent the most time in the United States. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and, interestingly, the father of two U.S. citizens -- a reminder that familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. At a recent news conference, Morsi discussed his time living abroad, painting a picture of a society in moral decay, featuring crumbling families, young mothers in hospitals who have to "write in the name of the father," and couples living together out of wedlock. We don't have these problems in Egypt, he said, his voice rising with a mixture of pride and resentment.

I met Morsi again, a year later in May 2011, at the Brotherhood's new, plush headquarters in Muqattam, nestled on a small mountain on Cairo's outskirts. The Brotherhood leader seemed surprisingly calm. He punctuated his Arabic with English expressions; he made jokes (they weren't necessarily funny), name-checked the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, and even did an impromptu impression of a former U.S. president. In the early days, in the afterglow of the 18-day uprising, the group's leaders were still careful to say the right things. He was quick to point out that 2,500 of the FJP's 9,000 founding members were not from the Brotherhood, and included Christians.

He was also dismissive of ultraconservative Salafi movements. They weren't politically mature yet, he said. The implication was obvious: The Brotherhood, unlike the Salafists, had spent decades first learning and then playing -- rather skillfully at times -- the game of politics. They learned how and when to compromise and how to justify it to their conservative base. Now, nearly 28 years after first entering parliament in 1984, the group was taking pains to present itself as the moderate, respectable face of political Islam.

But the Brotherhood soon realized that it had stumbled upon one of those rare moments where a country's politics are truly open and undefined. So they decided to seize it, alienating many of their erstwhile liberal allies in the process. This approach was a good fit with the Brotherhood's distinctly majoritarian approach to democracy: They had won a decisive popular mandate in the parliamentary elections, with 47 percent of the vote, so why shouldn't they rule?

Eventually, the Brotherhood decided to go for broke. "We have witnessed obstacles standing in the way of parliament to take decisions to achieve the demands of the revolution," Morsi said in March. "We have therefore chosen the path of the presidency not because we are greedy for power but because we have a majority in parliament which is unable to fulfill its duties."

The more important question is: Does it really matter what Morsi thinks? The Brotherhood's presidential campaign was never about Morsi. It was about the Brotherhood, and Morsi just happened to be the substitute candidate -- an unlikely accident of history -- after the charismatic Shater was disqualified from the race. This is what makes it difficult to assess a Morsi presidency. Over the past year, Shater's personal office has become the address for a steady stream of big-shot investors and visiting dignitaries, including senior U.S. officials. Those who have met him have come out both impressed and reassured.

It was Shater who plucked Morsi from relative obscurity to join the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, the organization's top decision-making body, and then selected him to lead the Brotherhood's political arm. Up until now, there has been little daylight between the two men. But will Shater be able to maintain his sway if Morsi ascends to Egypt's highest office? Some Brotherhood members are already chafing at the idea of Shater -- whom supporters and detractors alike portray as a brilliant but domineering operative -- serving as the power behind the throne: "If Morsi is able to free himself from the shadow of Shater, his policies will be balanced. If Shater stays in control, Morsi will become increasingly unpopular and fail to govern effectively," one Brotherhood member who has worked with both figures told me. "Will Morsi become the son who surpassed the father?"

On the campaign trail, Morsi has proved a quick study and a hard worker. Campaign aides have worked to repackage him, coaching him on his speaking style and how to use his hands in interviews. In the process, the candidate has grown more confident -- and it's starting to show. His May 30 appearance on Yosri Fouda's television program showed a surprisingly fluent speaker, a far cry from his earlier, shaky media appearances. As one Brotherhood member remarked, "The new Morsi of today is different from the person I knew."

Although Morsi outperformed most polls in coming out on top in the first round of elections, for the Brotherhood, his 25 percent share of the vote amounted to something of a shock. The group's internal projections, based on polling conducted weeks before the vote, saw Morsi with a commanding lead -- it was only a question of how close he would get to 50 percent. Morsi's lack of charisma -- as well as the lack of respect he commands among non-Islamists -- was part of the reason for his disappointing showing. But it was also the result of a series of more serious mistakes and miscalculations. Brotherhood officials had become detached from the changing tenor in the group's former strongholds in the Nile Delta, where the Brotherhood was overtaken by Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister. The Islamist-dominated parliament had failed to pass the sweeping reform legislation that many had expected. Most controversial was an attempt to stack the constituent assembly with Brotherhood supporters, a classic case of political overreach.

After the revolution, the Brotherhood -- like so many other political forces in Egypt's toxic political scene -- became consumed by paranoia, fearing that some combination of liberals, leftists, and old regime elements were out to get them. A democratic opening, as welcome as it was, came with its own risks. The rise of Brotherhood defector Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as a viable candidate was seen as an unprecedented threat to organizational unity and discipline.

This paranoia, mixed with an old-fashioned dose of political cynicism, seeped into the group's discourse on foreign policy. When Egypt's ruling military council lifted a travel ban on American NGO workers in an attempt to defuse a political crisis, the Brotherhood-led parliament pounced, using the episode to call for a no-confidence vote and demand the removal of the military-appointed government. Brotherhood parliamentarians blamed the Egyptian government for giving into American pressure and called on Egypt to refuse U.S. aid. "I wish members of the U.S. Congress could listen to you now to realize that this is the parliament of the revolution, which does not allow a breach of the nation's sovereignty or interference in its affairs," said parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, a leading Brotherhood figure, in reaction to the debate.

The Brotherhood has found itself doing a difficult dance, thinking one thing in private and saying another in public. Such mixed messages are also a function of the love-hate schizophrenia that many Brotherhood members -- and Egyptians in general -- seem to display toward the United States. I remember the early days of Barack Obama's presidency, when Brotherhood officials would complain bitterly about the White House's disinterest in democracy promotion. "For Obama, the issue of democracy is 15th on his list of priorities," one Brotherhood official told me in May 2010. "There's no moment of change like there was under Bush."

It is true that the Brotherhood, along with most of Egypt, hates particular U.S. policies, particularly those related to Palestine. It also tends to think that somehow -- usually through creative, indirect means -- the United States is responsible for various nefarious plots against Egypt. But that doesn't mean that a Brotherhood-dominated government would immediately reorder Cairo's international alliances. For all the public vitriol, the Brotherhood actually feels more comfortable with America than it does with America's adversaries: "The U.S. is a superpower that is there and will be there, and it is not to anyone's benefit to have this superpower going down, but we want it to go up with its values and not with its dark side," one senior Brotherhood official told me. "What are the values driving China across the globe?… It's just pure profit. The Russians and the Chinese, I don't know their values! Western European and American core values of human rights and pluralism -- we practiced this when we were living there."

Values aside, a Morsi administration simply would not be able to afford a rupture in relations with the United States. A Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt will need to rebuild its deteriorating economy, and U.S. and European loans, assistance, and investment will be crucial to this effort. There's also no certainty that a President Morsi could drastically alter Egypt's foreign policy even if he wanted to -- regardless of what Egypt's new constitution says, the military and the intelligence services will continue to exercise veto power over critical defense and national security issues.

While there are limits to how much the Brotherhood can alter Egypt's foreign policy, there are also limits to how far it can go in satisfying U.S. concerns. As Egypt becomes more democratic, elected leaders will have no choice but to heed popular sentiment on foreign policy. And in an otherwise divided polity, the only real area of consensus is the need for an independent, assertive foreign policy that re-establishes Egypt's leading role in the region. That means tension and disagreement with the United States will become a normal feature of the bilateral relationship. The model to look to is Turkey, led by the Islamically oriented Justice and Development Party, which has employed anti-Israel rhetoric to useful domestic effect.

The effect of a Morsi presidency on domestic policy is similarly hazy. Egypt's byzantine bureaucracy remains stocked with Mubarak loyalists and could block any changes that Morsi tries to push through. As a former political advisor to the Brotherhood predicted to me, the "state machinery will devour him." To further confuse matters, Morsi is one of the rare presidential candidates who believes in limiting the power of his own office. In his TV interview with Fouda, he again stated his preference: an interim period with a mixed presidential-parliamentary system, which would pave the way for a system in which the legislature held complete sway. A Brotherhood-led assembly is set to draft a constitution that will define the relative powers of elected institutions.

But, of course, Morsi's opinion on the matter could change once he became president. The Muslim Brotherhood's first experience in governance will be an experiment, and one the organization may not be prepared for. Elections have consequences. We just don't know what they'll be. And, for that matter, neither does Morsi.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images