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Egyptian elections stir disquiet in Israel

The Arab Spring could open the door for Islamists – as seen in Egypt elections – and threaten Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned.

By Correspondent / November 29, 2011

An Egyptian man looks at a board with names of different political parties and their candidates on the second day of parliamentary elections in Cairo, Tuesday.

Ahmed Ali/AP

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Tel Aviv

With Islamists poised to make a strong showing in Egypt's elections, months of uncertainty in Israel about the future of its 32-year partnership with Egypt are coming to a head.

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Last week's clashes in Tahrir Square underscored deep public anger with Egypt's military rulers, who have backed the cold peace over the objection of Egyptians for more than three decades. Now, with growing public pressure in Egypt for a quick transition to civilian rule, and the possibility that Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the new parliament, Israel is facing the prospect of a much less reliable neighbor.

In addition, the anticipated victory by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties could boost political Islam in neighboring Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

"Egypt will not be the same country for Israel, just as the whole region is not the same as we have experienced since the Arab League was established,’’ says Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. "The assumption is that it is going to be a more radical Islamist Middle East."

Arab 'spring'?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has sought to frame the Arab Spring as more of a threat than a opportunity – sees vindication in the recent turmoil.

The 'Arab Spring' is not a harbinger of a more liberal and democratic Middle East, he has argued. Rather, this year's upheaval – still under way in Syria, Yemen, and even Egypt – signals greater instability that could stir up extremism against Israel and its allies. Mr. Netanyahu has firmly maintained, in the face of criticism from both Washington and opponents at home, that that means that Israel must take a conservative approach to peacemaking with its Arab neighbors.

As hundreds of thousands of protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square clashed with Egyptian security forces last week, Netanyahu ridiculed political opponents who had pressured him to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to improve Israel’s regional image.

" 'It is ... the right time,' you said. 'Don't miss the opportunity,' " he said. "But I do not base Israel's policy on illusion. The earth is shaking.'

Netanyahu: Region destabilized by Islamist wave

Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel has managed to maintain good ties with Egypt’s interim military rulers despite several flare-ups. But the renewed demonstrations in Tahrir Square last week, in which public anger with military rule boiled over into clashes that killed at least 40, showed that long-term military control is far from assured. And distaste for Israel is one of the few consensus positions in Egyptian politics, from the far left to the religious right.

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