Egyptian vote could be bad news for U.S.

Egyptian vote could be bad news for U.S.

BY SALLY BUZBEE Advertisement

For months, the Bush administration has said it is serious about pushing for democracy in the Middle East. It’s about to get a serious test of that resolve.

Egypt, the world’s most populous Arab country, is suddenly roiling with a wide-open, combative election that seems certain to end with the country’s main Islamic group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as a big winner.

The country’s rulers, longtime American allies, are starting to show signs of panic: Police have barred voters from polls and thugs have attacked Brotherhood supporters in recent days in an apparent effort to blunt the group’s growing momentum.

Even before the final round of voting Thursday, Brotherhood loyalists have increased their seats in parliament fivefold. That’s not enough to unseat the ruling party, but is still seen as a slap to President Hosni Mubarak.

In some ways, despite the violence, it’s going as well as President Bush could hope. A scant nine months after Mubarak took the first steps toward reform under U.S. pressure, it is indisputably clear that Egyptians hanker for choice and change.

Yet, two things about the elections could prove deeply worrisome for the West:

*One is the Brotherhood itself, and what it might do now that it has gained enough power to influence government policy.

*The second is the turmoil Egypt likely would face during any transition, as the aging Mubarak and his long-ruling elite struggle to decide whether to give up power, and if so, how much and how fast.

A chaotic Egyptian government, torn by infighting, would be bad for America.

Hostility toward Israel


So far, the Bush administration has stressed that it just wants a free and fair vote. It sees no distinction between legal candidates and those who support the Brotherhood and ’’does not have a preferred outcome,’’ says State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

Still, there is American discomfort with the Brotherhood.

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mehdi Akef said in an interview Sunday that his group would not press to reverse Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, now that it has greater influence in parliament. But he made clear it is not friendly to Israel either.

’’We do not recognize Israel, but we will not fight it,’’ he said.