Egyptian Democracy and the Palestine Question

The landmark conviction of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, was initially hailed as a redemptive milestone by victims of his regime’s three decades of social, political, and economic repression. However, as the details of the verdict became public, anger erupted over the court’s decision to acquit several Mubarak-era security officials and dismiss corruption charges against the deposed leader.

While Egyptian activists criticized Judge Ahmed Refaat’s verdict as incomplete, Israeli MK Ben-Eliezer expressed “deep regret over what has happened to this man” and lamented the court’s failure to “show a degree of compassion and mercy toward a man who dedicated his entire life to the security of the Egyptian nation.”

Palestinians, too, are closely observing Egypt’s democratic transition, convinced that Mubarak’s successor will play a critical role in shaping the trajectory of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Gazans, in particular, hope that the election of a new Egyptian leader will mean increased regional pressure to end the blockade on Gaza as well as the heightening of trade relations between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

While Palestinian political factions have not officially endorsed either of the two leading Egyptian presidential candidates, many Palestinians have expressed reservations regarding the candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq. Shafiq, a former air force general and minister in Mubarak’s government, recently accused opponent Mohammed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood party of acting as if “Palestine is the capital of Egypt.” While the Muslim Brotherhood has not formally asserted its position vis-à-vis Israel, they have historically supported Palestinian nationalist aspirations and consistently condemned the Israeli occupation.

It nonetheless remains unclear whether Mohammed Mursi’s presidency would herald an era of meaningful change for those living in the occupied Palestinian territories. Indeed, since the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood’s credibility has been compromised by their occasional collusion with SCAF—the ruling military council—and rhetorical shift on the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, despite Hamas’ origins as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, senior Hamas officials—alluding to the diplomatic isolation that followed their party’s 2006 election victory—were quoted in Al-Ahram as expressing fear that “the world and some regional powers will not help a Muslim Brotherhood president succeed in his mission.”

While Egyptians are undoubtedly troubled by the domestic challenges of high unemployment, civil-military tension, and widespread corruption—the Palestinian issue continues to be a source of significant concern for much of the Egyptian public. Importantly, while the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty ended the cycle of wars between the two neighbors, the Camp David Accords’ commitment to Palestinian autonomy has yet to be honored.