By Barry Rubin
What might well be the most significant
election in Middle East history is about to happen yet the situation and
its implications are simply not understood abroad.  On May 23-24, with a
probable run-off on Jun 16-17, the most important country in the
Arabic-speaking world is almost certainly going to choose a
revolutionary transformation that will ensure continuous earthquakes of
war, suffering, and instability for decades to come.
Of the dozen candidates only three are important and the question is which of them will end up in the run-off.
  • Muhammad Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
  • Abdel Moneim Aboul Fatouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who resigned to run for president.
  • Amr Musa, a radical nationalist who
    combines being an anti-American, anti-Israel demagogue with some real
    experience in government and some sense of realism and restraint. He has
    proclaimed the Egypt-Israel peace treaty to be dead. If you don’t have a
    peace treaty that means you are in a state of [three letter word being
    with “w” and ending with “r.”
There are also, among the more serious of
the also-rans, a leftist, an old regime supporter, three liberals, and
another Islamist.
The mainstream Western view of the election
is bizarre and very damaging. In this fantasy, Aboul Fatouh is
portrayed as the liberal candidate. If he wins, everything will be just
fine and dandy. You can go back to sleep.
What evidence is adduced for this picture?
Basically, none. The idea is that his moderation was proven because he
defied the Brotherhood to run for the office. Yet the reality is the
exact opposite. The Brotherhood refused to run a candidate at a time
when it was following a cautious strategy, wanting to show that it
wasn’t seeking total power and could co-habit—at least for five
years—with a non-Islamist president.
By declaring his candidacy, Aboul Fatouh
was in fact taking a more radical approach. Later, when the Brotherhood
felt more confident after winning almost half the parliamentary seats it
became more aggressive. 
Most important of all, Aboul Fatouh is the
candidate endorsed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based anti-American,
antisemitic hardliner. Qaradawi would never endorse anyone who was
actually “moderate” much less “liberal.”
There are three factors likely to determine the outcome of the first round:
  • What proportion of Muslim Brotherhood
    (parliamentary) voters will support Mursi?  Perhaps a quarter or more of
    the Brotherhood voters backed the group not so much because they wanted
    an Islamic state but because they thought the Brotherhood was more
    honest, would govern better, and so on. Will they stick with the
    Brotherhood for the presidency or will they go for Aboul Fatouh or even
  • Having no candidate of their own who will
    the Salafi support? Since their goal is to provide a more radical
    alternative to the Brotherhood, some—but not all—of the leaders will
    probably go for Aboul Fatouh. But what about their voters who have
    almost no organizational loyalty—in contrast to the Brotherhood
    voters—and will presumably support the man they see as the one with the
    most radical Islamist vision. Few of these people will back Musa.      
  • Who will support Musa? There is no
    nationalist bloc in Egypt today. Might Musa emerge as the secularist
    candidate uniting those voters (only 25 percent we should remember) who
    don’t want Islamism? No. The Christians and liberals don’t look at Musa
    as their man and will probably split their vote among three competing
    liberal candidates who don’t have a chance.
The result may well be an Islamist versus
Islamist run-off. In any event, it is likely that by the end of the year
Egypt will have an Islamist president, parliament, and Constitution.
Laws will be drastically altered, women’s rights will disappear, and
Hamas would be backed up if it attacked Israel.
Once in power, an Islamist government would
eventually appoint similar people to run the military, the religious
establishment, the schools, and the courts. Those who don’t like it will
head for the West in droves.
The alliance with America would be over,
whatever cosmetic pretense of friendship remained and despite how much
money the Obama Administration pumped in.  And the whole region will be
sent a signal that this is the era of revolutionary Islamism and jihad
at a time when America is weak or even—as many moderate Arabs
believe—siding with the Islamists.   
In the West, no one in power is prepared
for this revolution, an upheaval that will rival or exceed the 1979 one
in Iran for its impact. 
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. (See Ad on the right side of this page). Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia