Scholar worries about Egypt at the ‘crossroads’

Scholar worries about Egypt at the ‘crossroads’

Georgetown professor sees region in peril following Arab Spring

A Mideast scholar warned a local audience about the perils of a volatile Egypt.

Speaking just hours after Egypt’s top court voted to disband the country’s new parliament, Ralph Nurnberger said the nation is at a “crossroads.”

“We wish for a democratic government friendly to Israel and the United States that poses a Sunni opposition” to the fundamentalist Shia rule in Iran, said Nurnberger, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University. “But Egypt has no constitution and no parliament.”

Nurnberg, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University, presented “U.S. Foreign Policy Challenges Facing the Next Presidential Administration” to members of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Region at its annual meeting on June 14 at the Vizcaya in West Orange.

While welcoming Egypt’s nascent turn toward democracy, Nurnberg noted that the combination of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists held two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament. “This created a concern for the military and the kids in Tahrir Square, who did not want to see Egypt turn into Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Egyptians have faced a choice between a Muslim Brotherhood candidate who developed an “intense hate for America and Israel” and a former prime minister closely associated with the regime of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak.

“Fifty-two percent of Egyptians voted for neither of these guys,” Nurnberger said.

The optimistic forecasts of the Arab Spring, he said, have met reality.

“The Palestinians have been hurt by the Arab Spring, as have the Israelis. The Palestinians are no longer receiving funds from other Arab states. Israel must now face Islamists who have taken over in virtually every country in the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “Egypt is talking about ending the peace agreement with Israel, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. A horrific civil war is taking place in Syria, and as awful as Assad was, he kept the Golan Heights quiet. Who knows what comes next, particularly since some of the opposition is tied to Al Qaida and other bad sources in the Sunni world?”

On top of all this, there is increasing sectarian fighting in Lebanon, Turkey is “becoming increasingly strident,” the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over in Jordan, there is factional fighting in Yemen, Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and northern Mali has been taken over by Al Qaida.

“Wow!” said the professor.

Asked by an audience member whether Israel should become a part of NATO, Nurnberger said such a move “would antagonize the Arab world unnecessarily. Israel works very closely with NATO; it is not necessary for them to be in NATO.”

Nurnberger was also asked to compare the Middle East policies of President Barack Obama and his likely Republican rival, Mitt Romney. Nurnberger has been a foreign policy adviser to Democrats Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Obama, as well as Republicans Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

Both the president and Romney “claim to be great friends of Israel,” he told NJ Jewish News after the meeting. “Romney has no record because he was a governor and not involved in foreign policy. Obama has a very strong record of support for Israel in terms of military support, intelligence sharing. He got off to a rocky start by overstating the issue of settlements, but he has dropped that lately and speaks constantly of Israel as a Jewish state to be recognized by the world. His record is fine.”

He then offered a prediction for November.

“I think Obama will wind up with in excess of 60 percent of the Jewish vote, but less than the 78 percent he got the last time,” he said.

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