If the Arab Spring were what we wanted it to be, what we hoped it would be, or even what we fooled ourselves into believing it would be, then the last person we would consider a worthy replacement for deposed President Hosni Mubarak is Gen. Ahmed Shafiq. If the Arab Spring were truly an uprising of freedom-seeking people against the tyranny and oppression of the Mubarak regime, Shafiq — the last prime minister to serve under the dictator — would have been disqualified from running for any position.
Yet now, every sane and enlightened person in the world is hoping for a Shafiq victory, because the alternative is no Egyptian Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel or Nelson Mandela. Egyptians face a choice between a Mubarak associate and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate.
Israel is especially interested in the election results, which could have far-reaching implications on the future of its peace treaty with Egypt. I used the words "the future of its peace treaty" and not "the future of its peace" for good reason; let's be honest — there is no peace between Israel and Egypt. There is nothing even resembling the peace which we paid such a steep price for: withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula and uprooting the Yamit and Gulf of Shlomo regions. In reality, the peace treaty was assassinated along with President Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981. Mubarak breached the peace treaty and turned it into dust and ash.
Peace between Israel and Egypt was supposed to turn the two into friendly neighbors, like two countries bordering one another in Europe. Israel and Egypt signed dozens of normalization agreements designed to enhance peace: economic, cultural and educational — and Mubarak trampled them all. Compared to Sadat, who visited Israel at least five times in the four years between his historic visit to Jerusalem and his assassination, Mubarak refused to step foot in Israel during more than 30 years in power (with the exception of his visit for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral).
In addition, the Egyptian educational system and media instilled virulent anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment in the public. Egypt twice recalled its ambassador from Israel — and both times Israel paid a political price to have the envoy returned. Despite all this, Mubarak's Egypt never formally canceled the peace treaty, which yielded great profits for Cairo in terms of massive American financial aid (which forced it to respect the peace treaty's military stipulations). Our southern border was quiet and the Egyptian Army didn't enter the Sinai. Will it remain that way in the future?
It's safe to assume that if Shafiq is elected president, he will follow in Mubarak's footsteps. In light of Egyptian public opinion and the Islamist majority in parliament, he will likely remain hostile toward Israel. However, he will also likely respect the military aspects of the peace treaty and will ensure it isn't scrapped. It is not at all certain that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, would do the same. Under his leadership, Egypt could return to a state of conflict with Israel.
Mubarak was a dictator and adversary of Israel. Shafiq is his successor. And yet, considering the alternative, Shafiq has emerged as Israel's hope.
This principle also applies to Syria, where following more than a year of slaughter, regime change could be a possibility. We must keep in mind that the butcher of Damascus could end up being the lesser of two evils. We have to avoid illusions and understand the nature of the region in which we live.