CAIRO - As the clock ticks towards Egypt long-awaited first free presidential vote, experts are voicing concerns about the ramifications on the United States and the Middle East policies, if Islamists assumed the helm of power in the Arab world's most populous country.
"Egypt is the political and cultural center of the region, so what happens in Egypt doesn't stay in Egypt," Khaled Elgindy, a visiting fellow of the Washington-based Brookings Institution who follows Egyptian affairs, told Tribune-Review on Saturday, May 19.
"The 'Arab Spring' technically started in Tunisia, but it was the Egyptian revolution that set the whole region ablaze."
With 85 million people, Egypt kept its position as the leader of the Arab region as the most populous Arab nation.
A list of 13 candidates is vying in the May election to assume the helm of power in the Arab world's most populous country.
The candidates include Mohamed Mursi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Mubarak's last premier Ahmed Shafiq.
Voting will begin on next Wednesday, the first presidential race in Egypt (and one of the first among Arab nations) in which the winner is not known beforehand.
Amid pressing economic and security concerns, Egyptians have largely focused on the role of religion in Egypt's new democracy and how compatible an Islamic political system would be with democratic values.
Earlier this month, a survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitude Project found that 66% of Egyptians want Islam to play a major role in the political life in post-revolution Egypt.
Twenty-five percent of respondents, however, disagree.
The nationwide survey of 1,000 respondents also showed that most Egyptians believe the Noble Qur'an should shape the country's laws.
Six-in-ten Egyptians say they want Egypt's laws to strictly follow the Qur'an.
Liberals disagreed, seeing political liberalism as the only way out.
If Egyptians choose such a path, it "will have great significance for the region -- that, yes, democracy can be achieved, we can overthrow corrupt authoritarian regimes, and we can establish better political systems that give people rights and freedoms," said Samer Shehata, an associate professor of Arab politics at Washington's Georgetown University who is here to observe the election.
During Mubarak's 30 years in power, Egypt emerged as America's key Arab ally.
It receives $1.3 billion a year in US aid, second only to Israel. Most of that goes to the military, which has ruled since Mubarak's fall and has been closely tied to America's military since the 1980s.
"The close military relationship ... means that a lot of the arms we sell, we sell to Egypt," Joshua Stacher, a Kent State University political science professor who specializes in Egypt.
The change of power in Egypt might also alter Israel's entire strategic outlook, given the fact that thanks to the peace treaty, the Israeli military kept minimal presence on its southern border, freeing it up for actions to the east and north.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in Camp David, the US, in 1979, under which Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which was occupied in the 1967 war.
Since Mubarak's overthrow, Israel has been worried with the potential scenarios that could take place in post-Mubarak Egypt.
Analysts confirmed that any change in Egyptian policies would be heard all over the region.
It is "the pillar of everyone's policy in the region -- whether it's Israel, Europe or the United States -- because of its strategic location ... its population and its crucial role in terms of Western interest," Elgindy said.
"Whether it is oil and trade that passes through the Suez Canal, or the peace treaty with Israel, or counterterrorism, Egypt is at the nexus of all of these."