by Barry Rubin
The interesting news was not that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pelted with stuff while visiting Cairo, the important issue was who was doing the pelting. Once upon a time, anti-American radicals threw things at U.S. leaders. But now….
Reportedly, the hurlers of objects were people from the Free Egyptians Party and other Egyptian liberals. At the same time, leading Christians, including Naguib Sawiris who is the man behind that party and perhaps the most outspoken anti-Islamist figure in Egypt today, refused to meet with Hillary.
Why? Because these people see the Obama Administration as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. That might sound far-fetched to the mainstream media (though not to you, dear readers) but it is taken for granted in much of the Middle East. In the articles of liberal Arabs; the statements of Persian Gulf Arab establishment figures; the conversations of Syrian, Turkish, Iranian, and Lebanese oppositionists, the idea that the U.S. government is now helping the Islamists is taken for granted.
Let me repeat that: It is taken for granted.
So it is the liberals, the democrats, the moderates who now view America as their enemy. Yet supposedly the U.S. policy is promoting moderation and democracy, right?
These critics have a strong case. Obama’s Cairo speech was precisely about encouraging Middle Easterners to redefine their identity from a national one—principally Arab—to an Islamic one. Obama invited the Brotherhood to sit in the front row. And when the upsurge in Egypt began and the State Department wanted to support continuity along with reform, the Obama Administration demanded the end of the regime.
Next, without anyone asking him, Obama said the United States wouldn’t mind if the Brotherhood became the government of Egypt. And more recently, of course, he has supported the Brotherhood against the army, demanding that the military turn over power right away, or else.
And in Syria, the Obama Administration backed a Brotherhood-dominated leadership in the Syrian National Council. Islamist Turkey was the ideal country from the White House standpoint, with Obama lavishing praise and almost never criticizing it for becoming pro-Hizballah, pro-Hamas, pro-Iran, pro-Islamist in Syria, and fanatically anti-Israel. And in Bahrain, the Obama Administration was ready to back a revolution putting (Shia) Islamists in power until the State Department stopped it.
“I want to be clear that the United States is not in the business, in Egypt,” says Clinton, “of choosing winners and losers, even if we could, which, of course, we cannot.”
Wrong! While of course Islamists won elections in Egypt and Tunisia (but maybe lost in Libya), the Obama Administration has been working to pick the winners and losers. The winners: revolutionary, antisemitic Islamists; the losers: old regimes and liberal oppositionists.
Is it really the West’s duty to help push a radical Islamist government into power in Egypt as fast as possible? True, the Brotherhood won the parliamentary election but the election was invalidated. By who? Ah, one might expect a leading American newspaper to know that fact. Here’s the Los Angeles Times editorial on the subject:
“To some extent, the military’s power — along with economic realities — may have inclined [Egyptian President Muhammad al-] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to a more pluralist and moderate course. But if the generals overplay their hand, they will lose popular support and antagonize Egypt’s allies, including the United States, which provides the military with $1.3 billion a year in assistance. Both Congress and the Obama administration have put the generals on notice that those funds are in jeopardy if the transition to democracy is thwarted. An attempt to shut down a reconvened parliament would be interpreted inside and outside Egypt as just such an obstruction.”
Let’s list the points made here:
–The Muslim Brotherhood has become more pluralist and moderate. Why? Because of the military’s power and economic realities. How is this logical? You mean that the military’s pressure on the Brotherhood has made it more moderate? So by that argument if the military ceased its pressure and turned over government to the Brotherhood then the Brotherhood would be more radical. Yet that is precisely what the Los Angeles Times and much of the media and the Obama Administration is advocating!
How has the economic situation made the Brotherhood more moderate? Presumably because it needs to be so in order to keep Western aid and investment flowing. But both of these factors will be insufficient to help Egypt avoid a crack-up. Then comes the time for demagoguery. Moreover, the bottom line here is to claim that the Brotherhood can be bought off. Like Iran’s regime, Syria’s regime, Saddam Hussein, and others were bought off?
–If the generals try to limit or keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power they will become less popular. Well, maybe that is so. But popularity isn’t the most important thing in the region. That’s an American obsession, not one from Arab politics.
–The United States doesn’t like the military’s policy and will punish the army (cutting off aid?) if it doesn’t surrender. That’s a terrible policy. Talk about empowering your enemies and bashing your friends! Why should the United States be the new patron of the most dangerously anti-American group in the world? I know. Because the Obama Administration believes that will make the Brotherhood more moderate. Yet even the Obama Administration has seen that this tactic didn’t work with Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hizballah. Why should it work this time?
Then there are two extremely important points the editorial doesn’t tell you, and you won’t see in many places:
First, let’s remember that the parliamentary election was not invalidated by the army but by the Egyptian courts. Judges have been among the most courageous dissidents in Egypt. Many of them spoke out against the Mubarak regime and they are not the clients of the army but an independent force in their own right. So if you want to exalt the rule of law, you should support the military in trying to enforce a legally binding decision by two Egyptian courts.
Second, the left and liberal forces are largely boycotting the attempt to revive the parliament illegally because they fear the Muslim Brotherhood’s monopoly on power. Have you noticed that moderate support for anti-army demonstrations has dwindled away now? It is the Brotherhood that is going up against the armed forces, though leaving the door open for a deal.
PS: The head of Israel’s military intelligence has said that Israel’s army has stopped a dozen attempted cross-border attacks in Sinai. This is of extraordinary significance since it shows a full-scale offensive is underway and not just the two attacks previously implemented.Barry Rubin
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