Is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt a “centrist” organization? Not by a long shot. In a piece in the New York Times today, Samer Shehata, a professor at Georgetown University, compared the Muslim Brotherhood’s views to those of America’s Kansas:
On those issues, “the Brotherhood is the Egyptian Kansas,” said Professor Shehata. Their positions on foreign policy “reflect rather than oppose what the Egyptian center is thinking,” he said.
Shehata may be right that the Muslim Brotherhood ought to be compared to Kansas, but—as we learned in What’s the Matter with Kansas?—that state doesn’t exactly reflect the American “center.” It’s a bastion of right-wing thinking, with an occasional dash of populism, tied to extremist religious beliefs. Just like the Brothers.
As I’ve written often since 2011, when the Arab Spring engulfed Egypt, the most likely outcome of the struggle in Egypt is a deal between Egypt’s military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers aren’t extremists in the mold of Al Qaeda, of course, and not even the staunchest neoconservative analysts argue that. But it is a reactionary organization with a conspiratorial mindset, a secret society that operates a cell-based structure. And just as Kansas reflects the rural, anti-intellectual core of American society, the Brotherhood’s base is rooted in ignorant, religious, rural Egypt. What’s happening in Egypt might even be characterized as a war of city vs. countryside.
To reach their deal, with Muslim Brotherhood will compromise on issues that it considers peripheral, national security being a principal one, and Egypt’s military will compromise on issues that it, in turn, considers secondary, such as social issues.
By ousting the top commanders in Egypt’s military command this week, President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt has apparently begun the process of making a deal with the military, bringing in—with the military command’s apparent approval—a phalanx of younger officers (and by younger, that means not septuagenarians). Some of them, as Issandr el-Amrani revealed in his must-read blog, The Arabist, may hold views that contradict the idea that the United States must be the policeman of the Middle East and the guarantor of security in the Persian Gulf. As The Arabist reported, the new number-two official in the military command, Gen. Sedky Sobhi, has called for a withdrawal of US forces in the Persian Gulf and the broader region, and he looks askance at American favoritism toward Israel on the Palestine issue.
But as the Wall Street Journal notes happily, the new boss of Egypt’s military is an old friend of Washington:
Egypt’s new top military officer is a known commodity in Washington who has long-standing ties to the U.S., Obama administration officials said Monday, playing down the impact of the previous day’s power shake-up in Egypt.
U.S. military contacts with Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was appointed defense minister on Sunday, date back more than 30 years to a U.S. infantry basic training course he took at Fort Benning in Georgia in 1981,
There’s no doubt that the combination of a Muslim Brotherhood presidency in Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood–controlled parliament (if, indeed, the parliament is reassembled) and a somewhat less toadying military command will result in an Egypt that is far less willing to accommodate to everything that Washington wants. (By the same token, however, the likely collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus will—if the entire region doesn’t collapse into sectarian and ethnic warfare—result in a Syria that is more willing to kowtow to Washington.)
However, not so fast. Egypt’s military command still knows whom holds the purse strings, namely, the $1 billion-plus in military aid that comes from the United States. And if they intend to rule without ruin, both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will have to be friendly to Saudi Arabia, which pours money into Egypt, and to the United States and the West, including the IMF. As the Wall Street Journal reported this week:
The International Monetary Fund’s leader will visit Cairo to resume loan talks on Wednesday, and Egypt’s finance minister suggested he is considering raising the nation’s request by as much as 50%, to $4.8 billion.
Added the Journal:
Egypt’s Gulf Arab partners are pitching in to support Egypt’s economy as well. Qatar extended a $2 billion loan to Egypt on Sunday, a few months after Saudi Arabia offered more than $1 billion for project aid and a credit loan for oil imports.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is cracking down on free expression and the media, installing Islamist editors at key government-owned media outlets, including Al Ahram and Al Akhbar, and seizing issues of Al Dustour, which has been critical of the Brothers.