Is there anything that President Obama can do, or should do, about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? The unfortunate answer is no, and no. For years, the Muslim Brotherhood simmered in the background, feeding on and growing strength from Egypt’s unfortunate, long-term process of Islamization. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a paltry few Egyptians cared at all about political Islam and Islamism, and very few women, if any, covered themselves in public. Long before the fall of President Mubarak, however, Egypt had fallen under the spell of the Muslim Brotherhood’s benighted version of Islam.
It’s that historical legacy that Egypt’s valiant secular, leftist and nationalist movement is battling against.
It will be a long, uphill struggle, and it will have to be accomplished without American help.
Someday, someone—perhaps me—will compile a list of all those ignorant observers of Egypt who argued that the Muslim Brotherhood would not dominate Egypt after the fall of the Mubarak regime. Many commentators said that it was all scare talk by Mubarak, who often warned that the Brothers would inherit Egypt once he was gone. Many others said that the Muslim Brotherhood would win only a minority position in the parliament, and would get just 15 percent or 25 percent of the vote. Well, they were all wrong. And now, a burgeoning alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military is threatening to create a new authoritarian regime.
It’s an exact replay of the voices who, in 1979, argued that Ayatollah Khomeini would never dominate Iran’s post-revolution politics. Khomeini, they said, would stay in the background, and they argued that the mullahs were pro-democracy, or even progressive-minded. Not so. And neither is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an extreme, right-wing, cult-like organization with a cell-based structure whose goal is anathema to progressives inside Egypt and out.
Problem is, it’s not America’s problem, and anything that the Obama administration might do will only make the situation worse. Any anti–Muslim Brotherhood actions by Washington will only bolster the Brotherhood’s power, just as Israel’s arrogance and violence bolsters not Fatah but the reactionary, Muslim Brotherhood–linked Hamas.
Long ago, in blogging about the Arab Spring in Egypt, I predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood would form an alliance with the generals, not because I had inside information but because it was so obvious. And it is coming to pass.
Last week, in Washington, President Morsi’s chief adviser told anyone who’d listen that Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is a fine place, and that Morsi is “taking all the checks and balances in order to have an evolving democracy, not the creation of a stereotype of a state which is theocratic. We have no acceptance of a theocratic state.” Liar, liar.
Having claimed vast new powers, designed to ram through a constitutional draft by referendum next week, Morsi is now officially promising to use the military to enforce the vote, despite huge protests from an anti–Muslim Brotherhood coalition. Paranoically blaming “foreigners” for the protests, Morsi has deployed the military’s tanks around his office, adding: “It is my duty to defend the homeland.” Morsi, and the government-controlled newspaper Al Ahram used precisely the same language as the generals did in pledging to protect Egypt’s “institutions.”
Listen to Morsi’s paranoia and threats, as he warned of “conspiracies”:
“I have sent warnings to many people who know who they are, who may be committing crimes against the homeland.”… “If anybody tries to derail the transition, I will not allow them.”… “To the corrupters who hide under respectable cover, I say, ‘Never imagine that I can’t see you.’ ”… “I’m on the lookout for them and will never let them go.”
Al Ahram reports that Morsi plans to use the military to arrest civilians.
For more on the uprising in Egypt, check out Sharif Abdel Kouddous’s dispatches from Cairo.