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The Administration and the Muslim Brotherhood

Ronald Radosh

Speaking to NPR on Sunday from Germany, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of administration officials who seem ready to welcome and whitewash the record of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Today,” Secretary Clinton said, “we learned the Muslim Brotherhood decided to participate, which suggests they at least are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged.”

Clinton was referring to the MB’s announcement that they would participate within Egypt in the talks leading to the creation of a transitional government. She added that the United States demands non-violence and an understanding that the Egyptian people “are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections. That is what the United States has consistently supported.”

The Brotherhood, of course, is adamant that before negotiations go any further President Mubarak must immediately resign. As one of their representatives explained, “I think Mubarak will have to stop being stubborn by the end of this week because the country cannot take more million strong protests.”

One thing the MB understands is patience. They have been waiting a long time for the chance to get a foot in the door, and their pretense of moderation, it seems, is getting acceptance from the wishful thinkers among the Washington policy makers. For the Brotherhood’s leaders, an “orderly transition” is precisely the ticket they need to seize in order to eventually make themselves the leaders of a new Islamist Egypt.

In a major editorial explaining their views, the Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief, David Horovitz, notes that although precedents abound, “the US government seems intent on ignoring them.” For that reason, Horovitz’s article should be mandatory reading in our nation’s capital. There have been many areas in which, as so many have pointed out, President Obama is pursuing many of the same counter-terrorist policies adopted by George W. Bush. But one he should not emulate is the policy the former administration pursued in 2006, when the United States moved ahead with insisting on elections in Gaza, leading to Hamas gaining a parliamentary majority which eventually led to their taking over the Gaza Strip a year later.

Horovitz adds that both in Lebanon in the past few weeks and in Turkey, liberal leaders have been outmaneuvered and have proved unable to prevent “growing Islamic domination” of their countries, with the additional result that Turkey “is now drifting inexorably out of the western orbit.” In Egypt, the editor notes that rather than usher in a new partnership with the Muslim world, Obama made no effort to pressure Mubarak to reform in the past few years, failing to see that the people of Egypt would become embittered, and resort to the mass protests that emerged these previous weeks. Horovitz notes the dangers that then took place:

But however one gauges the realpolitik involved in that dramatic recoil from a 30-year ally, the White House’s subsequent reported moves to legitimate Egypt’s Islamists – whose outlook conflicts utterly with the democratic agenda – make no sense, and suggest a frighteningly superficial understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions and potential achievements.

Far from learning the lessons of the Islamists’ skilled subversion of other pro-democracy movements, working with potential leaders of an Egyptian transition to minimize the risk of such a process recurring, and making publicly plain that there will be no ongoing American alliance with an Egypt in which an unreformed Islamist movement has even a marginal role in government, the White House seems to be actively encouraging a transitional outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Secretary Clinton’s remarks on Sunday, unfortunately, reveal how prescient Horovitz was when he wrote this editorial. Indeed, he notes that Washington’s new policy shows that when NSC official Dan Shapiro last week told Jewish leaders that the administration would not deal with the Brotherhood, he was being disingenuous. And Robert Gibbs’ statement two days earlier, that the United States would welcome “important non-secular actors” in a democratic Egypt, also clearly was announcing that it would accept the Brotherhood, without openly mentioning their name.

Does our administration really want the Muslim Brotherhood to play a role in a new Egypt? They very well might follow the same path as the mullahs who eventually took power in Iran in 1979, moving to abandon their would-be moderation when the time for doing so arrived. Noting that many in our media have been presenting the MB as “benign,” Horovitz writes that “the Brotherhood is committed to death-cult jihad in the cause of widened Islamist rule, was the progenitor of Hamas and central to Islamist radicalization among the Palestinians. And its popularity was evident in that impressive 2005 parliamentary performance, achieved, it should be stressed, despite the Mubarak-orchestrated unfavorable circumstances.”

Most distressing, Horovitz notes that even as shrewd and connected an observer as the neo-conservative Robert Kagan has “scathingly marginalized the threat.” Yet, as Horovitz notes, the Brotherhood’s role has increased visibly the past few days, as they have managed checkpoints at Liberation Square, notably taken to the protests as a group, and begun to court the press. Their original absence, a result of what was clearly a leadership decision, was incorrectly taken to prove to the world that they were of minimal importance, and to “maximize domestic support for the uprising.” Now, when their first moment has arrived, they have upped the ante, and our administration has responded in kind — welcoming their participation.

So when we say we favor democracy for the Egyptian people, keep in mind what poll results show. As Horovitz points out, a Pew poll taken a few months ago reveals that “82% of Egyptian Muslims favor stoning people who commit adultery; 77% favor whipping/ cutting off of hands for theft and robbery; and 84% favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion, it found. By way of comparison, the comparable percentages in Turkey, even as it submits to growing Islamist influence, were just 16%, 13% and 5% respectively.” The same poll revealed that 54% of Egyptian Muslims believe suicide bombings can be justified often.

Last Thursday, a leader of the Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsy, made it clear that his group would not commit itself to maintain the Egypt-Israel peace treaty or recognize Israel and would continue to oppose Zionism while, he said, opposing the use of violence. But as he went on to explain, what the opponents of Israel did in Palestine was not violence, but “resistance,” which was “acceptable by all mankind,” since it “is the right of people to resist imperialism.”

Horovitz ends by asking a simple question of the leaders of the United Sta5tes: Why “would the US government help legitimate, on yet another of our new unstable frontiers, a bleak, benighted movement that can be guaranteed to use any influence it accrues to undermine those shared interests and values [of the United States and Israel]?”

Why indeed? It is a good question, one Americans should ask of both President Obama and Secretary Clinton.

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