By Barry Rubin
Here’s the headline: “U.S. to resume formal Muslim Brotherhood contacts.” But that’s not true. In fact, as the Reuters article itself admits, there have never been “formal” contacts before but only informal ones. Let’s examine the language, which stems from a “senior U.S. official,” to see what the Obama administration thinks about the Muslim Brotherhood:
A step that reflects the Islamist group’s growing political weight but that is almost certain to upset Israel and its U.S. backers.
Note how it is portrayed as an Israel-related issue. Won’t it upset people who care about U.S. interests? Won’t it upset Egyptian Christians? The Saudis and Jordanians and other relatively moderate Arab regimes? Won’t it upset Muslims who oppose revolutionary Islamism?
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We are supposed to believe that only Israel and the Jews will be upset about the Obama administration moving closer to a radical antisemitic, anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-Western, pro-terrorist group that wants to repress women, kill gays, and overturn pretty much every existing government in the region. But just those Jews and their friends will be upset. You know, just like in the 1930s when certain people said that opposition to the totalitarian threat of those years was just coming from the Jews.
Reuters portrays the Brotherhood, as do many, as “a group founded in 1928 that seeks to promote its conservative vision of Islam in society.” Conservative? You mean they are like the Republican Party? You mean they are for the status quo? And of course one of the things they did since 1928 was to ally with Nazi Germany, and the Brotherhood continues to voice the same political line toward Jews that it did back then
We are also told that the Brotherhood “long ago renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt….” This is simply not true. The Brotherhood merely temporarily renounced violence within Egypt because they knew that any resort to it would get them wiped out by the regime and the army. They postponed using violence until the revolutionary era arrived. Of course, if they can take over Egypt without violence they are happy to do so.
But there’s more. Every day for decades the Brotherhood has supported violence against Israel. It has supported violence against Americans in Iraq, and on various other fronts. Why is this so hard to see?
The result has been a dilemma for the Obama administration. Former officials and analysts said it has little choice but to engage the Brotherhood directly, given its political prominence after the February 11 downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
That is arguably true, but by recognizing the Brotherhood and having contacts with it, the Obama administration also makes a unilateral concession encouraging the Brotherhood. People who know the Middle East understand how this works: Soon many Egyptians will say (as they said in Iran and as they now say in Turkey) that the United States wants the Islamists to win.
But, the article continues:
U.S. President Barack Obama will surely face criticism for engaging with the Brotherhood, even tentatively.
And who do they go to — Middle East analysts who can explain why this is dangerous? No, to the head of AIPAC in order to perpetuate the theme that this is merely a problem with the Jewish lobby! And who is presented to refute this? Former American diplomats. So it is the people who know versus the Jews.
And what are we told about the Brotherhood’s goals? This:
The group says it wants a civil state based on Islamic principles, but talk by some members of an “Islamic state” or “Islamic government” have raised concerns that their goal is a state where full Islamic sharia law is implemented. The group says such comments have been taken out of context.
“Some members” include the leader and deputy leader of the group. It is apparently too much trouble to read and quote what Brotherhood officials say, or their publications openly state, or their political platform calls for. Never are these statements fully quoted. Always they are dismissed as insignificant, like the statements of the late Usama bin Ladin once were.
Moreover, Egypt under Mubarak could reasonably be said to be a “civil state based on Islamic principles.” And since “Islamic principles” are mandated by Allah, democracy is ultimately unacceptable since no human vote could alter those principles. How can an elected parliament pass a law limiting a man to one wife, or accepting religious conversion, outlawing amputations, or maintaining peace with Israel — to cite just a few examples — since those are against “Islamic principles,” at least under the interpretation of Islam held by the Brotherhood?
So we just can’t tell if the Muslim Brotherhood wants a radical Islamist state before it takes power. Just like it was presumably a mystery about what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wanted to do in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hizballah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
And finally the article doesn’t even mention the most important development in U.S.-Muslim Brotherhood relations during that group’s eighty-year history: President Barack Obama’s explicit (and uninvited) statement accepting the Brotherhood being in government. U.S. policy is paving the way for a radical, possibly Islamist, Egypt. It is a catastrophic strategy.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org.