By Barry Rubin
When Muhamad ElBaradei tried to vote March 19 in the referendum on Egypt’s constitutional changes, he was attacked by hundreds of Islamists with stones, at least one of which hit him, and shoes. “We don’t want you,” the mob shouted. “He lives in the United States and wants to rule us. It’s out of the question,” one demonstrator said.
“We don’t want an American agent,” said another. ElBaradei ran away without voting.
Just five weeks after President Barack Obama helped overthrow the Egyptian regime, accompanied by endless media reports about how great and democratic this was all going to be, and after we were told by scores of instant “experts” that the Muslim Brotherhood was weak and harmless, Egypt is beginning to reap the whirlwind.
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Why should anyone be surprised? This statement from Rashad Bayoumi, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s number-two leader, as translated by MEMRI, should trigger memories:
“The thing I fear most is foreign intervention. Our people and societies must realize that their main enemy abroad is the U.S. and the Zionist gang, and that their main enemy within is Israel. Everybody must take this into account, and must be aware that this is the enemy that lurks in the midst of Middle Eastern society. This must be clear to everybody.”
My thoughts flew back to 1979. After the Iranian Islamist revolution, which took power the previous February, the administration of President Jimmy Carter did everything possible to assure the new regime of American friendship. But the more the U.S. government tried to engage them, the more suspicious Iran’s new leaders became.
Why? Because they understood that the U.S. goal was to moderate the revolution, which is precisely what they didn’t want to happen. The last straw was when National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski met with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, the moderate front man for the regime. This was seen in Tehran as a dire threat and led directly to the seizure of the U.S. embassy and the taking of the Americans there as hostages.
So Bayoumi’s words remind us that the closer the Americans try to get to the Islamists–to prove that the United States is their good buddy–the more they fear “foreign intervention” and feel the need to express their anti-Americanism.
It also reminds us, of course, that Israel is the number-one obsession of the Brotherhood and they are sure to try to implement their plan for attacking and if possible destroying it.
But America can’t make friends with revolutionary Islamists because:
–They hate America because they have an ideological view of it as the enemy. And they’re right in doing so because the United States will not ultimately support and help them achieve their goals.
–They want to keep their distance because they correctly believe America will help strengthen moderate non-Islamists against them.
–They want to keep their distance because they correctly believe America will try to help and strengthen the most relatively moderate tendencies among Islamists, thus coopting them and destroying their movement.
–They wish to push America away to prove to each other and their rivals that they are not American agents.
There are two ways for the United States to understand this: the hard way and the easy way. The easy way is to understand the history, ideology, and behavior of the Islamists.
The hard way is to ignore all of the evidence and experience, create catastrophic situations, and only then wake up and try to repair the damage done by their own policies.
I think U.S. policy is doing this the hard way.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. 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 GLORIA Center’s site is http://www.gloria-center.orghttp://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com. and of his blog, Rubin Reports,