Obama green-lighting Muslim Brotherhood participation in Egyptian government

posted at 12:15 pm on February 1, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Welcome to the new reality of cold, hard choices in Egypt, and the consequences of democracy in regions where radicalism thrives.  In order to stay ahead of the crisis in Egypt, the Obama administration yesterday signaled that it supports the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian politics as long as they renounce violence and commit to democracy:

The Obama administration said for the first time that it supports a role for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, in a reformed Egyptian government.

The organization must reject violence and recognize democratic goals if the U.S. is to be comfortable with it taking part in the government, the White House said. But by even setting conditions for the involvement of such nonsecular groups, the administration took a surprise step in the midst of the crisis that has enveloped Egypt for the last week. …

Monday’s statement was a “pretty clear sign that the U.S. isn’t going to advocate a narrow form of pluralism, but a broad one,” said Robert Malley, a Mideast peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. U.S. officials have previously pressed for broader participation in Egypt’s government.

The George W. Bush administration pushed Mubarak for democratic reforms, but a statement in 2005 by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not specifically address a role for Islamists.

“This is different,” said Malley, now with the International Crisis Group. “It has a real political edge and political meaning.”

If the name Robert Malley sounds familiar, it should.  Obama supposedly fired Malley as an adviser for Middle East affairs in April 2008 from his campaign (Malley later claimed he’d quit) after it came out that Malley had met with Hamas on several occasions, despite Hamas’ status as a terrorist group as indicated by the State Department.  Those meetings took place through the auspices of the International Crisis Group as well.   Malley also helped create J Street, designed as a counterbalance to AIPAC, which lobbies for Israel in Washington, and while a member of Clinton’s team was the only administration official to blame Israel for Yasser Arafat’s refusal to accept the Clinton peace plan.

Even so, this does nothing but acknowledge the obvious.  The Muslim Brotherhood has operated in Egypt since at least 1928 despite repeated and sustained attempts to stamp it out.  It’s a political minority, but an influential and significant movement that could end up playing kingmaker in an unruly shift into free elections in Egypt.  We have no real say in the narrowness or broadness of whatever pluralism emerges in Egypt — presuming, of course, that the army doesn’t seize control instead.  The best we can do is to try to get ahead of it and pressure Egyptians into renouncing violence in the interim, and hope the rest of Egypt holds them to their commitments.

Duncan Currie makes a good point about the inevitability of this moment, and at least a dim hope for a kind of reformation from it:

“I fully expect the Muslim Brotherhood to do well in any election,” Gerecht tells me. “They have a fairly substantial following.” He has no illusions about the group’s Islamist agenda, or about its virulent anti-Americanism, or about its hatred of Israel. In his view, calling for U.S. “engagement” with the Brotherhood is like calling for engagement with Ayatollah Khamenei. But Gerecht insists that allowing Brotherhood members to participate in a democratic process is the sine qua non of Egyptian political maturation. The country will never achieve real progress, he says, without first creating the political space necessary for a momentous debate over God and man. Indeed, Egypt’s secular liberals must defeat the Islamists in the public square, rather than through military repression. They must win the battle of ideas. …

If Egyptians voted the Brotherhood into a position of serious power, that would generate a kaleidoscope of problems for America and Israel (and Egypt). No serious analyst should pretend otherwise. But Gerecht’s logic is inescapable: You can’t have authentic Egyptian democracy while disenfranchising the country’s largest opposition movement. If you aren’t willing to countenance Brotherhood electoral participation, you shouldn’t be demanding representative government.

Our experience in Iraq should be somewhat instructive as well.  Most of the political parties in the transition formed along sectarian lines — Sunni and Shi’ite, with the Kurds more organized by ethnicity.  That has led to momentous struggles and a great deal of instability in the short term.  Over the long run, though, it at least appears that the groups have begun learning to deal with each other rationally in terms of secular governance rather than at the point of a gun or a sword, as they have done for centuries.  We were in much better position to manage that transition, but even absent our combat presence, the Iraqis appear to be working it out among themselves now.

Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking that the question is if the Ikhwan gets into “a position of serious power.”  They may be a minority, but a sudden shift to representative democracy will probably result in a multitude of political parties with varying degrees of attraction.  The Muslim Brotherhood will remain unified, and could very well be the most effective political party in the field for years to come.  Even if they can’t attract a majority of the vote, they are likely to end up controlling a ruling parliamentary coalition.  We will have to deal with that scenario almost immediately — and hope Egypt can mature fast enough to end it peacefully.  Algeria didn’t get so lucky and ended up in a deadly civil war in 1991 that still hasn’t reached a certain conclusion.

Update: Ralph Peters offers a bracing slap across the face to the US:

The key point, though, is that we’re not going to determine what happens in Egypt. Egyptians will decide that. We can only play on the margins. And better to back the side with the winning hand—which, in the long term, will be the people, not an 82-year-old dictator with dynastic aspirations (which have evaporated).

And no, a democratically elected government in Egypt would not be as pliable a partner for the United States as Mubarak’s regime has been. Don’t like it? Tell me exactly how you’d fix it. Invade? We can’t deal with 30 million hillbillies in Afghanistan, let alone Egypt’s 80 million people and its US-equipped military. Let’s talk real options, not talk-show fantasies.

Yes, a democratic Egypt will see the Muslim Brotherhood represented in parliament. Well, guess what? In democratic elections, sometimes Al Franken gets a seat. Better to have the Islamists inside the tent, uh…waving out…than outside shooting in.

Don’t let the pundits b.s. you, though: Those demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities are not made up of fundamentalists. While extremists would love to exploit the situation (we’d only help them by continuing to pretend that Mubarak remains a player), they don’t, can’t and won’t control it. Look at the pictures. You don’t see masses of bearded men in traditional dress waving Korans, but guys in jeans and windbreakers, college girls and entire families. What you’re seeing is Egypt’s version of the Tea Party: angry citizens who feel their government has refused to hear their voices. The difference is that, in Egypt, they haven’t had an outlet at the ballot box. These are not Islamist fanatics. Let’s not drive them into the arms of the radicals.

Read it all; it’s long, but well worth the time.

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There’s a different between an opposition group and a criminal group, and the MB are criminals!

Now, though, we know why Bams supported this revolution and not the Iranian Greens. All his friends are running this one: Tariq Ramadan, Jody Evans, Bill Ayers and B. Dohrn, Wade Rathke, and the international Crisis Group.

World War III, here we come. Or even worse, Bams will declare himself emperor here when Iran aims nuclear warheads at us.

PattyJ on February 1, 2011 at 9:43 PM

Bin Laden long promised he would bring down all the governments in the middle east that had relations with the US. Our only leverage going forward is to stop sending money to Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. Wake me up when the supposed Ralph Peters Tunisia/Egypt tea party does the same in Syria, Sudan, Libya etc. Don’t hold your breath waiting…

patrick neid on February 1, 2011 at 10:29 PM

Another example of why the fascist Obama belongs in jail. Along with anybody who voted for him. They are all criminals.

proconstitution on February 1, 2011 at 10:31 PM

Another example of why the fascist Obama belongs in jail. Along with anybody who voted for him. They are all criminals.


crimes against the Egyptian constitution?

audiculous on February 1, 2011 at 10:45 PM

The Brotherhood is not the monolithic block being portrayed in the media. There are several branches including some radical ones but when the group went through reforms it lost a number of radicals to AQ and other groups while the main movement decided to work on small scale local issues.

We should not be afraid of them. We should be wary but not afraid. There are much bigger forces at work in Egyptian politics as evidenced by the Coptic protests as well as the mainstream movement which produced the current crisis all without any influence or instigation from the Muslim Brotherhood. It is there… they do have support, but they are not close to being the majority. They have splits and can’t maintain a coherent message among their representatives.

lexhamfox on February 1, 2011 at 11:22 PM

If only the Catholic church could be shown as much respect.

Wine_N_Dine on February 1, 2011 at 11:54 PM

PattyJ on February 1, 2011 at 9:43 PM

+100 At least somebody gets it.

shmendrick on February 2, 2011 at 12:46 AM

They have splits and can’t maintain a coherent message among their representatives.

lexhamfox on February 1, 2011 at 11:22 PM

Perhaps it’s more that they are sofisticated enough to put out more than one message. On their English website it shows a picture of a girl and talks about wanting “freedom”. On their Arabic website it talks about preparing for war with Isreal and shutting down the Suez Canal. Sounds to me like the English version is for the gullible over here and they assume that the few who can understand the Arabic won’t have a large enough audience to cause a problem for them.

They are bad news and would be the camel’s nose under the tent if they are let into any new government even as a very small minority. It is their radical element that is in bed with Obama, Code Pink, Hamas, Ayers, Dohrn, etc. and since they have the backing of the WH I wouldn’t consider them as a marginal faction.

shmendrick on February 2, 2011 at 12:54 AM

It is their radical element that is in bed with Obama

any sort of thing to back up that happy horseapple you dropped there?

audiculous on February 2, 2011 at 1:39 AM

Their demands have been heard and the concessions are adequate. Continuing this nonsense will soon become anarchy . . . if this happens they should be removed by force. The mob is large but it does not represent all Egyptians. Their next stop should be the polls or the jails.

rplat on February 2, 2011 at 6:52 AM

What does one expect from a person who thinks the new “Black Panthers” should qualify for 3C status, and feel members/supporters of al-Quida can be reformed.

MSGTAS on February 2, 2011 at 8:05 AM

I accidentally tuned to NPR yesterday, and they were talking about how the Muslim Brotherhood is non-violent. I’m not sure if NPR is evil or just stupid. Not that it really matters which.

The ‘brotherhood’ almost died out in the ’30’s, until Adolph Hitler gave them a huge cash donation. Their first big donation, which swelled their ranks for many years. But I’m sure they’ve distanced themselves since then.


Squiggy on February 2, 2011 at 9:14 AM

Obama is all things to all people … Hawaiin, native Chicago boy, and Indonesian Muslim…makes sense he would support Muslim thuggerhood with a tropical shirt while playing bad golf.

Sorry! Someone else is welcome to work Kenya into mix somewhere.

Sherman1864 on February 2, 2011 at 9:40 PM