New president promises Egypt: I'll work to free the blind sheikh convicted after the first WTC bombing

A vignette from Morsi’s semi-official swearing-in this afternoon in Tahrir Square. Here’s what populism looks like in the “new” Middle East:

Omar Abdel-Rahman, “the blind sheikh,” is serving a life sentence in a federal prison for his role in the 1993 bombing that killed six people in lower Manhattan. The attack on the World Trade Center launched by al Qaeda eight years later on Sept. 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people.

“I see banners for Omar Abdel Rahman’s family, and for prisoners arrested according to martial rulings and detainees from the beginning of the revolution,” said Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Morsi to a buoyant crowd of Islamist supporters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday. “It is my duty to make every effort, and I will beginning tomorrow, to secure their release, among them Omar Abdel Rahman.”…

Using evidence collected by an Egyptian informant, the U.S. government prosecuted Rahman for conspiracy in connection with the February 1993 World Trade Center attack. After the attack, the government recorded Rahman encouraging further violence against targets in New York and New Jersey.

Bear in mind, this guy has a Ph.D from USC, taught at Cal State-Northridge for three years in the early 80s, and has two children who are American by birth. This isn’t a case of a random Arab politician demagoging America by praising some jihadist degenerate who plotted against the U.S. This is a guy who lived here, studied here, worked here, and had kids here. And now he’s looking to spring someone who was even further ahead of the terrorist curve than Bin Laden. Go figure that a Truther would make freeing characters like Rahman a priority.

Don’t assume that Morsi was simply playing to the crowd either in mentioning Rahman today. The NYT notes that he’s mentioned him before on the campaign trail. Could be that he doesn’t really care but recognizes that this is an effective pander to Egyptian voters, Salafists especially, which would be bad enough. But maybe he really does care and is planning to broach the subject of early release with the U.S., knowing full well that America is eager to build a relationship with the Brotherhood in order to increase its leverage over Egypt. The One’s never going to agree to commute Rahman’s sentence — it would squander all the counterterror credibility for Democrats that he’s built over the past three years — which makes me wonder if Morsi doesn’t realize that and is just an idiot or if he does realize that and is using this strategically. Remember, the MB has said repeatedly that it won’t be the party who breaks the treaty with Israel, but all that really means is that they’ll be looking for some so-called Israeli “provocation” as a pretext to claim that Israel’s actions invalidated the treaty instead. Could be Morsi’s playing the same game with the U.S.: He doesn’t want to be seen as rejecting a relationship with America out of hand, but at the same time he figures he’ll do better politically at home by positioning himself as an American antagonist. (With good reason.) So he’ll ask the White House to prove its “good faith” and trust in the “new Egypt” by handing over Rahman, and if they refuse, then he gets to claim that he extended his hand in peace but was rebuffed by those darned American Zionists. We’ll see whether American help with Egypt’s economy is more important to him than the retail benefits of anti-Americanism.

Via MEMRI TV, here’s our new partner in peace on the campaign trail a few weeks ago. See J.E. Dyer’s post in the Greenroom for more.

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