By Namo Abdulla - Rudaw
|Egyptian anti-regime protesters hold a banner against President Mohamed Morsi during a demonstration in the coastal city of Alexandria. Photo: AFP|
WASHINGTON DC—The United States has undoubtedly no love for the Muslim Brotherhood, its ideology or its leader Mohammed Morsi. America prefers a secular democracy in Egypt. It certainly does not mind a secular authoritarianism as long as it’s a good US ally. For decades that was the case under Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak ruled Egypt throughout five U.S. administrations. But US-Egypt relationship never changed.
This perception of Egyptian politics however, is not coined by the Obama Administration. In October 2009, nearly a year before the Egyptians ousted Mubarak, President Obama received Mubarak at the Oval Office. “The United States and Egypt have worked together closely for many years,” said President Obama in a press conference sitting next to Mubarak. “And for many of those years, President Mubarak has been a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States.”
Then why was Obama, in his own words, “deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution” earlier last week?
The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political party in Egypt.
There is more than one answer to this question:
One: President Obama knows that the ouster of Morsi does not equate to the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political party in Egypt. Even if we accept the argument of the so-called liberals that President Morsi failed to meet the expectations of the revolutionaries in ONE whole year, the failure of Morsi is the failure of just one Muslim Brotherhood member, not that of the entire movement.
Conversely, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political party in Egypt. Throughout its 85-year existence - mostly as a clandestine group- it has been able to win the hearts and minds of millions of people mostly in the underdeveloped parts of the country by building hospitals and aggressively fighting illiteracy. It did so in the face of enormous oppression from the country’s authoritarian elite, which arrested and executed its key members for decades until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. In the post 2011 uprising elections, however, Morsi won nearly 52 percent of the votes, a big percentage in a country sharply divided into secular, liberal, Salafi and moderate Islamist groups. In brief, if Democracy is to succeed in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose constituency largely draws from people who are not swing voters and rather vote based on ideology, is more likely going to be part of the ruling than the ruled class. Make no mistake, a couple million anti-Morsi protesters doesn’t mean the victory of liberal democracy over the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama does not and he’s right.
It’s a matter of credibility for the United States, and that credibility is already at stake,
Two: What the Egyptian military did was an undemocratic move, which the United States, as a country that sees itself as a promoter of democracy and freedom the world over, had difficulties backing. It’s a matter of credibility for the United States, and that credibility is already at stake as the Egyptian military, which received millions in aid from the United States, carried out a coup against the country’s first democratically elected president. Even though Obama avoided using the term “coup” in reference to the overthrow of Morsi, other Americans, including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, have. Leahy said the Egyptian military's move was a coup and the US had to cut off its aid to Egypt. “Our law is clear,” he said on Wednesday. Similarly, the New York Times says the ouster of Morsi “was unquestionably a coup.” So how can Obama support a coup? He cannot, at least in public. But he is also careful to not actively stand against it and call it a “coup” because of the apparently wide popular support it received.
Obama, however, needs to be more forcefully -in both words and action- against the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood members by the military because of the simple reason that the military will have no future in a democratic Egypt. Regardless of who is in power - liberals or Islamists- the next Egyptian leader’s first job is likely going to be drafting a new constitution that brings the military under civilian control. This is what Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan did a few years ago. He amended Turkey’s constitution and threw the generals in jail on charges of involvement in past coups. The US hailed the decline of militarism in Turkey as a tribute to democracy.
Three: It is likely that shunning the Muslim Brotherhood out of the political process would nurture more radical Islamists, and perhaps al-Qaeda sympathizers, in Egypt. If they are convinced that politics is entirely closed to them and that the United States is in any way the reason, many moderate Egyptians would not think twice to join radical groups, who are abundant and ready to recruit in the Arab land. Just look at what is happening in Syria. The more America is reluctant to intervene and support them against Assad’s regime, the more aggressive and radical they become. With the start of the Arab Spring, many people spoke of the irrelevance of al-Qaeda’s worldview as Muslims seemed to have found alternative ways to choose the political system they wanted in their countries. The United States had actively been against that for decades. It should not repeat the same mistake. This is a different age. It’s the age of the people. In the Muslim world, there are plenty of people who, regardless of the cost, will longer sit down and accept repressive governments.
Just look at what is happening in Syria. The more America is reluctant to intervene and support them against Assad’s regime, the more aggressive and radical they become.
Four: The United States, like many others, is confused about the makeup and goals of the anti-Morsi camp. It was, for instance, surreal to see Salafists, liberals and the military all in one camp against Morsi. The last thing Obama wants to see is the ascendance of the Salafistis to power in Egypt. Given the fabric of the Egyptian society, this is highly unlikely to happen at this time. But can those people who share the same grievances against Morsi reach an agreement and work together? Unlikely.
Five: The last but certainly not the least, has to do with the significance of Egypt as a country for the United States. First of all, Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and has long been an important player in securing America’s strategic interests, including the stability of Israel, which shares border with Egypt. Egypt and Israel have the Camp David peace deal, which has been key for Israel’s security since 1978. Convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to be an important political actor in Egypt, the Obama Administration will never want to ruin its future relations with the group.
Namo Abdulla is Rudaw’s senior correspondent in Washington, D.C