Another Unforced Obama Error on Egypt (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan S. Tobin 04/05/12)
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Yesterday, I wrote about the Obama administration’s decision to back
the Muslim Brotherhood’s bid for a monopoly on power in Egypt. The
rationale behind this startling decision was the possibility that an
even more extreme Islamist appeared likely to win the upcoming
presidential election. But now it appears that the candidacy of Sheik
Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Salafi leader who appeared to be taking
the country by storm, is in jeopardy.
If so, and the possibility that the most radical Islamist in the race
will not be running Egypt has receded, the question for Washington is
how President Obama’s foreign policy team — which met this week with
a delegation of radical Islamists from the Brotherhood in the White
House — proposes to walk back their latest unforced error on Egypt?
Given the dangers that would accrue from the Brotherhood adding the
presidency to their control of Egypt’s new parliament, it looks as if
the administration has given sanction to a development that will
alter the political landscape of the Middle East in a manner that
will severely diminish American influence and increase the
possibility of more Islamist violence against Israel.
The problems of Sheik Ismail provide a bit of comic relief to an
otherwise grim situation in Cairo. The radical leader is an ardent
foe of the United States, but it appears that his mother, who went to
California to be with Ismail’s sister who had previously immigrated
there, obtained American citizenship before she died. If so, that
would contravene a law passed last year that mandated that the
parents of any Egyptian president must not have any other passport.
Should the charge be true and Ismail is forced to leave the contest,
that would be a huge victory for the Brotherhood and their candidate,
wealthy businessman Khairat Al Shater.
But this is nothing for the United States to cheer about. Though the
White House may be buying into the Brotherhood’s assurances of
moderation and devotion to peace and stability, a closer look at Al
Shater reveals that the Islamist group hasn’t really changed its
stripes. As Bret Stephens wrote earlier this week in the Wall Street
Journal, the Brotherhood candidate is anything but moderate on the
question of Middle East peace and doesn’t sound like someone the
White House should be rolling out the red carpet for:
On the subject of Israel, Mr. Shater noted that the killing of
Hamas’s Ahmed Yassin was “a heinous crime corresponding to the
perfidious nature of the Zionist enemy.” As for negotiating with
Israel, he called it “mindless”: “The only way” to deal with the
Jewish state, he insisted, “is jihad.” He faulted “the enemies of
Islam” for trying to “distort and remove [jihad] from the hearts and
minds and souls of Muslims.” He blasted the U.S. for preventing “the
Islamic nation in its entirety” from eliminating “the usurper Zionist
Moreover, although as Stephens notes, some of the things the
candidate says are pleasing to Western ears, there’s no denying his
goal is to impose Islam on every aspect of Egyptian society. If, in
the most optimistic scenario, the Brotherhood wants to emulate Turkey
rather than Iran, that means the transformation of a secular Western
ally into an Islamist nation that will always be hostile to U.S.
interests and peace.
Yet, by diving into the election and giving the Brotherhood its seal
of approval, the White House may have once again undermined any hope
that the military or secular moderates could hold off the Islamist
The list of administration errors on Egypt is long. It refused to
promote democracy or human rights while Hosni Mubarak still ruled,
but then compounded that error by quickly dumping Mubarak. It
repeated that pattern by seeking to attack the military government
that succeeded Mubarak and then appeased them by continuing the aid
in the face of provocations. Now, it has put its chips on the
Brotherhood even though there is still a chance it can be stopped.
After all this, the only question is what Obama blunder will be next?
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