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“…Here is the voice of Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradhawi, [spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and] one of the learned men of Egyptian Islam: ‘I think [the shari’a] should be implemented gradually. This is a law of the shari’a and a law of nature.… We should do things gradually. We should prepare the people, teach them. People have to learn. We have to make an effort to teach people the truth about Islam…before anything else. I think that in the first five years, there should be no chopping off of hands. This period should be dedicated to teaching things. A transitional phase.… Then we can discuss the punishment for theft.…’

Oh, yes, and [al-Qaradhawi is] also among the most liberal.…”—Martin Peretz, in “A Liberal Islamic Scholar Speaks Up in Egypt.” (New Republic, January 31.)

Eric Trager

New Republic, January 25, 2012

Exactly one year ago [January 25, 2011], I stood in front of the Lawyers Syndicate in downtown Cairo and watched as a few thousand protesters suddenly streamed into the area from the north, overwhelmed Egypt’s notoriously violent riot police, and pushed onward towards Tahrir Square. That mile-long march, which culminated with the protesters bursting through a human chain of officers and seizing the Square, was the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains so. Long presumed to be politically passive, ordinary Egyptians bravely amassed with one simple demand: That decades of dictatorship had to end. When Hosni Mubarak resigned eighteen tumultuous days later, the Arab Spring had bloomed.

Or so we wanted to believe. The reality of the past twelve months, however, has undone whatever high hopes one might have held. Egypt is now headed for radical theocratic, rather than liberal democratic, rule. And a befuddled Obama administration has failed to do anything to stop the coming disaster.

It is tempting to believe that things might have turned out differently had Washington worked harder to bolster the young revolutionaries who seemingly exemplified America’s own liberal values when they took to the streets last January. These brave activists, after all, had won America’s hearts to the tune of an 82-percent approval rating at the height of the revolt, and their photogenic faces carried the promise of a more democratic, friendly Egypt.

But the activists were never who we hoped they were. Far from being liberal, their ranks were largely comprised of Nasserists, revolutionary socialists, and Muslim Brotherhood youths—an alliance of convenience for opposing Mubarak and, later, for denouncing the U.S.

Thus, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt in March 2011, a group of leading activists refused to meet with her. They also turned out to be intolerant conspiracy theorists: When classically Cairoesque rumors that a “Jewish Masonic” ceremony was to be held at the pyramids on November 11, the April 6th Youth Movement’s Democratic Front declared that this non-existent event should be prohibited. “We are committed to the achievements of the revolution, which emphasized freedom,” they said in a statement. “But freedom is not absolute freedom, and…it is constrained by the regulations and beliefs of the Egyptian people, who do not accept that these celebrations be protected.…”

Not that the revolutionaries were the horse to bet on anyway.… In late October—only one day before the registration deadline—they finally formed an electoral coalition, the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA), to compete in parliamentary elections. But it was too late. The RCA won merely 2.35 percent of the parliamentary seats, and will play a minimal role in shaping Egypt’s political future. Meanwhile, Islamist parties captured [more than] 70 percent of the vote.…

In this vein, the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s leaders have said repeatedly that the organization intends to put the Camp David Accords to a referendum—a strategy that it apparently believes will enable it to sink Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel while escaping the blame. Brotherhood leaders have additionally called for banning bikinis, beach bathing, and alcohol despite the fact that these are essential elements to Egypt’s tourism industry, which comprises roughly ten percent of Egypt’s stagnating economy.… Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, the Brotherhood intends to establish the sharia as the principal source of Egyptian legislation and criminalize criticism of Islamic law, thereby rendering Christians and secularists unequal citizens.

Indeed, one year after Egypt’s heroic revolt, Washington has no heroes in Cairo, only headaches. But rather than confronting those headaches, the Obama administration has consistently chosen the path of least resistance. Thus, the [recent military-backed] raids on U.S.-funded NGOs has not put a halt to the $1.3 billion in military aid that Washington sends to Cairo, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s blatant stances against key U.S. interests have gone unchecked. According to Brotherhood political leader Essam El-Erian, when the US Deputy Secretary of State visited the organization’s Cairo headquarters in mid-January, the Camp David Accords weren’t even mentioned.

Perhaps the administration is betting that recently reported negotiations between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Muslim Brotherhood will yield an agreement that satisfies both parties and, at the very least, promotes domestic tranquility. If so, it would be a telling indicator of where things stand: a year after the ebullience of Tahrir, an alliance between military autocrats and radical theocrats is viewed, sadly, as a best-case scenario.

(Eric Trager is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.)

Daniel Nisman

Jerusalem Post, February 1, 2012

Despite the media’s love affair with the anti-Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) activist movement, the Egyptian revolution has already been secretly decided.… It seems clear that after a year of political unrest, sectarian violence, civil strikes and economic turmoil, the majority of Egyptians have opted to ensure their security, even if it means forgoing the original goals of the revolution.

This security has been achieved by the emergence of a new balance of power, carefully negotiated against the backdrop of parliamentary elections, between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military council. This shadowy agreement first became evident in November 2011, when liberal activists engulfed downtown Cairo in rioting, threatening stability before the onset of parliamentary elections. While the media flocked to Mohammed Mahmoud Street to capture romantic images of stone-throwing youth, Muslim Brotherhood leaders secretly met with SCAF officials to decipher a way to end the violence in a mutually beneficial manner.

It was during these behind-the-scenes meetings that the two parties allegedly reconciled their previous differences over the nature of Egypt’s constitution, agreeing in turn to each do their part to ensure stability in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood would agree to support the SCAF’s timetable for transfer of power, pledging to refrain from contributing to any protest movement which might arise. For its part, the SCAF agreed to allow what would be a Brotherhood-dominated parliament to decipher the constitution while reportedly ensuring a presidential system which would safeguard the military’s continued influence in government.

As reports of the agreement began to trickle in through local media, the Muslim Brotherhood staunchly denied their participation. However, the course of their actions since November provide a telling indicator that Egypt’s most influential faction is now in cahoots with the increasingly unpopular military council.

When riots flared again in December 2011, the Brotherhood came out in support of the SCAF’s timetable for presidential elections, going against calls made by liberal politicians. Just as Egypt appeared divided over the SCAF-induced celebratory nature of the revolution’s anniversary, the Muslim Brotherhood openly held supportive rallies in Tahrir Square opposite thousands of secular and liberal activists who were calling for its removal from power.

Given the media’s fascination with Egypt’s seemingly continuous revolution, one would think that the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of the much-hated SCAF would detract from its popularity. The Brotherhood’s subsequent success in parliamentary elections and ever-growing popularity proves that the Egyptian reality is not consistent with the media’s portrayal.

In reality, the Brotherhood’s agreement with the SCAF did not draw the ire of the average Egyptian due to the simple fact that much of the population simply wishes for a restoration of security. The instability and uncertainty in the wake of Mubarak’s ousting has not only put many Egyptians out of work, but has also caused many residents to fear for their personal safety in a growing security vacuum. As such, the outrage of the educated liberal elite over issues like imprisoned bloggers has continuously failed to resonate with a population which finds itself struggling to survive. In their eyes, the destabilizing violence caused by these groups’ pursuit of liberal-democratic governance has only contributed to their hardship, effectively becoming more of a nuisance than a legitimate struggle.

The Brotherhood, like the average Egyptian, still views the military as the only entity capable of keeping the country afloat. For a group which desperately needed such security for its rise to power during the lengthy polling period, an agreement to cooperate with the SCAF was clearly a well calculated move.

As Egypt moves forward into the second year since of its rebirth, liberal activist groups are likely to continue drawing media attention through colorful demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Outside of Cairo, meanwhile, the average Egyptian has reconciled with the idea that ensuring personal security under a military-influenced government is preferable to the prolonged instability that comes from pursuit of liberal democracy.…

Washington Post, January 31, 2012

There is a grotesque incongruity in the tour around Washington this week of an Egyptian military delegation even as seven Americans who work for congressionally funded pro-democracy groups are prevented from leaving Cairo and threatened with criminal prosecution. What makes it worse is that the ruling military council refuses to recognize the seriousness of the crisis it has created in the U.S.-Egyptian alliance.

The persecution of the Americans, which has been escalating since their offices were raided Dec. 29, is an extraordinary provocation by the generals who succeeded Hosni Mubarak. Despite repeated appeals, including by President Obama, military council chief Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi has failed to deliver on promises to call off the witch hunt and return confiscated funds and property. Over the weekend, three of the Americans, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, moved into the U.S. Embassy compound in Cairo out of fear for their safety.

Meanwhile the Egyptian military delegation, headed by Fouad Abdelhalim, defense minister for arms affairs, is here on a business-as-usual mission to discuss security cooperation—including the weapons purchases Egypt makes with the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid it receives each year. The generals regard this funding as an entitlement, linked to the country’s peace treaty with Israel. They appear to believe that Washington will not dare to cut them off, even if Americans seeking to promote democracy in Egypt are made the object of xenophobic slanders and threatened with imprisonment.

Preserving the alliance with Egypt, and maintaining good relations with its military, is an important U.S. interest. But the Obama administration must be prepared to take an uncompromising stand. If the campaign against U.S., European and Egyptian NGOs is not ended, military aid must be suspended.…

The campaign against the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, along with a half-dozen Egyptian and European groups, is being led by Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Aboul Naga, a civilian holdover from the Mubarak regime. Ms. Aboul Naga, an ambitious demagogue, is pursuing a well-worn path in Egyptian politics—whipping up nationalist sentiment against the United States as a way of attacking liberal opponents at home. The regime’s calculation has always been that it can get away with such outrages because U.S. policymakers will conclude they can’t afford a rupture in relations with Egypt. But if such a break is to be avoided, the generals must be disabused of the notion that U.S. military aid is inviolate.

David Pollock

Washington Post, January 26, 2012

Amid new strains in U.S.-Egypt ties, some in Washington are studying the tensions and results of recent voting for indications that democracy can take hold. Those who say the Muslim Brotherhood is showing new signs of moderation should compare its message to outsiders, in English, with its message to Egyptians and other Arabs, in Arabic.

Take the Brotherhood’s official English and Arabic Web sites, IkhwanWeb and IkhwanOnline, from one day this month. In English, the home page featured no fewer than eight articles on the solicitude of the Brotherhood toward Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. The Arabic home page, by contrast, included just two small pieces on this theme. The contrast is sharper on other key issues. On democracy, the English home page one January day featured several articles with headlines such as “Why Islamists Are Better Democrats” and “Democracy: One of the Objectives of Shariah?” There was nothing comparable in Arabic. Instead, Arabic readers saw three pieces against freedom of the press, attacking two top independent Egyptian dailies for printing criticisms of the Brotherhood.

This kind of double talk is part of a pattern. Last February, right after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, the Brotherhood published what it called an English-language version of Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie’s message to the Egyptian people, celebrating their revolution. In that version, he supposedly spoke mainly of democracy, tolerance, pluralism and coexistence between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians. But the text of his statement, published simultaneously in Arabic, had a totally different tone. In his authentic message, Badie wrote at great length on how Egypt’s uprising was a blessing from Allah—and how much Egyptians needed to stay firm in their Muslim faith to reap its real rewards.…

When this degree of duplicity is demonstrated, the group’s credibility is, or should be, compromised accordingly. Some will say the Brotherhood includes some relatively moderate voices. True, but it is a very disciplined, hierarchical movement: Many of its moderates have left in the past year or have been expelled, and its most senior leaders are the hard-liners.… We should pay no attention to anything the Brotherhood says in English and little attention to any private “assurances” it offers.…

Daniel Greenfield

FrontPage, January 31, 2012

When the 2006 Palestinian Arab elections resulted in a decisive victory for Hamas, the advocates of democracy as the solution for all regional ills blamed Israel’s undermining of the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring when the Al-Nahda Islamists swept to power in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists captured a majority in Egypt, some of the same people blamed the United States for enabling dictators.

The excuses were an attempt to place the blame somewhere other than the electorate which had cast their ballots for theocracies, or rather more extreme versions of the existing theocratic elements in the legal and political system. The most convenient target for blame was the scapegoat of Western foreign policy.…

The advocates of democracy have been unable to admit that Hamas, Al-Nahda, the Brotherhood and the Salafis are the people’s choice because they represent their values and ideals. The Salafist victory in Egypt cannot be put down to an effective organization, to a moderate veneer or even the ability to engage voters on economic issues. Nevertheless they surprised everyone with a popularity that was not based on any external factor or political cunning, but on their core message of hate for non-Muslims, repression for women and Islamist tyranny for Egypt.

The trouble with democracy is that it is representative. It is representative in Egypt, in Tunisia, in the West Bank, in Iraq and beyond. The rise of Islamist groups is a symptom of the mindset throughout the Muslim world.…

Democracy is not a universal solvent. It is not a guarantor of human rights or the road to a free and enlightened society. As Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, elections allow for a peaceful transition of power. Haniyeh’s Muslim Brotherhood colleagues in Egypt and throughout the region feel the same way. They do not see democracy as an ideal, but as a vehicle for gathering public support to ease their way into power.…

In Turkey the electoral victories of the AKP gave the Islamists the power to radically transform the country. Given another decade the elections in Turkey will be as much of a formality as they are in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will follow the same program…to the applause of the European Union and the United States who care more about the appearance of democracy than the reality of the totalitarian state they are endorsing.

Democratic elections are only as good as the people who take part in them. When the people want the Koran or Das Kapital, then they will get it. Such elections measure the character of a people, their commitment to the rights of others and their basic humanity. The Egyptians failed their election test, as the statistics showing the national support for Sharia and the sexual assault rates forecast that they would.…

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