Beware the Muslim Brotherhood

Beware the Muslim Brotherhood

By Jack Kelly - February 13, 2011

What will happen next in Egypt? We don't know. But the consequences -- for good or ill -- will be enormous.

Egypt is the most important nation in the Arab world. It's population (80.5 million) is more than that of Iraq (29.7 million), Saudi Arabia (25.7 million), and Syria (22.1 million) combined.

If Egypt becomes a stable, Western-style democracy, it will transform the region.

But if Egypt becomes an "Islamic republic," as Iran did after its revolution in 1979, war and depression are likely.

So it's important to get the transition right.

We're off to a rocky start. The protests caught the Obama administration by surprise, and it's been behind the power curve ever since.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Friday -- a day after he said he wouldn't -- and turned power over to the military. This is probably the best result possible under the circumstances.

It happened in spite of the Obama administration's ever-shifting policy. In his rambling televised address Thursday night, Mr. Mubarak stuck a rhetorical finger in the president's eye. "I would never permit ... any sort of intervention that would come from outside," he said.

"This was a direct slap at Obama," said Middle East expert Barry Rubin. "He basically said: 'I am an Arab warrior, not a community organizer.' "

To give the impression they're on top of things, President Obama and his aides have spoken out frequently. But their many shifts in position have alienated both supporters of the regime and those protesting it.

"The official U.S. position is that Mubarak needs to go immediately, he needs to stay indefinitely, he needs to stay for a bit and then go, he needs to stay for a bit longer and then go sooner rather than later, unless he decides to stay until September," summarized humorist Mark Steyn.

"The improvisational -- critics say closer to schizophrenic -- nature of U.S. diplomacy during the crisis leaves the administration in the unwelcome position of having to make amends with whichever side emerges from the Egyptian tumult as the governing power," wrote Ben Smith in the Webzine Politico.

Our news media have been of little help in understanding what's going on. The networks sent their big names to Cairo though none spoke Arabic, knew the culture or knew the players.

"Their being in Cairo was adding zero news value other than making the plight of Western reporters the focal point of the story, which was not the point of their being in Cairo in the first place," said Rich Galen, who had been press secretary for House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Few journalists have mentioned the protests were sparked by a doubling of food prices in the last year. But the greatest disservice they have done is to misrepresent the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood.

When journalists tout the brotherhood's "moderation" because it has publicly eschewed violence, they fail to mention that its goals are similar to al-Qaida's; that it grew to prominence because of its alliance with Adolf Hitler and that -- according to Kuwait's education minister -- it is the father of all current terror groups in the Middle East.

Confusion about the Muslim Brotherhood is not limited to journalists. In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee Thursday, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, described the brotherhood as "largely secular."

"This is one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment," said John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine.

Obama administration cluelessness about the brotherhood is dangerously reminiscent of Carter administration policy toward Iran in 1979. President Jimmy Carter's U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, once described the Ayatollah Khomeini as "some kind of saint."

The Muslim brothers are bad guys. But they seem to have been as surprised by the protests -- which have been dominated by young people who seem genuinely interested in freedom and democracy -- as the Obama administration was.

Mr. Obama should be providing the democratic elements among the protesters with more than lip service. But it's evident his administration has few contacts among them, and they have little regard for him.

So maybe it's good that few in Egypt are paying much attention to what Mr. Obama has to say.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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