Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Egypt under a Muslim Brotherhood President

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Update from AIJAC

June 29, 2012
Number 06/12 #07


This Update focuses on new analysis from noted experts on the likely trajectory of Egypt under its new President, Muhammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood.

First is Eric Trager, the expert on Egyptian domestic politics for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who discusses whether the democratic election victory of the Brotherhood means that it will now behave as a democratic party. Trager discusses considerable evidence of undemocratic behaviour by the Brotherhood and their supporters during the lead-up to the election, including signals that the Brotherhood intended to fight for a Morsi victory by any means necessary if he failed to win. He concludes that, despite having won, the Brotherhood's "new rulers will only play by democratic rules so long as they enhance their own power." For his discussion in full, CLICK HERE.

Next up is distinguished Middle East scholar Dr. Martin Kramer, who describes what has occurred in Egypt as a worst-case scenario. He expresses strong doubts that the Egyptian military can do more than temporarily slow down the rise of the Brotherhood, and he asserts "Egypt is headed toward populist Islamist rule, and it is just a matter of time before the Brotherhood checkmates its opponents." He also says that because of the acute economic needs of Egypt, the Brotherhood's foreign policy strategy "will be to stimulate crises that will be amenable to resolution by the transfer of resources" and that some of those crises will likely involve Israel. For this fascinating analysis from a very knowledgeable observer, CLICK HERE. Also suggesting the Brotherhood may see it in their political interest to pick fights with Israel, albeit for slightly different reasons, is American foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead.

Finally, noted Israeli journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi calls for observers not to indulge in the same widespread illusions about Egypt that were common under Mubarak and in the aftermath of his fall. He notes that Israeli analysts were mocked for concerns that Mubarak's overthrow would lead to Muslim Brotherhood rule, yet this is exactly what has occurred. He cites additional cases of wishful thinking involving Syria's Assad regime and Gaddafi's Libya and urges Western policy-makers to adopt a new "operative principle" in deciding Middle East policy: "No more illusions." For the rest of his argument, CLICK HERE.

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The Muslim Brotherhood Won an Election, But Is It Really Democratic?

Eric Trager

The New Republic, June 26, 2012

CAIRO, Egypt—In the stultifying, 100-plus-degree heat of Tahrir Square on Sunday, where tens of thousands gathered to hear the results of Egypt’s first relatively free presidential election, the sweaty, and occasionally fainting, masses were morbidly grim. Many in the Islamist-dominant crowd were convinced that Egypt’s military junta would anoint former prime minister Ahmed Shafik the next president, and they anticipated deadly confrontation with security forces immediately thereafter. Towards the south end of the Square, dozens of Islamists marched in lines of two carrying cloths meant to represent shrouds. “We are ready to die like the martyrs before us,” one of them told me, referring to the approximately 800 people who died in last year’s uprising. “This is my coffin,” said another, pointing to the cloth in his hands. “We win or we die.”

Of course, after a painfully long speech by the presidential elections commission chairman, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was declared Egypt’s next president, and massive celebrations soon enveloped downtown Cairo. But the mood of Tahrir Square before this announcement—most of all, the rampant talk of death—suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies were not prepared to accept any other outcome. They were either going to win the presidency outright, or fight for it via other means. In other words, although the Brotherhood won this election democratically, we shouldn’t conclude that it is a truly democratic organization.

Indeed, the Brotherhood’s undemocratic ways were evident throughout the presidential campaign. When they first announced that they would run a candidate in late March, the Brotherhood accused Egypt’s military junta of trying to forge the elections, and said that it would respond to the election of any former regime official with mass demonstrations. “The Egyptians did not revolt to get rid of Mubarak...to get another Mubarak—Shafik or someone,” Murad Mohamed Aly, a Morsi campaign official, told me in April, adding that the Brotherhood would also launch mass protests if former Arab League leader Amr Moussa, then a poll-leading contender, were elected. 

Then, in late April, the Brotherhood sought to limit competition by using its parliamentary plurality to pass an amendment to Egypt’s disenfranchisement law, which would have barred former Mubarak regime officials from running entirely. When the Supreme Constitutional Court struck down this law as unconstitutional, Morsi accepted the decision, but said that if he was elected president, “figures from the ousted criminal regime will not be allowed to return to political life.”

During the elections, the Brotherhood and its allies similarly resorted to undemocratic maneuvers. The Brotherhood allegedly used its vast, nationwide social services networks to buy votes for Morsi; as the Carter Center, which monitored the vote, acknowledged, “Due to the [Brotherhood’s] long history of providing social support through religious and family networks, it is extremely difficult to distinguish these practices from illicit influence.” Moreover, it was reported that Christians had been prevented from voting in the mid-Nile city of Minya, though the presidential elections commission ultimately decided that it was unclear who was behind this.

The results were set to be announced last Thursday. But when the elections commission delayed the release to consider over 100 challenges, the Brotherhood and its allies cried foul and signaled that they would ensure Morsi’s victory by any means necessary. Essam Derbala of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that endorsed Morsi, told me on Thursday that if Shafik won, “the youth … will see that peaceful demonstrations won’t suffice.” Although Derbala attempted to walk this statement back, he ultimately conceded that general strikes—which would aim to shut down the economy until Shafik fell—were a possibility.

The Brotherhood, of course, was far more circumspect in its statements. When I asked Brotherhood political spokesman Ahmed Sobea last Wednesday whether Shafik’s victory would catalyze a new revolt, he replied, “We leave this to the Egyptian people.” But this was dishonest. By Thursday, the Brotherhood was chartering buses to take its members—as well as some non-Brotherhood supporters—from all over Egypt to Tahrir Square. The goal was to send the message that it would not accept any outcome other than Morsi’s presidential victory, and Muslim Brothers were prepared to fight with security forces if Shafik won.

“If Shafik wins, I will be a dead man,” Fathi Ageez, who had come from the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, told me while setting up his Tahrir tent. “I will fight to the end,” he said, acknowledging that the leader of his Brotherhood usra—or five-person “family”—had told him to fight. Predictably, Ageez was quickly rebuked. “We were told to defend, not to kill,” said fellow tent-dweller Sayyid Abul Nega. “If Shafik wins, I will do a sit-in forever. But if someone attacks us, we’ll defend ourselves.”

Thankfully, none of this anticipated violence came to fruition. But it should not go unnoticed that, in the first presidential election following Egypt’s pro-democratic election, it was the new ruling party—the Muslim Brotherhood—that was preparing for months to reject an electoral outcome against it. By contrast, members of the old, autocratic ruling party, who overwhelmingly endorsed Shafik, swallowed Morsi’s victory without incident. Egypt may have ousted a dictator, but its new rulers will only play by democratic rules so long as they enhance their own power.

Eric Trager is the Next Generation Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Worst-case scenario in Egypt

A Muslim Brother, Muhammad Morsi, has entered Egypt’s presidential palace and taken his seat in the chair once occupied by Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. This is a stunning development—a slow-motion Islamic revolution that few envisioned back in January 2011, when the crowds filled Tahrir Square.

The experts systematically underestimated the Muslim Brotherhood for a simple reason: they saw the revolution as they wanted it to be, not as it was. The distorted optic of the Tahrir stage seduced and misled them. But it was even more than that: the Muslim Brotherhood itself conducted a campaign of deliberate deception. They claimed they wouldn’t try to dominate the parliament, that they wouldn’t run candidates for every seat—and then they did. They said they wouldn’t run a presidential candidate of their own—and then they did. The credulous believed these reassurances—they seemed so rational and pragmatic. Marc Lynch, an estimable expert on these matters, actually chided the Brotherhood when it defied his analysis of its best interests and nominated a presidential candidate. It was, in his words, a “strategic blunder.”

In fact, it was a strategic master-stroke. From the beginning of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has understood that the fluid situation created by the fall of Mubarak won’t last forever, and that now is the time to seize every possible position they can, before alternatives take form. They want power, they crave power, and they won’t let it slip through their fingers by sitting out even a single contest. At the end of the day, all of the arguments for holding back have fallen by the wayside. They’re going for broke.

And have no doubt about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood seeks to restore Egypt to the glory it once knew, by implementing Islamic social and legal norms. The translation of Islamic ideology into practice is the point of holding political power. The Brotherhood might not be able to effect an exact translation—that would be difficult—but a translation of ideology into practice it will be. This worries secular Egyptians, the international community, and Israel. At this early stage, many will say that such worries are overblown, that the Brotherhood will adapt and compromise. To consolidate power, it might. But at a later stage, many may regret having been so nonchalant.

No one can stop Brotherhood. You say: what about the military chiefs? The military, at times, has appeared to be winning. The revolution got rid of Gamal Mubarak, Husni Mubarak’s son and presumed successor, and that suited the military fine. The parliamentary elections, won by Islamists, demolished the liberals by revealing their weakness. That suited the military fine.

This left standing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. Everyone assumed that they wouldn’t dare put forth a candidate for the presidency. The new president was to have been a consensus personality above party politics—an ElBaradei or Amr Musa. It was the Brotherhood’s decision to run a presidential candidate that threw the military off-balance, and they have been scrambling ever since. The first Brotherhood candidate, the formidable deputy-guide Khayrat ash-Shater, was disqualified—he would have won a sweeping victory. His replacement, Muhammad Morsi, basically a stand-in, had less appeal, and against him, the unlikely Ahmad Shafik stood a chance. But it gradually became evident that even the stand-in might defeat Shafik, hence the drastic measures by the military chiefs, stripping the presidency of most of its powers even before the first ballot was counted.

The military’s efforts to contain the Muslim Brotherhood, at this late date, can only buy limited time. The parliament has been dissolved, but it will have to be reconstituted, and then what? The rewriting of the constitution can be delayed, but the constitution will have to be written and approved by the legislature, and then what? And if the president isn’t to be the supreme commander of the Egyptian armed forces, then who will be? The simple truth is that Egypt isn’t going to revert to military rule—it’s too late, the polls show that a vast majority of Egyptians want a transition to civilian, constitutional rule. For the military, the question is, what are the terms of this transition? What will guarantee their economic enterprises? What will assure them that they won’t be prosecuted and purged? This is now the core of Egyptian domestic politics: the terms on which the military will exit. And with each passing day, the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood is strengthened in this negotiation, because it grows more legitimate and the generals grow less legitimate. There are those who think that the Muslim Brotherhood can still be outmaneuvered by gerrymandering the system. In the long term, it can’t. Egypt is headed toward populist Islamist rule, and it is just a matter of time before the Brotherhood checkmates its opponents.

So how will the Muslim Brotherhood rule? It is the misfortune of the Muslim Brotherhood that, having waited more than 80 years for power, they have come to it at perhaps the lowest point in the modern history of Egypt. The country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, the result of decades of bad decisions, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law. The Muslim Brotherhood is in a bind, because it has to deliver. For the masses of people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution wasn’t about democracy and freedom. It was about bread and social justice.

The Brotherhood has a so-called “Renaissance” plan for the overhaul of the Egyptian economy. I won’t pretend to judge its feasibility. Could modernization of tax collection double or triple tax revenues? Can Egypt double the number of arriving tourists, even while contemplating limits on alcohol and bikinis? Can a renovation of the Suez Canal raise transit revenues from $6 billion a year to $100 billion? Can Egypt’s economy surpass the economies of Turkey and Malaysia within seven years? These are all claims made at various times by the economic thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood, who trumpet Egypt’s supposed potential for self-sufficiency.

If you think this is pie in the sky, then it isn’t difficult to imagine the “Plan B” of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is to find ways to raise the rent Egypt collects from the West and rich Arabs for its geopolitical position. Call it a shakedown, call it a bailout, it doesn’t matter. The message Egypt is sending is that it’s too big to fail, and that the world, and especially the United States, owes it. The deputy guide, Khayrat ash-Shater, put it directly: “We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship.” Egypt, which is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, is thus owed compensation.

A key part of this narrative is that Mubarak sold peace with Israel on the cheap. In Egypt it is believed that the $1.3 billion that Egypt receives a year in military aid, and hundreds of millions more in economic aid, are just a portion of what Egypt’s adherence to peace is worth. To get more, the plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to persuade Washington that it can’t take Egypt for granted. The strategy will be to stimulate crises that will be amenable to resolution by the transfer of resources. No one can predict what those crises will look like. It’s hard to imagine that some of them won’t involve Israel.

So the question the United States faces will be this: is Egypt indeed too big to fail? Is the United States now not only going to talk the Muslim Brotherhood—which it is already doing—but actively work to help it succeed? The question comes at a time when the United States has become frugal. And there is no superpower rivalry that Egypt can exploit. When John Foster Dulles informed Nasser in 1956 that the United States wouldn’t finance his great dam at Aswan, Nasser went to Moscow. Today there aren’t any alternatives to the United States.

That being the case, the only way for Egypt to get the attention of Washington is to threaten to spin out of American orbit and into the opposing sphere of radical Islam. At no point will it be indisputable that the United States has “lost Egypt.” But at every point, Egypt’s loss will seem imminent. In that respect, the Muslim Brotherhood has already made its mark on history: from this day forward, Egypt can’t ever be taken for granted again.

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No more illusions about Egypt after Mubarak

Yossi Klein Halevi

The Globe and Mail
, Jun. 26 2012, 2:00 AM EDT

The electoral victory of Egypt’s radical Muslim Brotherhood, as former dictator Hosni Mubarak lies on his deathbed, marks the end of one era of Western wishful thinking about the Middle East while bringing a new era of self-delusion in its place.

Although Mr. Mubarak plundered his people, held sham elections and ignored growing Egyptian poverty and unemployment, the West spent decades treating him as a force for stability, even progress. U.S. President Barack Obama chose Mr. Mubarak’s Cairo to deliver his address to the Muslim world in 2009. There was not a word of criticism in that speech about the suppression of dissent in Egypt. Mr. Obama and other Western leaders ignored appeals for help by imprisoned Egyptian dissidents.

Mr. Mubarak faced little international criticism for turning the Egypt-Israel peace agreement into a farce. Under his regime, there was virtually no Egyptian tourism to Israel or joint business ventures between Egyptians and Israelis. Egyptians who did visit Israel were subjected to harassment after returning home. The state-owned media was among the Arab world’s most viciously anti-Jewish, promoting Holocaust denial and portraying Israel as the new Nazi Germany.

Still, however bitter Israelis felt toward Mr. Mubarak for betraying the spirit of peace, they sensed he was right when he warned that the most likely alternative to his rule wasn’t democracy but radical Islam. And so Israelis watched last year’s revolt with growing foreboding. While sympathetic to the young demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Israelis feared that those who would ultimately benefit from Mr. Mubarak’s fall wouldn’t be the brave democrats who led the revolution but the Islamists waiting patiently on the sidelines. Israelis warned that the Egyptian spring would likely resemble not the triumph of democracy in Prague, 1989, but the triumph of Islamism in Tehran, 1979.

Some Western commentators mocked those anxieties. Israelis were behaving like yesterday’s men, they said. Mr. Obama’s administration was reportedly furious with Israel for urging Washington not to abandon Mr. Mubarak entirely, but to ensure a transition of power that would give the democratic opposition time to organize.

As for the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, some Western experts noted that it represents only a minority. Besides, the Brotherhood wasn’t interested in ruling Egypt, only in taking its rightful place in the public sphere. After all, that is what the Brotherhood’s leaders insisted.

Now that those assumptions have collapsed, some in the West seek signs of Muslim Brotherhood moderation. Governing will temper its ideology, according to the latest assurances. Besides, there are relative moderates in the Brotherhood.

Similar hopes were expressed when the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, seized power in Gaza in 2007. But since then, Hamas’s rule has become increasingly authoritarian. Internet cafés have been shut down or set on fire, opponents imprisoned and tortured.

Just recently, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, called the creation of Israel “the worst catastrophe ever to befall the peoples of the world” and urged Arab armies to confront Israel. Yet these and other incendiary statements tend to go underreported in the West.

According to the Iranian news agency, one of president-elect Mohammed Morsi’s first policy statements after winning the election was expressing his intention for closer Egyptian-Iranian ties. Mr. Morsi’s spokesman later denied it. All this still raises the terrifying possibility of a Sunni-Shiite Islamist alliance. The first Sunni Islamist movement to reach out to Iran was Hamas; now, rather than remain an aberration, Hamas could be a harbinger.

Western naiveté about the Middle East is hardly confined to Egypt.

Last year, I was part of a group of Israelis who met in Jerusalem with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Mr. Kerry had just come from Damascus with excellent news: Bashar al-Assad was ready for peace with Israel. When one of the participants mentioned that demonstrations had begun to challenge Mr. Assad’s legitimacy, Mr. Kerry’s response was: All the more reason to negotiate while he’s still in power. In other words: Israel had the golden opportunity to give up the strategic Golan Heights to a dictator who might be deposed by a popular revolution, which might or might not recognize whatever peace agreement he signed.

That kind of wishful thinking has resulted in Western policy toward the Middle East that is strategically incoherent.

Consider the West’s response to two recent crises in the Arab world. In the first case, the West actively intervened to help depose Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. As loathsome as Mr. Gadhafi was, he posed no strategic threat, having abandoned support for terrorism and a nuclear program.

The second case is Syria’s Mr. Assad, who has committed far greater atrocities against his own people than Mr. Gadhafi did against his. Mr. Assad’s fall would have historic strategic implications, weakening allies Iran and Hezbollah. Yet the West has remained inexplicably passive.

At this fateful moment of transition for the Middle East, the West needs clarity in assessing threat and opportunity. Whether dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood or negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, the operative principle must be: No more illusions.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a contributing editor to the New Republic.

 

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