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Feb 13th, 2011


U.S. Fears Islamists May Exploit Post-Mubarak Egypt

In nation’s uncertain future, opposition groups have more room to operate

Image: Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mohammed el-Merci
Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mohammed el-Merci fences off questions in Cairo on Feb. 9, 2011. His movement is hostile to Israel and U.S. policy in the region. (Photo credit: Marco Longari / AFP – Getty Images file)

Analysis by Phil Stewart

February 12, 2011

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.

The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West.

Al-Qaida is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate. …

The movement, which Mubarak’s government banned and sought to demonize, is certainly hostile to Israel and the U.S. policy in the region. …

It has historic links with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which Washington considers to be a terrorist organization, and shares its belief in armed struggle against Israel.

But unlike the militant groups that fought Mubarak’s rule in the 1990s, the Brotherhood is led by professionals with modern educations — engineers, doctors, lawyers and academics. The core membership is middle-class or lower middle-class. …

Full story

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12/2/2012 Update

Egyptians Fear Decades of Muslim Brotherhood Rule, Warn Morsi is No Friend to U.S.

Video

Morsi loyalists rewrite constitution (NBC Nightly News, Nov. 30, 2012) – After issuing a decree making himself more powerful than the courts, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has sparked a wave of anger — some of which is directed toward the United States. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (02:19)

By Richard Engel
Chief Foreign Correspondent

December 1, 2012

TAHRIR SQUARE, CAIRO — This was the place where the revolution began: the roundish square where Egyptians celebrated Mubarak’s fall.

This is where they are shouting on bullhorns again, outraged because they say the Muslim Brotherhood has stolen the revolution and is railroading though a constitution that could lock in Muslim Brotherhood rule for 50 years, bringing more Islamic law. They cry — not against Islam — but that an extremist interpretation is being forced down their throats by a president who critics say is acting every part the tyrant.

This is also a warning, they claim, of what may happen across the Middle East. The era of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have arrived. President Obama has hailed the Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi as a pragmatist who helped end the Gaza crisis. Egyptians here think the Brotherhood has conned Washington, just like it conned them. …

Morsi’s decree divides Egypt

Egypt was torn in half just over a week ago when Morsi made himself more powerful than Mubarak ever was, and the kings before him. Morsi declared himself above judicial oversight, his decisions final and unassailable. He made himself, according to critics, a new pharaoh on the Nile. Imagine if, after five months in office, an American president announced that he could pass any law he pleased regardless of Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court. Imagine if he said his decisions were final and inspired by God. …

At first Egyptians were shocked that Morsi would make such an obvious and, according to Egyptian judges, blatantly illegal move. It’s clear now, as some analysts have long feared, that the brotherhood is making sure it doesn’t lose power again by taking control of Egypt’s constitution. The Brotherhood wants to write the rules of the game. Now they’ve done that too.

Protected by the president’s new-found supreme and unquestionable powers, Morsi ordered his Islamist allies to finish writing the constitution and get it on his desk by the end of this week. They did it, even though many independent legal experts, Christians and opposition politicians boycotted the drafting process. The Brotherhood called the new constitution “a jewel.” Many Egyptians say it leaves too much room for the implementation of Shariah law.

The constitution also empowers the people and government with a duty to uphold moral values, a vague clause that could pave the way for vigilante morality police. The constitution barely mentions protecting women’s rights. According to women who were originally involved in the drafting process, and who subsequently left because they felt they were being ignored, clauses specifically demanding that women be protected from violence and sex trafficking were dropped because Islamists feared it would conflict with their desire to allow child brides.

The constitution has long been the Muslim Brotherhood’s lodestar and, in the past, they have been willing the kill for it. …

When the revolts started against Mubarak, the Brotherhood saw that fate had given them another chance.

Muslim Brotherhood’s calculated rise to power

Looking back now, it all seems so obvious, yet many Egyptians refused to see it coming. In fact, many of the secular revolutionaries backed the Brotherhood, arguing they were better allies than the hated military. The Brotherhood played its cards well.

The Brotherhood was late to join the anti-Mubarak revolts in 2011. When students and liberals initially occupied Tahrir Square, it looked like it might be a passing thing. The Brotherhood either didn’t appreciate its significance, or wanted to wait to see who was winning. …

The protests continued to grow. Labor unions went on strike. The military enacted a coup against Mubarak. President Obama withdrew his support for Washington’s long-time Arab friend. And Mubarak the president was no more.

The Brotherhood first said it wouldn’t seek the new presidency at all. It promised to exist solely as an influential member of civil society. Back then, many Egyptians feared the Brotherhood. It was a semi-secret group. It had a small office in a Cairo apartment building with a sign on the door the size of an index card. Mubarak-era officials had often described the Brotherhood as a group of terrorists. One security official I know called the Brotherhood the most dangerous group in the world. But in the heady 1960s-like days after Mubarak’s resignation, the Brotherhood’s bad reputation only seemed to give the group more credibility. They’d been oppressed by the man. It was a new day. Everyone, it appeared, deserved a new beginning.

The Brotherhood went to work. It organized its considerable finances. It built a big new headquarters with far bigger signs on the doors. It sent its representatives around the world, especially to Washington, on a charm offensive. We’ve been oppressed, they claimed. We were slandered by a tyrant. We’re not what you’ve heard. We can unite the Sunni world against Iran. We can help bring Israeli-Palestinian peace. There were many promises of a great future. …

Morsi won the election by a narrow margin and then five months into his term, made himself a dictator and ordered his Islamist friends to quickly finish the constitution. Morsi has said he’ll drop his extraordinary powers as soon as the constitution is approved in a referendum in December. Islamists are convinced they’ll be able to use their grassroots network of activists to win the referendum like they won the elections. Western diplomats tend to agree.

Yet the United States has remained mostly silent on all this, urging both sides to stay calm and work it out. Washington’s policy seems to be that what’s going on is simply democracy in progress as Egyptians learn to use their new rights.

But in Tahrir Square people seem convinced the Brotherhood isn’t testing its fledgling wings. They say Morsi knows exactly what he’s doing, Washington be warned.

Full story

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Related reports on this site

Image: Clashes outside the National Museum in Cairo
Pro-government protesters at left clash with anti-government protesters outside the National Museum near Tahrir Square in Cairo early Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. Opponents and supporters of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak fought with fists, stones and clubs in Cairo. (Photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)

Middle East Instability Spreading (Feb. 3, 2011)

Violence Erupts in Egypt (Feb. 2, 2011)

Fears of Egyptian Domino Effect (Jan. 31, 2011)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 13, 2010

Operation Moshtarak Has Begun

Video

Fighting intensifies as Afghan assault progresses (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 14, 2010) – Coalition troops are coming under heavy fire in the battle for Marjah, the last Taliban stronghold in the heart of Helmand province. “This battle could be the Alamo.” NBC’s Jim Maceda reports. (03:25)

One year ago today, I reported that bombs and booby traps slowed the advance of thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers moving through the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah — NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip over their southern Afghanistan heartland. NATO said two of its troops were killed on the first day of the operation — one American and one Briton. Afghan authorities said at least 20 insurgents were killed.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — February 13, 2009

Economy Threatens U.S. National Security

Video: National Security

Economic crisis trumps terror as global threat (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 12, 2009) – A new global threat assessment from intelligence officials says that the global economic meltdown — not terrorism — is security risk No. 1. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:00)

Two years ago today, on Feb. 13, 2009, I reported that National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told a Senate panel that if the economic crisis lasted more than two years, it could cause serious damage to U.S. strategic and national security interests. “The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, as Congress prepared to vote on a $789 billion stimulus package.

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