Egypt, the Brotherhood and the Americans

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The Egyptian government - the ruling Freedom and Justice Party - and the Muslim Brotherhood criticized a tweet by the American embassy this week. The tweet was against Egypt’s clampdown on freedom of expression and referred particularly to the case of political satirist Bassem Youssef.

Statements by Brotherhood members gave the impression that the American government is antagonizing Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi and this is absolutely incorrect. We do not know yet if American President Barrack Obama is satisfied with or apprehensive about Mursi and his government, but all we know is that he prefers to be an observer.

This is probably to the best interest of Egyptians so that they can manage their own business, but his long silence gives the opposition the impression that he consents to the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A cosmic conspiracy

The Muslim Brotherhood is keen on letting the world know the superpower is satisfied with them since this delivers messages to other parties both inside and outside Egypt. Yet, on the other hand, they want to appear as the victims of a cosmic conspiracy since this is the discourse that they had always used in the past and that had lent them support and embarrassed their adversaries.

Historically speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood has never been the enemy of the U.S., but rather its allies for thirty years at the time of late Egyptian presidents Nasser and Sadat. They were in the same Arab—Saudi and Jordanian—camp against leftist organizations and governments. The clash took place during crisis related to Israel.

As for the declared stance, the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department had always objected to the policies Mubarak’s regime adopted against the Muslim Brotherhood whenever their members were arrested or suppressed and their publications were banned.

Unlikely allies?

I am not claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood works with the U.S., even though this is a common conspiracy theory, but it is not true that the American government is against the Brotherhood and is working on toppling its rule. The opposite is closer to truth. Several American politics theorists argue that it is better for the United States to forge alliances with Islamist groups within the framework of political parties or to support Islamic governments like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda in Tunisia than do so with liberal or nationalist groups especially in the light of the Islamist tide that is preoccupying the West.

Trying to accuse the American embassy of interference because of its objection to the clampdown on journalists is part of the domestic game of incrimination in Egypt.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, worked on convincing the U.S. that they are the best faction among Islamists and several American political writers were actually convinced and are now praising the Brotherhood and severely criticizing other Islamist factions like the Salafis.

The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that their discourse is not always in line with the impression they try to give. The way Mursi’s government is running the Egyptian state shocked many and this includes Muslim intellectuals as well as Western observers. The policies adopted by this government can only be described as fascist and fascism, whether under a religious or a national façade, is rejected and will clash with other national powers as well as with external ones.

It is still early to describe Mursi’s government as fascist since it has not yet completed its first years, yet there are many indications that it is heading towards a totalitarian system.

As for Americans, their policies are determined by their interests. Mursi’s government has not done what makes the U.S. worry. On the contrary, its stances are more pragmatic and reconciliatory than those of Mubarak’s regime. An example of this is the destruction of tunnels and the regulation of crossing points between Egypt and Gaza and even though this is the army’s job, the Muslim Brotherhood has not voiced any objections to it, which means that they agree to that despite the anger of Hamas leaders.

If Egypt cooperates in regional issues and distances itself from Iranian adventures, despite rapprochement with Tehran, the U.S. will be content and this matters more than preliminary stances.

Trying to accuse the American embassy of interference because of its objection to the clampdown on journalists is part of the domestic game of incriminations. Mursi’s government wants to accuse its adversaries of collaboration with foreign powers, whereas everybody realizes it is a purely domestic conflict and this what many will know under “Mursi’s finger” and which he waved menacingly against anyone who intervenes in his country’s affairs.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 6, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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