Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egypt: Western Blindness on the Muslim Brotherhood's Extremism is Beyond Ridiculous

By Barry Rubin

Ladies and gentlemen, we now live in a world where those who think the Muslim Brotherhood--an organization that has daily made clear its goals and hatred of both the West and Jews for decades--is radical are considered to be hawkish, alarmist nut-cases.

We live in a world where, without citing any real evidence, policymakers, experts, and journalists can make claims that may end up killing huge numbers of people.

Doug Saunders, chief foreign affairs writer for Canada's Globe and Mail, considered the country's best newspaper, writes an article, "Who's Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?"

Answer: I am and so is every sensible person.

But I'm also afraid of the Doug Saunders of the world whose blindness is likely to produce disaster. Here's the key section:

"Would the Muslim Brotherhood participate in a government that recognizes Israel and works with Western governments? Their leaders, and informed observers, say yes."

So far I have seen virtually no evidence of any journalist for a major newspaper actually reading (through translation) a single speech of Muslim Brotherhood leaders over the last decade, the Muslim Brotherhood's platform, the proposals that Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament have made, or just about any other documentation. (Here's a piece in the Spectator that does so, which came out after this article was written.)

But what makes this even more crazy is that Saunders piece appeared AFTER the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood PUBLICLY said the group favored abrogating the peace treaty with Israel as one of its main priorities.

This is far worse than even the coverage of the Iranian revolution when many (though proportionately fewer) experts and journalists told us that everything would be just fine.

What's the problem here? Ideology, ignorance, a naive belief that nobody can be radical, wishful thinking, and methodology.

In terms of methodology, anything a Muslim Brotherhood leader or "expert" says to a journalist orally is more important than mountains of articles, speeches, and policy statements made in Arabic.

Journalist: "Are you moderate?"

Muslim Brotherhood leader: "Yes."

Journalist: "That's all I need to know!"

That's not much of an exaggeration. Consider the actual sentence Saunders wrote:

"Would the Muslim Brotherhood participate in a government that recognizes Israel and works with Western governments? Their leaders, and informed observers, say yes."

Yes, and they'd also participate in a government that throws away the peace treaty (even if subtly), opens the door to massive weapons' shipments into the Gaza Strip, and bashes Western interests all over the region. In fact, they will do everything possible to get the government to do that.

There are two other Brotherhood groups in the neighborhood they are likely to support. One is called Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the other is called the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, which they will assist (not necessarily successfully, of course) to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy.

Don't get me wrong, the Brotherhood is cautious and clever. They will not do everything on the first day but proceed carefully and subtly. 

Consider this passage from the (anti-Western, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel) Guardian, which calls the Brotherhood a "weary confused organization."

"The most fundamental such decision was to abandon violence, both in practice and in theory, at least on Egyptian soil. Distancing itself from violent means was, quite apart from the question of morality, the right thing to do if the Brotherhood was to have standing among Egyptians, who have consistently shown that they find such means abhorrent."

I think the Brotherhood abandoned violence in the 1950s and 1960s because the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser was throwing its leaders into concentration camps, torturing them, and hanging them. The Brotherhood thus decided that it was wiser not to wage a losing battle.

And of course in the 1970s, when Anwar al-Sadat relaxed the repression it was on condition that they didn't start blowing things up.

But the basic strategy of the Brotherhood has always rested on a two-stage program. The first stage was "da'wa," that is the phase of organization and base-building. Only when this was complete could it move on to the revolutionary stage.

Last October 7, I identified a major speech by the Brotherhood's leader, Muhammad Badi, as signalling the long-awaited change to revolutionary action. Read it and tell me that this is a moderate organization.

Why the escalation? Badi and the Brotherhood considered Husni Mubarak weak and vulnerable given his age and the unpopular plan to put his son into power as successor.

Whether this has anything to do with the current uprising or it is coincidental--which is quite possible--and inspired by Tunisia isn't clear. But to say the Brotherhood is weak and confused is the fantasy of a newspaper that--let's face it--would like to see an Islamist revolution in Egypt, Hamas destroy the Palestinian Authority and Israel wiped off the map.

Of course, the Guardian has bad intentions. What's the excuse of the rest of the media, experts, and governments?

As I've said repeatedly, what most worries me is the lack of worry on the part of others. It isn't just that there is a potential calamity but by refusing to recognize that danger these people are making it more likely to happen.

Badi said: The United States is "experiencing the beginning of its end and is heading towards its demise." Judging from the handling and coverage of this crisis, Badi might be on to something.

Now, excuse me because I have to go write an article commissioned for me to explain why a revolution in Egypt likely to bring to power a pro-Hamas government is beneficial to the Israel-Palestinian peace process! I will try to explain that the opposite is true.

No, I'm not kidding.

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